For all the accolades flowing Detroit's way as it diversifies its economy beyond just auto manufacturing, it's still not considered a hotbed of entrepreneurship, according to a report by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. It ranked dead last among 15 cities in startup activity. It ranked Michigan 42nd out of the 50 states, the Detroit Free Press reports.
While No. 1 city Los Angeles had 580 entrepreneurs per 100,000 people, in Detroit that figure was just 180 entrepreneurs per 100,000 people. The story quotes Ken Nisbet, director of the University of Michigan Tech Transfer office, saying:
What we've found in the Midwest, we have to work a lot harder.
That's happening with a new effort to bring to market technology developed in the state's universities. The University of Michigan will lead a new two-year, $2.4 million initiative funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corp. Joining Michigan will be Wayne State University, Michigan State University, Michigan Technological University, Western Michigan University, Grand Valley State University and Oakland University.
The University of Michigan press release says it completed 101 licensing agreements and spun out 11 startups in 2011, and its Tech Transfer office has helped launch 92 startups from research that originated in faculty labs. Three-quarters of those companies remain in the state. It also quotes Nisbet saying:
Most people agree that the core problem holding back economic vitality is having available talent, especially in the Midwest. We aim to change that. You may get early stage internal development funding, but if you cannot find the talent to assess commercialization issues, formulate development plans and execute on these plans, you're not deploying that money well.
He calls a mentors-in-residence program a key part of the initiative to help coach new ventures along - and also to keep serial entrepreneurs in the state, according to Xconomy.
That bodes well for the nation as a whole, which already dominates the global landscape for patents coming out of universities, though obtaining a patent doesn't equal commercialization. According to a report by the U.N. World Intellectual Property Organization, U.S. universities took 30 of the top 50 spots in its global Top 50 of university patent filings. (Michigan ranked No. 8)