President Gilmour's address to the WWJ-AM panel on the University Research Corridor and economic development
March 21, 2011
We aren’t here today to talk about how bad Michigan’s economy is. We’re here to talk about how we’re making it healthy again. We do not have the luxury of pausing to regret that things aren’t like they used to be.
When Michigan returns to economic health, it will be because we paid more attention to the accelerator than to the brake. The University Research Corridor is acting right now to build, nurture and attract knowledge-based companies and human capital in such fields as alternative energy, health care, the nanosciences and information technology.
We at the URC believe Michigan’s three research universities are the key to economic transformation. We are the state’s principal force through which life-changing discoveries are made and introduced successfully into the marketplace.
Last year our three universities together spent more than $1.6 billion on research. That’s a tremendous amount. It comes to around 94 percent of all dollars spent on research and development by all of Michigan’s public universities.
But we not only make the discoveries; we also have the means to get them to market. Each of our universities has a thriving technology commercialization center. These offices handle the university’s intellectual property. That means forming mutually advantageous partnerships with businesses that turn our research into commercially viable products and processes.
URC faculty members and the technologies and processes they pioneered were responsible for 71 startup companies between 2004-2009. In that same period, we averaged 136 patents and 131 license agreements per year.
The idea that universities are “ivory towers” with little exchange of ideas with the real world is as dated as the rotary phone. For instance, over the past few years each of our URC universities has opened what we call “business centers.” These are mechanisms through which companies large and small can connect with our faculty, students and alumni. At Wayne State we’ve named ours “The Front Door,” which tells you exactly how we want to relate to businesses. If you’re in business in Michigan, we’re ready with the know-how and the research infrastructure to help you succeed.
I’d like to stress one especially promising relationship of universities with business that Governor Snyder mentioned in his State of the State address. A major partnership is being created between Procter & Gamble and the URC institutions. The plan is to have only one master agreement with our institutions – and eventually with all Michigan’s 15 public universities – that will cover cooperative research and development activities.
This is a fresh approach to university and industry collaboration. It cuts a lot of red tape that often has made it difficult for universities and businesses to work together.
Under this plan, ideas should make it to market easier and faster. Procter & Gamble will be able to assemble the best team from Michigan universities to work on research and development. In turn, our universities will be incubators for Procter & Gamble innovations. I understand the governor expects this to be a template for future similar partnerships with other companies.
Connecting a multibillion-dollar corporation with the URC in this way is a giant step toward boosting Michigan’s economy. This is just the kind of imagination that Michigan needs to thrive again. The kind of imagination, and the kind of optimism about the future, that you find at great research universities.