U-M to Lead $15M Great Lakes Innovation Corps Hub – DBusiness Magazine


Team members of Hyfi, a water data management service provider that was part of the previous I-Corps program, set up a sensor in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw. // Courtesy of U-M
Team members of Hyfi, a water data management service provider that was part of a previous I-Corps program, set up a sensor in the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw. The university will lead the 11 school Great Lakes Innovation Corps Hub. // Courtesy of University of Michigan

To better nurture regional innovation and move more discoveries from the research lab to the commercial market, the National Science Foundation (NSF) has established a Great Lakes Innovation Corps Hub led by the University of Michigan. Overall, the hub involves 11 universities in eight states.

The $15 million hub is one of the three across the country the NSF has announced as it continues to evolve the I-Corps program it launched decades ago to train scientists and engineers to carry promising ideas and technologies beyond the university and into the marketplace.

“The Great Lakes region is home to many of the world’s leading research institutions, and many of our nation’s critical industries. Our goal with this I-Corps hub is to leverage this intellectual depth to create a lasting economic impact on the region,” says Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic dean of engineering at U-M.

U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship was one of the first nodes to host I-Corps in 2012, and it has served in various leadership capacities over the course of the program.

For the Great Lakes Hub, U-M will collaborate with Purdue University, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, the University of Minnesota, the University of Toledo, Iowa State University, Michigan Technological University, Missouri University of Science and Technology, the University of Akron, the University of Chicago, and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

The new hub has set a goal of training 2,350 teams in the next five years and sending an additional 220 teams to a more in-depth national NSF I-Corps program. Johnathan Fay, executive director of the U-M Center for Entrepreneurship, hopes this will help to fill what he calls the “widening gap” between cutting edge university research and the development work of industry.

In coastal cities, entrepreneurship and innovation often thrive organically because the sheer number of investors and innovators operating in close proximity can lead to an abundance of opportunities to collaborate and pathways for developing research. The Great Lakes hub aims to connect people at a large scale to create more access to opportunities.

Former teams that came from one of the university’s previous I-Corps program include:

  • S3D at U-M, which has patented printheads capable of printing circuits, switches, antennae, and sensors onto new and existing surfaces with complex and curved geometries at less than 20 microns. It enables in-vehicle sensing that can be printed onto any surface such as seats, steering wheels, and glass.
  • Adipo Therapeutics is an obesity treatment startup founded by an I-Corps team out of Purdue University. The company is developing a polymer-based nanoparticulate drug delivery system designed to convert fat cells that store energy into fat cells that burn it.
  • NovoClade out of the University of Minnesota is developing chemical-free mosquito-control solutions that are effective, yet don’t pose an additional burden on the environment. The team said that the I-Corps program helped them understand the market from the point of view of the customer.
  • Anemone, developed by a University of Illinois student, is a mental health crisis app that allows users to create a customized crisis plan and share it with friends, family, first responders, and mental health professionals.

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