U-M Welcomes Startups to New Venture Accelerator on Former Pfizer Campus

1/19/11

“There’s not any other place I’d rather be right now,” Brandon McNaughton said standing at the door of his lab space at the University of Michigan’s Venture Accelerator, which opened officially on Tuesday.

Those aren’t words most would expect to hear from a California native looking to launch his own start up. But McNaughton, the founder of Life Magnetics—an Ann Arbor-based company that aims to provide a faster means for testing whether antibiotics are slowing bacterial growth by measuring the rotation rate of tiny magnetic beads placed in a bacterial solution—says he couldn’t have imagined his company taking off anywhere else.

And U-M officials hope that with the opening of the accelerator more scientists like McNaughton, who began developing his technology in 2004 while he was a graduate student at the university and spun off his company a few years later, will want to stay at U-M and in the state instead of fleeing for the coasts.

“I can’t wait until the day comes when people come here to Michigan, and say what’s going on here is better than what’s going on on the coasts,” U-M’s President Mary Sue Coleman told the hundreds assembled at Tuesday’s unveiling, before cutting the ribbon to officially open the space.

The accelerator, 16,000 square feet of offices and labs housed in U-M’s North Campus Research Complex, aims to give startups with connections to the university a space with resources such as lab equipment and access to mentors that could help them become more viable companies, faster. U-M purchased the NCRC site from Pfizer in 2009 after the drug company closed its Ann Arbor facility.

Stephen Forrest, U-M’s vice president for research, told the crowd that the accelerator will “assist from the ground up a home grown enterprise, giving the founders world class lab space and at the same time world class business intelligence to provide them with the best possible opportunities to succeed and help them improve our state.”

Five startups were on display at Tuesday’s event, ranging from Life Magnetics to Civionics, which develops sensors that it hopes can detect signs of bridge damage and avert disasters like the notorious 2007 Minnesota bridge collapse. So far Life Magnetics is the only company that’s officially moved in—the other four are still in negotiations—but Jim O’Connell, the associate director for business formation at U-M Tech Transfer, says officials are hoping to lease space within the accelerator to 10 or 15 companies.

Though the space in its current form is mostly empty offices and labs complete with desks, chairs, and lab sinks begging to be used, officials like Coleman and Forrest hope the accelerator will … Next Page »

Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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