Economic Development, Higher Education, and Small Business & Startups

MEDC offers funding to stimulate startups

Economic development organization outlines path for entrepreneurs and works more closely with universities.

May 5, 2017
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When it comes to entrepreneurship, the line from A to B rarely is a straight one. Therefore, the Michigan Economic Development Corp. developed a map to assist entrepreneurs at each stage to stay on track.

The MEDC uses a subway map that outlines the path for entrepreneurs at each stage. The subway metaphor uses stops along the way, from ideation to research and gap funds all the way to forming a startup or funneling a product or license to an existing company. And programs available through the MEDC, approved by the Michigan Strategic Fund board, are available to assist entrepreneurs along the way.

MEDC University Relations Director Denise Graves said the statewide economic development organization has placed an importance on facilitating entrepreneurship at the college and university level.

“Our universities play an important role in the ecosystem in Michigan,” Graves said. “We have a lot of major organizations in the state impacting the ecosystem by hiring large amounts of people — the Fords and (General Motors) of the world. But what’s happening at universities is not any less important.”

For ideas that begin at a university, entrepreneurs can apply for funding from the MEDC’s $1 million University Early Stage Proof of Concept Fund, approved this past fall. The match grant program supports early stage commercialization processes for eligible university research projects, which can apply for up to $40,000 that is matched dollar-for-dollar by funds provided by the school itself. Michigan State University will administer the program for the next two years.

Additionally, seven universities — including Grand Valley State University — are part of the MEDC-funded Tech Transfer Talent Network, a resource that connects talented student entrepreneurs with experts who can assist with technology transfer products and strengthen relationships with the private sector.

Lastly, the MEDC’s Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization (MTRAC) program also is available through universities that have been designated as an innovation hub in five sectors — biomedical sciences, life sciences, advanced transportation, advanced materials and agricultural biology. The MTRAC program encourages participating universities to recognize commercial potential from institutions and foster their development to private sector companies looking for commercialization opportunities. The MSF board votes to approve funding to support the research programs at innovation hubs.

These programs lead university projects to the “SmartZone Entry Station,” which also provides an entry point for entrepreneurs looking to either form a startup or sell a product or license to an existing company.

“If you keep at it and keep giving (university projects) a pathway, through matching funds and mentors and traction, making sure they meet their milestones and following them all the way through, there are those opportunities available,” Graves said.

The MEDC also funds programs for new startups — like the recently launched First Capital Fund and $10-million Pre-Seed 2.0 Fund — to fill in the gaps on the way to seed, angel and venture investments. For product and license development, entrepreneurs have the option of using the Michigan Corporate Relations Network’s innovation programs that provide matching funds up to $40,000 to cover research projects at public Michigan universities.

“People tap into all of these various programs to give their idea life,” MEDC Vice President of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Fred Molnar said. “It seems like across the state, startup culture and entrepreneurism is firing on all cylinders. There’s lot of energy and movement across the state, and obviously, we’re a manufacturing state, we always have been and probably always will be. But there is a culture of entrepreneurship starting to mature.”

Molnar said that culture is noticeable especially in the collaborative competition exhibited in West Michigan. Similarly, Graves praised Grand Valley’s partnerships in working to foster entrepreneurism, another recent trend Molnar has noticed in the state.

“Five years ago, entrepreneurs from universities were an afterthought, and there just wasn’t much going on,” Molnar said. “All of a sudden, universities are encouraging entrepreneurship, teaching classes on it and offering degrees in it. I think we’re seeing a culture shift to support the idea of entrepreneurism at an earlier age, and it’s very important that the MEDC is there to help.”

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