Midwest Universities Form Innovation Alliance

A new four-university alliance will help researchers across the Midwest turn their inventions into marketable products to benefit society.

Supported by a $3.5 million grant from the National Science Foundation’s Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program, this new alliance establishes The Midwest I-Corps Node, which is led by the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship, with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Purdue University, and the University of Toledo.

Together, these institutions have an annual research budget of $2.6 billion. The universities have sent over 100 teams to the NSF National I-Corps program and trained more than 400 teams and 1200 participants throughout the region. The node seeks to form the backbone for a network that educates, supports and connects academic researchers to the entrepreneurial ecosystem across the region.

“The geographic spread, diverse industrial base and scale of the node will help the entire region connect technology, market needs, people and money together in a way that was not previously possible,” said Jonathan Fay, Midwest I-Corps Node executive director and U-M CFE managing director.

NSF I-Corps program director Lydia McClure is equally enthusiastic about the latest partnership.

“The Midwest Node will undoubtedly provide high quality programming, research and tools for the Midwest region and the nation,” noted McClure. “This node is an expansion on the successful I-Corps programs at U-M.”

To achieve the goal of creating a collaborative network leveraging resources and expertise from each university, the node will host world-class training programs for scientists and engineers throughout the region. These intensive courses are designed to get scientists and engineers to extend their focus beyond the laboratory. It requires researchers to examine the commercial potential of their technology to avoid building a product that does not solve a customer’s problem or address their unmet need – the number one reason startups fail.

“Our programs will enable us to build upon our strengths in technology research, as well as bolster our industry partnerships,” said Jed Taylor, director of operations at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Technology Entrepreneurship Center. “The projects accelerated by the node will be pipelined into support programs to help mature them to the point of license, partnership or funding to launch a standalone startup.”

The Midwest I-Corps Node activates in January 2017 and will be funded for five years. In addition to hosting the National I-Corps program, each university will host regional programs at their universities and across their respective states.

“We appreciate the spirit of collaboration demonstrated by U-M CFE’s leadership, and it’s exciting to be a part of a network that is working to shift the culture of traditional academic research toward impact inspired research in the Midwest,” said Matthew Lynall, management professor and deliberate innovation for faculty director at Purdue University’s Discovery Park.

Ian Steff, executive vice president and chief innovation officer of the Indiana Economic Development Corporation, also looks forward to the collaborative impact of the Midwest I-Corps Node.

“Leveraging the resources of these outstanding research universities is of great benefit,” noted Steff. “This exciting program has a great deal of potential to support the Midwest’s ecosystem for entrepreneurship in further developing industries of the 21st century.”