From the 2004 archives: Michigan researchers, companies continue to engineer growth

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Feb. 11, 2005 — Each year, Small Times ranks the U.S. states for their research, development and commercialization proficiency in the areas of nanotechnology, MEMS and microsystems. Last year, Michigan ranked eighth. Its 2004 report card follows. Look to Small Times’ upcoming March issue for this year’s state-by-state rankings.

March 2004 — In most respects, the two-day symposium at the University of Michigan last November resembled any other academic conference. It offered a mix of local luminaries and out-of-state nano stars giving presentations on everything from modeling to nanolithography to nanowires.

It also included a lunch with the provost at which the guest scientists discussed the institutional investments in their respective institutes, centers and labs and the opportunities that emerged as a consequence. The informal talk got the ball rolling, according to Rick Francis, an associate vice president in U-M’s research office. Ann Arbor-based U-M expects to release a road map this spring on the creation of a “virtual institute” that integrates nano research in its sciences, engineering, medical, pharmaceutical and public health schools.


Michigan ranked eighth in Small Times’ 2004 annual micro and nanotechnology rankings based on its performance in six categories, shown at right.

Sources: National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, Departments of Defense, Energy and Commerce, Environmental Protection Agency, NASA, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Bureau of Labor Statistics, MoneyTree Survey by PricewaterhouseCoopers, Thomson Financial Venture Economics, National Venture Capital Association and Small Times Research. Research by Candace Stuart and David Forman, with support from Gretchen McNeely and Karen Van Antwerp.


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Michigan’s combination of research capabilities and a growing small tech industrial presence helped it scoot to eighth place this year, up a notch from 2003. Its strong showing in those two categories offset a slip in innovation and venture capital.

Michigan is adept at drawing in federal R&D money, a trait that carries through to its small tech-specific grants. Only six other states raked in more small tech research grants in 2003. But Michigan showed less success at turning its ideas into innovation. It placed 15th for winning small tech-specific Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) awards in 2003, and 32nd for small tech patenting in 2003.

The state is also skilled at wedding its research in MEMS and microsystems with industry needs. U-M’s engineering department contains one of the nation’s leading MEMS programs and oversees the National Science Foundation-funded Center for Wireless Integrated MicroSystems. Michigan State and Michigan Technological universities and a range of companies are among the center’s partners.

Wayne State University in Detroit also offers an engineering program with ties to industry, particularly to the auto companies that dominate the southeastern region. In a partnership with Troy-based Delphi Corp., Wayne State unveiled a new, 4,000-square-foot clean room in 2003 for MEMS R&D. The clean room is part of Wayne State’s Smart Sensors Lab, which is developing technologies for medical applications as well as automotive.

Industry-linked projects like some under way at U-M, Wayne State and the state’s university spinouts are likely to lead to patenting and coordinated development of products, according to Anthony Breitzman, vice president and chief technology officer at CHI Research Inc. “This kind of thing goes on locally,” he said. “You see not only the companies but their suppliers develop patents in lockstep. The suppliers are solving problems for the bigger companies.”

Michigan also offers incentives through industry-university-government collaborations called SmartZones and a funding resource dubbed the Technology Tri-corridor. The Ann Arbor-Ypsilanti SmartZone lists MEMS among its three strengths. The tri-corridor initiative supports emerging technologies in the life sciences, homeland security and advanced automotive sectors.

The tri-corridor program incorporates an earlier life sciences initiative that awarded biotech startups 96 awards totaling $175 million between 2000 to 2003. Those companies included the small tech companies NanoBio in Ann Arbor, Advanced Sensor Technologies Inc. in Farmington Hills and Integrated Sensing Systems Inc. in Ypsilanti.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm announced in her 2004 state-of-the-state address that Michigan will set aside $1 million to sustain its economic momentum in its key sectors. The funds will support a program that matches federal SBIR grants with up to $15,000 in state money.

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