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University Collaborations Drive Michigan's Economy

by Lisa Diggs

A group of Michigan’s research universities are partnering to offer Michigan businesses a chance to gain access to their faculty’s research and expertise. Known as the Michigan Corporate Relations Network (MCRN), the six collaborating universities include: Michigan State, Michigan Tech, University of Michigan, University of Michigan-Dearborn, Wayne State, and Western Michigan.

The latest effort to make their knowledge more accessible is creation of the University Expertise Portal, which allows companies to find experts or researchers and establish consulting relationships with them. Users can search a database of 6,632 researchers and 103 core research facilities that have produced more than 290,000 publications and received nearly 30,000 research grants.

Utilizing the portal begins with a simple search. Users type a keyword in the search box, and a list of experts appears. For example, searching for “Apples” yields 141 experts, including each researcher’s name, university affiliation, and in some cases includes links to access published research. From small town farmers to research and development arms of major corporations, access to some of the state’s best minds is now readily available to a wide audience.

This is just the latest move by the state’s many impressive universities to make valuable contributions to the local economy. Before NCRM was formed in 2011, Michigan State, Michigan, and Wayne State had already formed the University Research Corridor (URC).

URC is an alliance between those three schools that was formed specifically to transform, strengthen and diversify the state’s economy. In 1999, these universities helped establish a Life Sciences Corridor to be on the ground floor of developing a new industry. Since then the effort has expanded with collaborations in a host of different disciplines. The result is impressive.

The URC institutions together draw $1.878 billion in federal academic research dollars to Michigan, 94 percent of the total coming into the state. Over the past five years, URC has announced an average of one new invention every day, and collectively these discoveries have led to more than 500 license agreements for new technologies and systems.

In fact, URC generated $15.5 billion in economic impact statewide, exceeded $2 billion in annual research expenditures, and awarded more than 31,600 degrees in one year, placing it at or near the top of seven university innovation clusters in the U.S., according to a report by Anderson Economic Group.

Graduates of URC colleges are also going on to become entrepreneurs. According to a study, which was commissioned by the URC, graduates of Michigan State, Wayne State, and the University of Michigan have started or acquired businesses at double the national average rate among college graduates since 1996. The study, based on surveys of the three schools’ alumni, also says those entrepreneurs were 1.5 times more successful than counterparts across the nation in keeping those businesses going longer than five years.

Now with the advent of the University Expertise Portal, collaborative efforts between Michigan’s universities are once again poised to assist local entrepreneurs and other Michigan companies in their own efforts to grow and prosper.  

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