From Lab To Incubator To Research Complex, We Have The Makings Of An Innovation Factory In Michigan

6/9/11Follow @xconomy

Lycera is coming home.

The company recently said it will move from Plymouth, MI to the University of Michigan’s North Campus Research Complex (NCRC) in Ann Arbor.

But this move is not merely just a physical relocation.

In 2008, Pfizer decided to pull out of Michigan, a move the state largely greeted with dismay and frustration. Here was a major pharmaceutical company abandoning a region already starving for well-paid, high tech jobs.

From Pfizer’s exit arose two institutions key to the state’s high tech future: the Michigan Life Science & Innovation Center (MLSIC) in Plymouth and the NCRC in Ann Arbor.

Both sites were former Pfizer R&D centers. In 2009, Ann Arbor SPARK teamed with Esperion Therapeutics CEO Roger Newton and others to purchase the 57,000 square foot Plymouth facility for $3.5 million. The idea was to incubate fresh-out-of-the-womb life science startups.

“We bought it for a song,” Newton recently told Xconomy. “It was worth way more than $3.5 million. The land alone was worth that.”

That same year, the U-M bought the Ann Arbor facility for $108 million, also a steal when you consider the property contains parcels of land and 30 buildings encompassing nearly 2 million square feet of sophisticated laboratoryand administrative space. In January, the U-M debuted a 16,000 square-foot Venture Accelerator at the NCRC, a place where the school could speed the development of university-bred companies.

Now here’s where it gets interesting.

Lycera, a promising U-M drug spinout, will move from the innovation center to the NCRC, where it will occupy 14,000 square feet. Actually, Ann Arbor SPARK used the term “graduate”.

Why is this important? The NCRC and MLSIC are not mere acronyms or buildings but rather key components in an emerging system that previously didn’t exist in the state.

Think about it. The U-M develops technology and spins out a company. The innovation center nurtures the startup to point where it gets big enough to move into the NCRC. There, the company further develops, attracts more venture capital and collaborates on projects with the university.

Michigan is not known for its ability to collaborate, Newton says. People and organizations often do their own thing, even if they stumble over each other.

Thus, a system that assists startups in a progressive, collaborative way is nothing short of remarkable.

Lycera is the first such “graduate.” Now let’s get some more alumni.

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  • http://www.convergenlifesciences.com Greg Heinlein

    Very glad to see. As a former state of Michigan professional, it’s long overdue. The University of Texas has been supporting these programs for over a decade. Need to get the governors office on board and expand this beyond life sciences.

  • http://None Terry Cross

    The Venture Accelerator at the North Campus Research Center is particularly exciting. It is managed, overseen and mentored by Dave Hartmann, one of the region’s consummate superstar entrepreneurs. With multiple domain expertise, he a living example of the regions ability to grow a strong and talented foundation of human resources, Pfizer be damned!