Small business. Big university. New portal.

October 5, 2008
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The University of Michigan has created a new entryway to make it easier for businesses, large and small, to tap into its resources, from research to faculty to students.

Daryl Weinert, executive director of U-M’s Business Engagement Center, was in Grand Rapids last week with two colleagues to meet with local business organizations.

“The university is and really wants to be a state resource for the business community, and to be an increasing partner in the state’s economic development activities,” Weinert said.

“We think it’s critical, on all levels at the university, to be a better partner to industry if we are going to attract industry in the state.” 

The state’s largest university with three campuses, more than 40,000 students and more than 6,000 faculty members, U-M can be challenging for businesses to navigate, Weinert said. The BEC was launched in January to serve as an entry point to the university’s services to the business community, in particular small and medium firms.

“Part of what goes along with this Business Engagement Center approach is a renewed emphasis on figuring out ways of connecting with the small and medium-sized business community. It’s historically a little tougher for us, partly because there’s so many of them,” Weinert said.

“We’ve had good connections for years with the larger companies out here,” he added, citing Steelcase Inc., Herman Miller, Amway and Perrigo.

Among the U-M resources available to West Michigan businesses: research, technology transfer, faculty consultations, sponsored student projects, speaking engagements and recruiting opportunities.

For example, the Business Engagement Center is a co-sponsor of the second annual Small Business Job Fair, scheduled for Feb. 11, with a focus on engineering and technology firms.

Last year’s inaugural event drew 100 organizations, Weinert said. It was a good opportunity for smaller organizations to stand out from the bigger companies that dominate traditional career fairs at U-M, he said.

“We’d like to get more broad participation from around the state,” he added.

While connecting with the Business Engagement Center is free, there may be costs for the specific services.

The Business Engagement Center is located in the same building as the Office of Technology Transfer, and the staffs work closely.

Weinert said the center is responsible to both the university’s vice president of research and the Office of University Development. The program is based on one Weinert developed in nine years as director of corporate relations for the School of Engineering.

Weinert said he’s eager to spread the word to West Michigan businesses.

“We’re a conduit. We’re almost like a concierge service,” he said.

“The main reaction we get is, ‘What took you so long to do this?’”

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