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Posted on Sun, Oct 11, 2009 : 5:28 a.m.

University research: Over 1 billion served

By Daryl Weinert

The University of Michigan recently reached a remarkable milestone given the difficult economic climate in which it was achieved. In fiscal year 2009, U-M exceeded $1 billion of research spending. Amazingly, the volume of research at U-M has doubled in the span of 10 years.

U-M consistently ranks among the nation’s top five research institutions. It’s a testament to the quality and rigor of the faculty and students that U-M continues to win a significant share of federal research grants and is attracting a growing amount of industry-funded research.

Research funding is the raw material that leads to discoveries and new knowledge. Many of these discoveries have commercial potential, and can be crafted into new products, new services, new businesses and new jobs. During the past decade, U-M has generated 2,679 technology inventions.

U-M has also grown its research connections with industry. These connections take many forms: direct industry funding, joint industry/academic proposals to federal or state programs, industry membership in university research centers and letters of support for proposals to government agencies.

These relationships can involve a single faculty member and a few thousand dollars, or span multiple disciplines and involve millions of dollars. According to the National Science Foundation, direct industry research funding at universities grew to $3 billion during fiscal year 2008.

University and industry research collaboration creates win-win partnerships. Companies can extend their research capabilities by tapping into the extensive expertise across myriad disciplines available at universities.

They can access specialized laboratories and research equipment that might not be possible for companies to access elsewhere (particularly for smaller companies). And they can work with and evaluate students they might later wish to recruit.

Universities extend their research dollars and gain access to the knowledge of corporate researchers and scientists. Industry participation in university projects can increase the relevance and societal impact of programs. Indeed, some federal research funding is contingent on demonstrated industry interest and participation.

Universities also benefit by placement of graduates in industrial settings where their education and training is enhanced and careers can be launched. Also, the student’s familiarity with U-M research capabilities may promote further interactions between the company and the university.

The university is experimenting with various mechanisms to catalyze industry research engagements. One example is the Small Company Innovation Program (SCIP), piloted in the U-M College of Engineering. This program provides financial incentives to small companies (less than 500 employees) with significant operations in Michigan to establish research partnerships with the university.

Faculty-led collaborative research proposals with small companies can qualify for matching support from U-M. For each project, the company must provide cash support of at least $30,000, and U-M will provide matching support of up to $30,000. It is expected the total support (company and match) will enable the faculty to support one graduate student research assistant for one year. (For details about the SCIP contact Amy Klinke, Assistant Director for Small Business Initiatives, 734-647-7071,

U-M and other research universities in Michigan have a tremendous impact on the state’s economy. The recently released 2009 report from the University Research Corridor (Michigan State, Wayne State, and U-M) details $1.4 billion in combined research funding, and $14.5 billion of economic activity generated in the state.

All three universities are also interested in promoting their connections to industry and related economic development activities. It’s an exciting era of expanding collaboration.

For more detailed information about research at U-M, visit

Daryl Weinert is the Executive Director of the University of Michigan’s Business Engagement Center.