U-M’s Ken Nisbet on Bridging the Gap Between Innovation and Economic Recovery in Michigan

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

With an annual research budget of more than $1 billion, the University of Michigan is a leading hub of new technological inventions and entrepreneurship. It’s serving as a wellspring of new ideas and startups that are helping to lead the economic recovery in the Great Lakes State.

Ken Nisbet plays a key role in advancing technologies developed on campus in Ann Arbor to the marketplace. He’s the executive director of tech transfer at the university, and his office often serves as a conduit between the academic inventors and the business community (composed of corporations, venture investors, and entrepreneurs) that can provide the financing and other resources to commercialize technologies.

Nisbet, 60, joined the tech transfer team at the university in 1996 after a career in various engineering and marketing positions at Ford Motor Company, Digital Equipment Corporation, and Nortel. (He also bleeds maize and blue, having received both his bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering and his MBA from U-M.)

Recently, Nisbet provided some insights about the importance of his office’s efforts in boosting the Michigan economy and some of the exciting technologies under the hood of the innovation vehicle that the University of Michigan has become. It was no big surprise to hear from him how those technologies could impact the healthcare and auto industries. Read on for his story about how one of the university’s health IT startups became a beachhead for a major healthcare products company.

U-M has proven that economic slowdowns don’t hamper the inventive spirit of researchers and entrepreneurs. In the fiscal year that ended in June 2009, during the worst of the recession, the university’s number of new invention reports hit a six-year high of 350. Yet the poor economy has challenged the university to be innovative in how it aids its researchers in commercializing their inventions, due in part to limited capital available to startups, Nisbet explains.

Here is an excerpt from Xconomy’s recent conversation with Nisbet about bridging the gap between university-based innovation and economic growth in Michigan.

Xconomy: Given the severe economic decline in Michigan, is there more pressure on the University of Michigan and your office to help contribute to the state’s economic recovery?

Kenneth Nisbet: Pressure is maybe not the right … Next Page »

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