Michigan Business Incubator to convert old classrooms into space for startups


A Michigan-based science and technology business incubator is expanding its reach in the Ann Arbor area with a new location, creating a home for startups founded by local college graduates.

A growing number of colleges have opened their own business incubators in recent years. The University of California at Berkeley, Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, and the University of Pennsylvania offer co-op spaces and support for student startups. Some research suggests that companies built in university incubators create more jobs and earn higher profits than those that do not. For colleges that can’t set up an incubator in-house, proximity to a space like MI-HQ is key to keeping business-minded graduates nearby.

Michigan Innovation Headquarters is set to acquire the former Eastern Michigan University College of Business building in Ypsilanti, Michigan for $2.6 million. The co-working space will be MI-HQ’s fourth location and is expected to open in early 2023. Its location near a college campus will present MI-HQ tenant companies with a “talent pool,” said MI-HQ President Mark Smith. EMU will move its College of Business to a location closer to its central campus.

In its existing workspaces, all located in Ann Arbor, MI-HQ leases office space and labs to companies – primarily science, technology, engineering, and math operations – with an emphasis on business-to-business collaboration . Since many companies are working on projects in related fields, including biotechnology, medical and pharmaceutical research, and robotics, in the same physical space, they can help each other to solve problems and create new partnerships, a said Smith. MI-HQ also offers tenant companies human resources and legal assistance, as well as assistance with accounting and intellectual property strategy.

Proximity to existing workspaces near college campuses in the Ann Arbor area has helped MI-HQ become a key resource for recent graduates and college professors involved in startups. Jeffrey Kittendorf, who operates multiple businesses from MI-HQ locations, said the workspace is attractive to businesses because rent is affordable and proximity to universities provides access to talent.

“We’ve been a landing point for many spin-off companies from the University of Michigan’s Office of Technology Transfer, and we’re cultivating that relationship with eastern Michigan,” Smith said, adding that MI locations -HQ are also incubating. companies from Michigan Technological University and Michigan State University.

Renting space in a private business incubator has become an attractive option for students launching start-up businesses because the incubator offers greater flexibility and resources than a university or small research lab.

Arborsense, a company developing wearable monitors for biochemical markers like alcohol, started at the University of Michigan but expanded to take up space at an MI-HQ site due to the need for laboratory and office space, said John Seamans, director of the Michigan Biomedical Venture. Fund, which invests in biomedical startups using intellectual property licensed from the University of Michigan. Arborsense executives were able to discuss with MI-HQ how the space could be customized to best suit their use, an advantage they likely wouldn’t have had in an incubator space. academic, Seamans said.

The new MI-HQ site will offer graduates from universities in the region the opportunity to stay on site without being restricted to using the university’s laboratory space, said Sanjib Chowdhury, director of the Center for EMU entrepreneurship.

“We don’t have lab space in downtown Ypsilanti,” Chowdhury said. “When a student graduates in science, health care and engineering, they graduate, they become alumni, they may not have much control over the university lab. For these students, if they are starting a business and need lab space, we can help them work with MI-HQ to secure space for these students.

MI-HQ has avoided high construction costs and established relationships with universities by purchasing and rehabilitating buildings that are not currently in use. Rather than build from scratch, Smith purchased the 160,000 square foot College of Business building from EMU for $2.6 million.

Smith said he had built plans for two new buildings on the existing MI-HQ campus, but construction costs have risen rapidly over the past few years.

“It just becomes unprofitable to do that, where I can always acquire structures at very reasonable costs and renovate them,” Smith said. “Ypsilanti is a great building for us because the size of the rooms, the classrooms, is very conducive to the lab space.”

One of the companies incubated by Kittendorf MI-HQ, PharmaForensics, is an intellectual property litigation support firm that he co-founded. His company takes advantage of MI-HQ’s collaborative network and assists other tenant companies with tasks such as performing chemical analyses.

“Sometimes it’s one-off, and we help each other out,” Kittendorf said. “Sometimes it could turn into, ‘This is an interesting collaboration, would you be willing to partner with us? We are looking for small business grants and we need expertise like yours. we did too.

Kittendorf praised MI-HQ’s focus on promoting collaboration between tenant companies, adding that the workspaces meet the need for an “ecosystem, especially around universities”, for science and technology companies. technologies.

Although the Covid-19 pandemic forced some businesses to operate remotely, many were still working from MI-HQ locations as lab work could not be done from home. During the pandemic, MI-HQ housed one of Michigan’s largest Covid-19 test processing facilities, processing approximately 50,000 tests per week.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas recently launched an innovation incubator offering students the opportunity to incorporate their startup work into their curriculum. To participate in the incubator cohort, UNLV students must either participate in an innovation class, conduct innovation-related research, or complete a design or capstone project in a related field.

Launched in collaboration with Blackstone
private equity, the UNLV incubator recruits student teams and provides co-working space in a Blackstone-owned building and expert mentorship from academia and the community. Blackstone, which allows UNLV to rent space for free, and the University both benefit from their partnership, said Robert Rippee, executive director of UNLV’s Black Fire Innovation Hub.

“[Blackstone] gains because it brings a tech incubator to a nice traditional office park, which helps them diversify the customer base and shows there’s more activity in the tech sector,” Rippee said. “And for UNLV, it gives us space. We didn’t have to buy it.

The partnership with Blackstone has also opened up the incubator to collaboration with nearby tenants of the Blackstone complex, including consulting firms and lawyers, who sometimes act as mentors and guest speakers for students, Rippee said. .

Rippee said the idea of ​​incubating startups among university students is an emerging trend, adding that the UNLV incubator aims to better support students in their transition to running their startups full-time after graduation. graduation.

“That’s the whole idea is that we want to extend the relationship with the student beyond graduation,” Rippee said. “We want them to go out and go to market with the idea, but it bridges the gap between what they did in their college journey and entering the real world.”

MI-HQ will work this year to finalize a list of tenant companies for the new Ypsilanti site before its opening in early 2023.


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