Hold On To Your Brightest Young People, Michigan

4/23/10

I don’t have five pithy things to tell entrepreneurs in Michigan, but I do have one comment based on my 16 years in Ann Arbor trying to help commercialize biotech/medtech innovations at the University of Michigan.

Do everything possible to keep your young in Michigan. The three research universities in Michigan, U-M, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University, produce a lot of talent who can function at world-class levels. Unfortunately, most leave the state with their degrees. For example, two-thirds of the graduates of the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan leave the state with their degrees.

The few who stay do very well. For example, there is a small but robust biotech entrepreneurial community in Ann Arbor made up almost exclusively of U-M alums who wanted/needed to stay around Ann Arbor. The best thing the state can do is to define incentives to change the two-thirds leaving into two-thirds staying. Complex economic policies trying to bring new business and capital into the state are doomed if two-thirds of the talent routinely leaves. I think the policy folks should focus on ways to allow the high-quality talent already available in Michigan to stay in the state.

[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.]

Matthew O'Donnell is the Dean of the University of Washington's College of Engineering. Follow @

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