Statewide Startup Program Launches

A new technology acceleration program is bringing together university and community innovators from across the state—including seven teams involving U-M people—to help them explore the business opportunities around their technologies.

Michigan I-Corps launched May 7. The seven-week entrepreneurial training workshop is funded by the National Science Foundation and modeled after its Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. Participants attend online lectures, conduct outreach to potential customers, blog about their progress, and receive extensive mentorship and coaching.

The national and regional I-Corps programs share a format and core curriculum, but there is one major difference: Only NSF-funded researchers (usually university faculty) are eligible to apply to the national program, but any Michigan-based technologist, regardless of academic affiliation or funding source, is eligible to participate in the regional program.

“I’m excited to see the entrepreneurial networks in and out of the university become much more intertwined,” says Michigan I-Corps director Jonathan Fay.

Of the 21 teams participating in the inaugural Michigan I-Corps, six are from U-M. One is a joint project involving U-M and Eastern Michigan University, eight are from other universities across the state, and six are community-based.

Fay says community teams typically fall into one of three categories: a local business that wants to spin out a new company or develop a new product line based on an invention; an entrepreneur who needs help moving a start-up idea forward; or an individual who has invented a solution to an identified problem in an industry but isn’t sure if there’s an associated business opportunity.

U-M Teams Participating in Michigan I-Corps

• Frank Winterroth, Kyle Hollman and Brian Fowlkes — Scanning acoustic microscopy to examine and evaluate elastic properties of biological tissues.

• John Springmann and Ben Kempke — Ground station and satellite operations software for satellite tracking, command, and control via a globally distributed ground station network.

• June Sullivan, Patti Kuberski, Stewart Wang, and Michael Englesbe — MSHOP Surgical Risk Assessment, which targets surgical complications to reduce healthcare expenditures while improving health and outcomes.

• Justin Dimmel, Bryce Pilz, and Patricio Herbst — LessonSketch, an online platform that permits the creation and delivery of representations of professional practice using multimedia and the creation, delivery, and reporting of learning experiences that use those multimedia representations.

• Brent Gillespie and Alexander Russomanno — The Holy Braille, which seeks to offer Braille readers an efficient, low-cost, electronic Braille reading device. This would provide blind individuals with more access to literature such as e-books.

• Shorya Atwar, James Geiger, and Tom Davidson — FlexDex, which seeks to develop and commercialize an affordable, minimally invasive surgery technology platform that provides the level of wrist-like dexterity and intuitive control so far seen only in multimillion-dollar robotic surgery systems.

• Mohammad Farrrukh (U-M) and Samir Tout (EMU) — Health Condition Tracker & Feedback, a mobile app that allows patients and physicians to track the progress of recuperation from a condition after patients visit the physician.

Collaboration on the Rise

Rich Sheridan is president and CEO of Menlo Innovations, an Ann Arbor-based software design and development firm. He has been a local entrepreneur for 12 years and an adjunct assistant professor for entrepreneurial programs at the College of Engineering for two. During the last decade, Sheridan says, he has witnessed a trend of increasing collaboration between U-M and Ann Arbor entrepreneurs.

“Twelve years ago, the University was a tall tower and no one really knew if there was a door to get in there. Now I see a significant blurring of the boundaries. We’re starting to take down the walls and really collaborate with one another. Michigan I-Corps is another example of this,” he says.

Fay agrees that the state’s tech start-up scene will benefit from an improved flow of people and ideas between universities and their surrounding communities.

“One of the reasons why Stanford is such a powerful force in the Silicon Valley is because the boundary between the university and the local community is extremely porous,” explains Fay, who received a doctorate in biomechanics from Stanford and worked for several Silicon Valley-based medical-device startups before joining the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship as an associate director last year.

“These types of interactions strengthen an entrepreneurial ecosystem and create an opportunity-rich environment. We have to create more collisions like this in Michigan. That’s where great ideas are generated.”

Other university participants in the program come from Wayne State University, Oakland University, Eastern Michigan University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technology Institute, and Grand Valley State University.

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