Resources

The University of Michigan is Open for Business

By Daryl Weinert (from the Small Business Association of Michigan’s member-only Focus on Small Business magazine)

Recently, economists from the University of Michigan gave us all a rare piece of good news – Michigan will see positive job growth in 2011 for the first time in over a decade. At the same time, they asserted that challenges remain. One critical challenge is how to connect the state’s universities to the needs of the business community. At the University of Michigan, we’ve created The Business Engagement Center (BEC) – a new mechanism to help companies find solutions to real-world business challenges. 

Essentially, the BEC serves as a “matchmaker,” helping companies navigate the complex structure of the university to find resources for their business. One resource is student projects. When Adaptive Materials – an Ann Arbor-based fuel cell manufacturer – needed help with defining a new commercial market strategy for its fuel cell systems, the BEC matched the company to the Ross School of Business’s Multidisciplinary Action Program. This seven-week program pairs first year MBA students with companies seeking solutions to a variety of business challenges. The team was able to conduct research on the market, compile a list of customer contacts, and assemble a pitch for use in future sales campaigns. Additionally, the team delivered the tools to help company executives evaluate and prioritize new inquiries for other uses for their products.

Another critical resource is talent. Recently, the BEC helped North American Bancard – a Troy-based credit card payment solutions provider- sponsor a ‘Hackathon’ – a 48-hour mobile device application creation contest. Through their sponsorship, the company was able to increase their visibility specifically to a targeted group of students and establish a pipeline program for students to participate in internships and independent study courses. The university has also experimented with several small company programs building on its research strength. EcoMotors, an Allen Park-based developer of clean, efficient and lightweight propulsion systems, participated in the university’s Small Company Innovation Program. This cost-sharing research collaboration allows companies to leverage U-M research expertise by partnering to tackle relevant technical challenges (the university provides matching funds of up to $30,000). The BEC also helps to connect companies with university collaborators in pursuing federal or state research grants such as Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) or Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) funding.

The university has also launched a small company career fair to expose students to job opportunities at smaller, high growth companies within the state of Michigan. Known as the MPowered Career Fair, nearly 100 organizations attended in 2010. Companies that attend the career fair can also apply for the Small Company Internship Program, which offers university cost sharing to hire students for a 12 week summer internship.

The University of Michigan has never before been so ready for collaboration. With programs designed to unlock the entrepreneurial aspirations of our students, with our Technology Transfer office spinning out companies and commercializing ideas at an increasing pace, and with new interfaces like the Business Engagement Center, U-M is open for business as never before. The BEC is designed to help companies find talent, explore research partnerships, educate professional staff, identify technologies, engage with students, and consult with faculty. Make a date with the Business Engagement Center: www.bec.umich.edu.

Daryl Weinert is Executive Director of the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center.
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