Venture Capital

University startup efforts push forward as new capital comes available


Between 1996 and 2017, academic technology transfer contributed a total of $865 billion to the U.S. GDP, and “supported” 5.9 million jobs, according to figures from AUTM, an industry trade group formerly known as the Association of University Technology Managers.

Closer to home, the Lansing-based University Research Corridor serves as an alliance between the state’s three research institutions, UM, Michigan State University and Wayne State University. While the group has not put out an updated economic impact report, URC Executive Director Britany Affolter-Caine told Crain’s that research activity from the three institutions amounted to a net impact of $19.3 billion for the 2019 fiscal year, up from $18.7 billion the previous fiscal year.

While 2020 was undoubtedly a year of hardship given the pandemic and ensuing economic struggles, business formation at the university level has been steadily increasing, multiple sources said.

Jeff Wesley, executive director of Red Cedar Ventures, acknowledged that certainly the pandemic has hit some segments of the university tech startup sector, but many entrepreneurs were able to pivot quickly.

“People are looking at this and seeing this is an opportunity,” said Wesley, adding that those with a medical device startup, for instance, went and figured out how to get the device situated for use at home.

Others, he said, took advantage of the all-virtual world many found themselves living in and sudden ability to pitch their company anywhere over Zoom.

“So it created new opportunities for them,” he said.

Stephen Lanier, vice president for research at Wayne State in Detroit, also said tech transfer has remained healthy.

“Overall, deal activity and discussions have remained steady during the pandemic period as business strategies adjusted to the larger economic dynamics depending on the specific technology sector with a notable uptick in deal interest and spinouts beginning in fall of 2020,” Lanier wrote in an emailed statement to Crain’s.


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