From the Dean
Why would an engineering college make the world of startup business a priority?
As you looked at this issue’s cover, perhaps you asked yourself that question. The answer is simple – entrepreneurship is intertwined with the three traditional roles of the university: education, research and service.
Many of today’s students are seeking an education that can be applied not only to facilitate a career, but to making a difference. While governments can help solve the world’s great challenges, and nonprofits are increasing their impact, students understand that harnessing ideas to the marketplace can powerfully and quickly influence progress. And they are passionate about the idea. As a college, we realize that in an increasingly competitive world, other educational institutions are reaching similar conclusions. So we are expanding this new educational opportunity. Although not every student will create a startup, the ability to think in innovative ways, assess ideas in light of the market’s needs and tackle multilayered challenges will help a future employee of any-sized modern organization.
Research projects can be intellectually enriching, yield career-launching dissertations and produce changes in how we understand the world. But often the economic potential of basic research is unrealized. While the College continues to produce outstanding fundamental research, we are strengthening the continuum from research to commercialization. Of course, not all research will be commercialized – in some cases markets do not yet exist; in others the research does not have commercial value. But increasingly, the option should be available.
It’s no secret that the State of Michigan is undergoing a fundamental economic transition that will take years to complete. The College is uniquely positioned to expedite that transition. Like counterparts in California, Massachusetts and North Carolina, we can become an epicenter of economic development. Recalling our role as leaders throughout the history of the automotive industry, we accept this challenge confidently and eagerly.
As you’ll read in this issue, we’ve approached entrepreneurship from many directions. We’ve established the Center for Entrepreneurship under the dynamic leadership of Thomas Zurbuchen. Thomas, who also has a story in this issue, is as energetic as any entrepreneur you’ll ever meet. He has built a network of venture capitalists, business developers and legal experts – many of whom are College alumni – from Ann Arbor to Silicon Valley, who are eagerly providing advice to us. We’re supporting the efforts of the MPowered student organization, just over a year old, flourishing with year-round activity, 100 full members and more than 700 communicating members. Recently, the Center and MPowered hosted 1200 students and 100 organizations at our first Entrepreneurial Opportunities Day. In the classroom, several departments are teaching students the difference between a great technology and a successful business, as instructors draw on their experience as entrepreneurs.
As we expand our entrepreneurial efforts, we’ll continue to collaborate with our colleagues across the University. Strong historical partnerships with the Ross School of Business, for example, through the Tauber Institute for Global Operations, will remain. We appreciate the support of Vice President for Research Steve Forrest, who has written a story in this issue, Provost Teresa Sullivan and President Mary Sue Coleman.
I understand firsthand the value of entrepreneurship. I am co-founder of a company that produces fast algorithms for image formation in computer tomography. The underlying technology was invented in academia through a series of basic research projects. But the technology needed further development and considerable marketing with OEMs to become a product and truly make a difference. That startup experience has made me appreciate the need for translational research and business development as a route to putting basic research into practice.
If you’re a technology entrepreneur – or an innovator who needs help taking the next step in the entrepreneurial process – I hope you’ll partner with us in this new venture. Contact Mike Drake, director of Corporate Relations (firstname.lastname@example.org, 734-647-7044). Mike will connect you to Thomas or other faculty members or students who can work with you most effectively. I welcome your ideas about how the College can foster creativity and innovation to cultivate the next generation of great startup businesses.
David C. Munson, Jr.
Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering
Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science