Beyond the Big Three: A Tough Love Search for Detroit’s Future

1/26/11Follow @xconomy

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are related to the automobile industry. Only one (medical device maker Stryker Corp.) can be legitimately called a new school high tech company.

But Michigan has two important assets not found in Minnesota. The first is hunger: a burning need to develop a high tech economy beyond its historic core industry. The second is the presence of several major research universities versus just one in Minnesota.

The key to creating innovation and economic development, I strongly believe, begins with thriving universities, ones that can take the first critical steps in converting research into new companies and jobs.

During a visit I made to southeast Michigan in December as a first scouting foray for this new job, Xconomy hosted a party at a former Pfizer research and development center, now home to the University of Michigan’s efforts to accelerate ideas into viable startups. It was impressive, to put it lightly.

Last year, Michigan State University debuted a facility in East Lansing that houses both its technology transfer operations and Business-Connect, a new office that seeks to better establish relationships between the university and business community.

Wayne State University’s National Biofuels Laboratory is already producing innovations that will lead to new companies like NextCat. The Detroit-based startup is developing a way to convert inexpensive feedstocks like waste vegetable oil, animal fats, and residual corn oil into biodiesel.

That’s why I wanted to join Xconomy’s effort, which began last spring to shine a light on how Michigan’s universities, and its innovation community as a whole, can transform Michigan’s economy.

I feel there something brewing in Michigan, the possibility of a real and remarkable renaissance in innovation and technology.

I stress, however, that I’m not a mindless cheerleader. I support smart, realistic economic development, not crossed-my-fingers, built-it-and-they-didn’t-come programs that waste people’s time and money.

But if it does things right, this state could become a legitimate role model not only for the Midwest but the rest of the country in how a region can successfully reinvent itself for the 21st century economy.

All we need is a spark.















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