SmartZone gets big life sciences grant from state

January 3, 2012
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The Grand Rapids SmartZone Local Development Finance Authority recently received a $500,000 grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund to provide support for entrepreneurs engaged in the life sciences field. The local award is part of a $6 million statewide effort to stimulate more participation in the life sciences industry.

“Early-stage companies require seed capital and access to a strong network of public and private resources. We are confident that with the funding of these organizations and the types of services they will provide, we will continue to accelerate the growth of innovative technology start-ups in Michigan,” said Michael Finney, president and CEO of the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The MEDC received 23 applications for the funding and awarded a dozen grants. Five locales received bigger awards than Grand Rapids. But City Economic Development Director Kara Wood, also the executive director of the SmartZone, was pleased with the size of the award because it was the amount the authority requested in its application and it is five times the $100,000 grant the MEDC gave the local zone last year.

The grant can be used for a period of up to three years, but Wood said the SmartZone authority plans to disperse the funds over two years to help entrepreneurs with a variety of services, including providing lab space at the Cook DeVos Center for Health Sciences along the Medical Mile on Michigan Street NE.

“We also provide entrepreneurial coaching and mentoring and assistance with accessing capital for new ventures. So we will be expanding on the services that the West Michigan Science and Technology Initiative currently provides,” said Wood.

The assistance is targeted for life-sciences-related start-ups, new medical device companies and existing businesses in the field that are currently trying to go commercial.

“So maybe an existing medical device manufacturer that might be interested in commercializing a new piece of technology, we can assist those companies as well,” said Wood.

Those interested in being considered for a grant are required to submit a comprehensive business plan. To submit one or to get more information, contact Rich Cook, who directs the Venture Center at WMSTI, or Wood at her City Hall office.

Wood expected the authority would receive the grant money near the end of the first quarter and would likely be able to make awards during the second quarter. She and others with the SmartZone will meet with MEDC staff soon to sign the grant agreement and determine what reports will have to be made with the state.

“These new programs probably won’t be up and running until the second quarter of the year,” she said.

With all the changes happening at the state level regarding business incentives, Wood didn’t think the latest round of grants from the Michigan Strategic Fund would be its last.

“No, I don’t think so. There is legislation each year that outlines what the Michigan Strategic Fund is going to invest in over the next year. The current legislation was passed, I want to say, sometime over the summer,” she said.

“Last year, they did the same thing but we only got $100,000. So it was a smaller award then. But the legislation was changed to increase their support of entrepreneurial services throughout the state of Michigan. So there was an opportunity for additional funding this year. But it’s hard to tell if there will be another program next year.”

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