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In Challenging Times, UM Helps Launch 10 Startups

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The University of Michigan helped launch 10 startups last year and licensed 97 innovative technologies to industry, while UM researchers reported 290 new inventions.

The 97 technology agreements ties a university record set four years ago, according to UM Tech Transfer. The 10 startups, up from eight the previous year, brings the university’s total over the past decade to 93.

“Launching 93 startups since 2001 places the University of Michigan well within the top 10 U.S. universities in that category,” said Ken Nisbet, executive director of UM Tech Transfer.

Roughly three-quarters of the new businesses are in Michigan, mainly in the  Ann Arbor area.

“The number of startups and technology agreements is much better than we expected, given the economic climate and continued issues in the marketplace,” Nisbet said. The totals are for fiscal year 2010, which ended June 30.

“It says to me that we’re doing it the right way,” Nisbet said. “We start with great technology generated by first-class researchers, then we leverage our team’s expertise to add value to those opportunities, making them attractive to businesses and the venture community.”

The latest UM startups include companies developing ultrasound devices to shred prostate cancer tumors, new techniques to capture energy from river currents and tides, and wireless sensor networks that monitor and control energy consumption in buildings.

Recent UM inventions and their creators will be highlighted at the annual Celebrate Invention reception, 3 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at the Michigan League Ballroom. The event recognizes UM researchers who reported an invention, were awarded a patent, or participated in a license agreement in fiscal 2010.

Eight teams of UM inventors will display their creations at the event. They include a team, led by College of Engineering professor Steven Skerlos, that developed an environmentally friendly form of metalworking fluid. MWFs lubricate and cool metal parts during manufacturing of automobiles and aerospace components and are widely used in other heavy industries.

Nearly two billion gallons of metalworking fluids are used in this country each year. A mix of oil, water and more than 20 other substances — many of them toxic — metalworking fluids pose a threat to worker health and to the environment, Skerlos said. He began studying MWFs more than a decade ago, looking for safer and more effective alternatives.

The solution Skerlos and his colleagues came up with is called CHiP Lube. It uses high-pressure carbon dioxide and vegetable oil to create an industrial lubricant that is non-toxic and renewable. The team is launching Ann Arbor-based Fusion Coolant Systems this year and is working with various manufacturers to apply the CHiP Lube system in factory settings.

“To me, entrepreneurship is a form of research,” said Skerlos, an associate professor and chair of graduate education in the Department of Mechanical Engineering. “Entrepreneurship is about looking for real-world problems, finding the solutions, then creating marketable products. This university backs researchers who are trying to do that. With UM’s strong entrepreneurial culture and UM Tech Transfer’s expertise, faculty can commercialize their discoveries without giving up their day jobs.”

Skerlos credited funding from the UM Tech Transfer Gap Fund, the College of Engineering Translational Research Fund, and the National Science Foundation with helping his team move its invention beyond the lab, enabling the Fusion Coolant Systems launch.

In addition to these accomplishments, UM researchers filed 153 patent applications last year, and 82 patents (10 more than the previous year) were awarded.

Total Tech Transfer revenues, which include royalties and equity returns, were a record $39.8 million. Royalties increased 16 percent to $17.5 million, while total revenues more than doubled last year’s total of $18.1 million, mainly due to a one-time payment from the FluMist agreement. FluMist, a nasal-spray influenza vaccine, was developed at UM.

Tech Transfer revenues fuel ongoing reinvestments in research and education.

On Sept. 29, the Tech Transfer and the UM Business Engagement Center will move to the North Campus Research Complex, the former Pfizer research facility purchased by UM last year. One major project to be pursued there is a “venture accelerator” that will provide office and laboratory space, as well as business services, for UM startup companies.

Earlier this month, Vice President for Research Stephen Forrest told the Board of Regents that research spending at the university grew 12 percent last fiscal year to $1.14 billion — the second straight year UM has surpassed the billion-dollar milestone.

“The fact that the total research expenditures rose at such a healthy rate reflects the continued competitiveness of our faculty when it comes to presenting research ideas,” Forrest said.

For a list of all the technologies (and their inventors) to be displayed at this year’s Celebrate Invention, visit www.techtransfer.umich.edu.

(c) 2010, WWJ Newsradio 950. All rights reserved.

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