State Funds Collaborations Between Small Companies, MI Universities

Xconomy Detroit/Ann Arbor — 

The Michigan Corporate Relations Network has issued a request for proposals from tech entrepreneurs looking to speed up their commercialization efforts.

Under the Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP), small- to medium-sized companies can receive matching funds for research projects at one of the organization’s participating universities: Wayne State University, the University of  Michigan, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, University of Michigan-Dearborn, and Western Michigan University.

“A lot of companies come to us and they need something to achieve a milestone,” says Lorelei Davis, associate director of MSU Business Connect. “This is a way to help companies access university resources.”

Projects that qualify for the SCIP are funded with matches of $20,000 to $40,000. Participating companies, which can have no more than 500 employees and must be based in Michigan, supply a 1:1 match of funds, for a total project budget of $40,000 to $80,000. The deadline to apply is May 1. “A lot of companies may not know where to start,” Davis notes. “We encourage them to go to the geographically closest university first unless they want to work with a specific researcher. We’ll also forward them to the university with the best expertise for their project.”

Davis says the program has been around for about a year and a half, but so far they’ve had more money than applications. She points out that it’s much easier for a company to get these grants than an SBIR grant, and it serves much the same purpose. The funding comes from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The larger mission of the MCRN is to facilitate connections between startups and the Michigan universities in its network, with the ultimate goal of creating sustainable businesses that boost the state’s economy. The MCRN also offers a Small Company Internship Award Program, which funds summer student internships at innovative Michigan companies, and the Instant Innovation Program, which are daylong brainstorming sessions where university experts meet with companies to try and tackle prohibitive business and research challenges.

In addition, the MCRN runs an online lending library that loans relevant books and articles to small businesses for a $15 flat fee, which covers shipping. The MCRN website also has a university experts portal on the website that lists researchers and what kinds of projects they’re working on. But Davis speculates that word of the various programs and features the MCRN offers has not spread because, she says, they have the capacity to do a lot more funding than they’ve done so far.

“I really encourage people to step forward and apply for these funds,” Davis adds. “We can help them find expertise or a business engagement office to oversee the application process.”