U-M Opens MCubed Portal to the Public to Fund Fast Innovation

The University of Michigan said on Friday it will open its online MCubed seed-funding portal to the public. Any person or organization can nominate a problem or research project for $75,000 in funding. If at least three faculty members agree that it’s a good potential study topic and “cube” around the project, the $75,000 funds pay for research by a graduate or post-doctoral student for one year.

Mark Burns, a U-M professor of chemical engineering, biomedical engineering, and chair of the MCubed executive committee, says the $14 million internal version of the MCubed program to fund out-of-the-box research has already brought in an additional $4 million in external funding, and that’s with all of the projects in the program being less than a year old.

The idea with the MCubed process is to circumvent the traditional grant-review maze by empowering an interdisciplinary team of professors to review proposed research projects more quickly. But the biggest change Burns sees is the “paradigm shift” at U-M as it pushes professors to take ownership of research projects and even participate in the entrepreneurial pipeline. “Instead of administrators approving your project, now you can vote with your feet.”

The university also hopes MCubed will be a new model in crowdfunded public-private research funding. That’s opposed to the traditional way, which involves fairly large sums of money and going through a few hoops in the development office. And if a project is particularly successful or promising, Burns says an eventual goal is to feed it to the tech transfer pipeline in the hopes of commercializing it.

Burns notes that it’s too soon to tell how successful this latest incarnation of MCubed will be, but he points to the early successes of the internal version of the program. Two hundred and twenty-two projects have been funded through MCubed already, and he says every single college at the university has participated.

If an MCubed suggestion or problem is submitted and none of the faculty seems interested in pursuing the project, MCubed staff will help the funder try to rework the idea a bit so it’s more appealing.

Burns points out that the new publicly available MCubed platform is the first of its kind that his team knows of. U-M hopes that MCubed research projects will spur further external research funding. But money isn’t the only measure of success, Burns adds. “People are getting together and generating new knowledge and breakthroughs.”

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