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Week of January 24, 2011

First tenants move into new Venture Accelerator for U-M startup businesses

U-M officially opened its Venture Accelerator at the North Campus Research Complex to provide space and resources for new businesses based on U-M technology.

The Jan. 18 open house included U-M faculty, administrators and students, regional business and economic development leaders, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists and government officials.

The Venture Accelerator will provide laboratory and office space, as well as business services, to startup companies emerging from the pipeline of new ventures at U-M Tech Transfer. The accelerator will occupy 16,000 square feet at the sprawling 174-acre, 30-building NCRC, the former Pfizer pharmaceutical property purchased by the university in 2009.

The Venture Accelerator is part of Tech Transfer, which recently relocated to the NCRC with the Business Engagement Center.

“For our region and nation to prosper, we must embrace and promote innovation,” President Mary Sue Coleman said. “That is why the University of Michigan is so firmly dedicated to accelerating economic transformation through the creativity and entrepreneurship of our community.

“We want to make connections ­— between students and faculty, between faculty from diverse disciplines, and between our researchers and the needs of our region and country. And we are eager to collaborate with companies to drive transformative research that we believe can change the world,” said Coleman, who attended the open house and ribbon-cutting ceremony at the NCRC.

U-M officials cut the ceremonial ribbon during an open house for the new Venture Accelerator at the North Campus Research Complex. Photo by Eric Bronson, U-m Photo Services.

While last week’s event marked the accelerator’s official opening, one U-M startup company has already moved in and four others are expected to be there within weeks. The first tenant, Life Magnetics, arrived Dec. 20. The other four companies are Phrixus Pharmaceuticals, EngXT, 3D Biomatrix and Civionics.

“We spent a fair amount of time looking at other facilities in the area, and we concluded that this is far and away the best location for us at this point in the company’s life,” says Bill Wood, interim chief executive officer at Life Magnetics. The company, founded in 2009 by recent U-M graduate Brandon McNaughton, is developing a device that helps physicians quickly identify the most effective antibiotics to use against an infection.

The core concept behind the device was part of McNaughton’s doctoral thesis at the U-M applied physics program. Wood says the company is 24 to 30 months away from having a product ready to market to clinical microbiology labs.

“The former Pfizer facility is world-class, and because the infrastructure is in place, we don’t have to waste time and energy trying to pull it together,” Wood says. “That allows us to focus on the work that needs to be done, not on ancillary administrative hassles. So that should enable us to move ahead more quickly.”

“Moving new startup ventures more quickly and effectively to the marketplace is the main goal of the Venture Accelerator,” says Kenneth Nisbet, executive director of Tech Transfer.

U-M already is among the top 10 U.S. universities in the number of startup companies it spins off — more than 90 since 2001. About two years ago, Tech Transfer officials realized they could achieve even greater progress by offering U-M startups the laboratory and office space they require, along with the professional business services that every fledgling company needs, says Jim O’Connell, associate director for business formation at Tech Transfer.

The Venture Accelerator resembles a business incubator but is distinguished by the diverse array of services it offers to tenants — a suite of resources typically not available at business incubators.

“We’re going to surround these companies with everything they need to get started,” O’Connell says. “The idea is that with the right advice, connections to experienced talent and a little prodding, we can get new startup businesses out the door better and faster.”

Accelerator tenants will have access to Tech Transfer’s Venture Center to help them refine business models, attract investors, acquire gap funding and connect to talent that enhances the company’s quality and sustainability. Accelerator tenants also can seek guidance from seasoned entrepreneurs in Tech Transfer’s Mentors in Residence program.

“The Venture Accelerator is a major step in creating a continuous innovation pipeline for our faculty to move their ideas from the lab bench into a commercial reality,” says Stephen Forrest, vice president for research.

“There is no doubt that the University of Michigan has almost unparalleled strength in creativity and innovation, and the Venture Accelerator provides an essential link in generating successful enterprises from our creative concepts, while incentivizing faculty to pursue their ideas to success in the marketplace,” Forrest says. “I am very proud that the Office of Technology Transfer has taken the lead in making the accelerator a reality for U-M.”

The Venture Accelerator has enough space to accommodate about 15 startup companies. An accelerator manager will be hired, along with three additional Mentors in Residence at Tech Transfer. The business accelerator will house a mix of life sciences, clean-tech, software and other technology ventures based on discoveries from U-M research.

Selected U-M startups will sign one-year leases (for a maximum of up to three years) and will pay fees “comparable to the costs of other local business incubators,” O’Connell says. Additional funding for the project is provided by Tech Transfer, the Office of the Vice President for Research and the U-M Health System.

Eventually, the Venture Accelerator will host various other service providers that startup companies need: bankers, accountants, business formation attorneys, venture capitalists, human resources specialists and marketing experts, for example, O’Connell says.

The open house was sponsored by Tech Transfer, the Business Engagement Center, and Medical School Business Development. In addition to celebrating the accelerator’s launch, the event also marked the formal opening of new homes for U-M Tech Transfer and the Business Engagement Center.

 

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EVENTS

Zell Visiting Writers Series with Mary Gaitskill, 5 p.m. Feb. 10, U-M Museum of Art, Helmut Stern Auditorium.

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