The Triple Helix Model for Reinvigorating Michigan’s Economy

4/21/10

Michigan is beginning to take a more enlightened approach to economic development, with a stronger level of cooperation between academia, industry and government. It is now recognized that each of these constituencies has a vital role to play in rebuilding and sustaining a robust, knowledge-based economic model.

Mr. Lennart Johansson, the Swedish Consul General to Michigan, articulated the concept well in a recent discussion that I had with him. In Sweden this cooperative approach is called the “Triple Helix Model.” The objective is to create a systematic approach to encouraging and nurturing innovation, one that will ultimately result in economic growth. The model is based on strong interactions between Sweden’s universities, industries, and government. The idea is to move from being solely focused on the production of tangible goods to an economy that is based on the capitalization of knowledge.

I believe that there is a wealth of knowledge to build on in Michigan. Our universities and our companies have long histories of developing deep knowledge in advanced technologies and processes. We also have a very active community of innovators and entrepreneurs. What is needed now is a way to further accelerate the incubation and commercialization of these solutions. I think Michigan has taken some positive steps in a number of areas, but due to the severe negative economic impact that the automotive industry’s troubles have had on the state, much more needs to be done.

I have had the opportunity to work with a number of investor groups and startup companies in various parts of the United States, and around the world, over the past several years. Let me share some of what I have learned.

I have had numerous discussions regarding what it is like to “do business in Michigan.” We need to work hard to ensure that Michigan is perceived as a “good place to do business.” This means that we should actively promote business practices and public policy that encourage businesses to locate here, and prosper as a result. We need to ensure that the government is seen as an enabler in the process, not an impediment. And we need to understand the value that Michigan can bring to helping the companies achieve their objectives.

Some of the areas of value that are well recognized are Michigan’s strong engineering base, deep knowledge in manufacturing process technology, and highly developed logistics infrastructure. All of these qualities are in demand in with new technology startup companies. I have a number of projects with companies and universities in the Boston area, where there is a high level of new technology development, but limited ability to bring the technology to production. Maybe a Massachusetts-Michigan partnership program would be in order.

The other observation that I would share comes from my work with Michigan-based start-ups. Access to early stage funding usually requires that the companies spend a lot of time in other states to find investors. We need to actively promote venture capital interest in Michigan startup companies. It would be nice, if at least some of the time, the money were looking for the opportunity, instead of the other way around.

[Editor's note: To help launch Xconomy Detroit, we've queried our network of Xconomists and other innovation leaders around the country for their list of the most important things that entrepreneurs and innovators in Michigan can do to reinvigorate their regional economy.]

Bob Purcell is the Founder and CEO of Purcell & Associates, LLC, a senior advisory group specializing in advanced automotive and alternative energy investment projects. He directed GM’s Advanced Technology Vehicles Group from 1994 to 2002 and went on on to lead global sales, planning, and strategic alliances for GM’s Powertrain Group. Follow @

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