Med School Maize

October 23, 2006
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Staunch Spartan supporters might be a little blue if Michigan State University locates its School of Human Medicine on a street named Michigan, especially with the shellacking the No. 2 Wolverines handed the boys in green and white a few weeks back. Perhaps they could mark their turf by slapping a few extra letters on the end of the street sign’s “St.,” or maybe, if the school locates a few blocks closer to a certain avenue, it will inspire the spirit of the “old College try.”

In certain corners of the local real estate community, a very detailed rumor has emerged that a well-known MSU alum is angling to purchase a piece of property slated for an upcoming neurosurgical center for the purpose of the med school. The motive being that a certain health care system one might expect to root for the Fighting Irish was opposed to locating a facility it has an equity interest in across the street from its rival.

Upon investigation, land owners said they had not received any such offers, and speculated on the side of conventional wisdom that the school will land in either S.J. Wisinski & Co.’s Mid Towne Village or RDV Corp.’s Michigan Street Development. One industry professional was all but certain the school would be located at the latter — which would be fitting, as there is probably a one-in-four chance the school will be named after MSD’s principal investor.

  • Philanthropy is this week’s Focus section, and it is appropriate to review the impact of West Michigan’s industrialists on the community. Early in the city’s history, John Ball and Richmond parks, the Ryerson Library, Houseman Field, and Butterworth and Blodgett hospitals were named for philanthropists.

In recent years, we’ve seen Van Andel Arena, Van Andel Museum Center, DeVos Place, Meijer Majestic Theatre, Wege Theatre and the Secchia horseshoe pit at Millennium Park, just to name a few.

So it’s a shame that Dick DeVos might not get anything named after him for the roughly $20 million he has spent on his gubernatorial campaign. That’s as much as it cost the late Jay Van Andel to get the family name on both the arena and museum. It only cost Rich DeVos $15 million to christen DeVos Place.

A Gov. Dick DeVos will likely get something named after him, a paltry reward for four years of living in a much smaller house with enough stress to assure what hair he has left goes gray.

But if things go the other way next month: nada.

So, as an idea for replacing some of that $2 billion hole in the state budget where the Single Business Tax used to be, perhaps an appropriate number could be reached to rename the state “DeVosigan,” as in, “DeVosigan, 2010.”

  • With a portfolio of roughly $150 million, In-Q-Tel is on the small side for a venture capital firm, but as the CIA’s strategic partner in that arena, the fund has the potential for enormous impact.

Fund Vice President Gayle von Eckartsberg was in town last week to introduce the organization to Grand Rapids, as the season-opening speaker for the World Affairs Council of Western Michigan’s Global Executive Briefing Series.

The group was founded in 1999 in response to concerns by then CIA director George Tenet that the government, specifically the intelligence community, was not receiving the desired access to the technology innovations in the private sector.

Sometime during the 1980s, the research and development spending of the private sector began to exceed that of the government. Suddenly, the government was no longer the primary driver of innovation in the country. As such, advancements centered on lucrative commercial work, and not so much working with the federal government, which many startups are, frankly, not equipped to do.

“People always ask if we invest only in spooky, sneaky spy stuff,” said von Eckartsberg, a former Amway executive. “What we do is look at where private sector investment is driving technology, and look at the needs of national security, and try to target that overlap.”

This separates In-Q-Tel from other funds in that most VCs are interested in making a profit, while In-Q-Tel is interested in the technology. Ultimately, it wants to “piggyback” on the innovation occurring in the private sector. While not all of its transactions involve equity, a typical investment ranges from $500,000 to $2 million.

In recent years, the fund has been expanded to serve nearly a dozen federal agencies.

“It might be the best technology since sliced bread, but if it is never used by the government, that is a failure in our book,” von Eckartsberg said. “How many bad guys did it catch? How many lives did it save? How many hours did it save? Those are the things we are care about.”

Among the fund’s successful investments: A package of mapping technologies that was later commercialized as Google Earth.

  • Taking the crown from Democratic Party chairman Mark Brewer, this week’s campaign kook of the week is Representative Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, who went on TV last week to complain about the opportune timing of the Travel Michigan and Michigan Economic Development Corp. commercials and advertisements, many of which have been running for several months.

The notion is that any marketing effort that makes the state look good must benefit Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s re-election campaign.

For one, when else are they going to air the spot on fall colors? And, two, isn’t it part of his job to market the state in a positive light? Lot of good that film legislation he’s been working on for two years is going to do if all Michigan has to offer is 8 Mile and empty factories.

On that note, the empty factory footage in the latest DeVos commercials looks a lot like the empty factory (right down to the wet spot on the floor) in the John Kerry for President commercials in 2004.    

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