Technology and commercialization assistance program gives michigan businesses competitive advantage

Innovation is the lifeblood of any company.  It is what sets a company apart from their competition, allows them to charge more for a product or service, and helps them grow. A new program established by the Institute for Research on Labor, Employment, and the Economy (IRLEE) at the University of Michigan gives businesses access to the technologies developed in our state’s universities to help companies expand their offerings and remain competitive.

The Technology and Commercialization Assistance (TCA) Program was made possible in part by funding from the Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (MIIE). The MIIE grant allows cost share funding for faculty and student support toward the commercialization of university technologies in existing industry. TCA identifies the capabilities and initiatives of existing companies and matches them with technologies resident in Michigan universities.
The TCA process then identifies supporting resources the company will need to successfully transfer new technologies into commercial application and provides assistance to engage and effectively utilize those resources.
TCA also identifies, prescreens, and facilitates collaboration with existing companies offering discounted or pro-bono services to university start-ups, either for the prospect of a future customer or as community service.
“TCA is a statewide program that includes all 15 state universities,” explains TCA Program Director Steve Wilson. “It’s just beginning, but we’ve already conducted a pilot program that included clients and project activity in the upper peninsula with Michigan Tech University, in Petoskey with Michigan State University, and in St. Joseph County in collaboration with the University of Michigan. I’m encouraged by the results of the pilot, as the program has been able to retain over 100 jobs and will be creating between five to ten more jobs over the next couple years at a very minimal cost to the program.”
According to Wilson, the program is quickly expanding.”In an effort funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, we have recently partnered with the Michigan Tech and CMU Research Corporation SmartZones to create a better statewide reach and enhance relationships with their local universities,” Wilson says. Larry Molnar, the TCA programs Principle Investigator, is collaborating nationally with universities, economic authorities, and government agencies to replicate the TCA program model on a national scale.

The TCA program has had a number of successes with Michigan companies since its initial pilot. Examples of TCA work include the following:
  • Kadant Johnson Inc. (Kadant) has operated under the Johnson Corporation, a Michigan paper equipment manufacturer since 1933. The TCA program identified Kadant as having superior capability for technology commercialization. After a needs analysis, Kadant was matched with Dr. William Schultz and other faculty, graduate and PhD students from the University of Michigan College of Engineering. Kadant and U-M work produced an advanced analysis and computational fluid dynamics model. The model reduced computing time for current processes allowing Kadant to develop market-leading products in a shorter time period. The new products and shorter cycle times for future product development have stabilized their Michigan operations. The success of the partnership convinced Kadant corporate headquarters to allow Michigan operations to continue, thus retaining 125 employees. Kadant predicts an increase in sales by approximately 15 percent. Additionally, using an average price for a typical size unit, their target gross margin, and the most likely sales estimate, Kadant calculated a weighted average return on investment of 20 percent with a payback period of less than one year.
  • Duo-Gard is a Canton, MI company that focuses on high-performance translucent day-lighting systems, illuminated walls and ceilings, custom canopies, shelters and outdoor structures, and was searching for a translucent panel backing system with very critical specifications that would allow for the creation of new globally competitive products. The TCA program identified Arborlight, a UM start-up company focused on developing innovative lighting solutions, to develop a prototype of the translucent panel backing system. With TCA assistance, Duo-Gard was able to successfully collaborate with a UM start-up company to integrate leading-edge lighting technology into next generation products and streamline product manufacturing. As a result of U-M Arborlight LED technology, Duo-Gard has developed products that require 70 percent less aluminum. This new technology also allowed Duo-Gard to reduce manufacturing labor by approximately 50 percent and the electricity usage of products by 80 percent, lowering costs and creating a more environmentally friendly product. Additionally, due to technological improvements and resulting products, Duo-Gard expects to increase sales within three years by approximately $2M annually, and add between five and 10 high-paid employees.
  • Petoskey Plastics is a Petoskey, MI based company that focuses on blown film plastics, typically in the form of bags. After determining that Petoskey was a good fit for the TCA program, IRLEE matched Petoskey Plastics with Michigan State University and its proprietary nano clay formula. The TCA project funded Professor Krishnamurthy Jayaraman’s work on rheological modification of linear polypropylene with nano clay and compatibilizer (patent pending) to high molecular weight high-density polyethylene nanocomposites to formulate, test and run in the lab in preparation for a factory run and potential commercial use. In the summer of 2012, the advanced plastic formulation will run in the factory. If successful, it will allow for the creation of Petoskey Plastics next generation of globally competitive product lines for new global markets.
Visit here for more information on the TCA program.
Michigan Initiative for Innovation and Entrepreneurship activities are supported by grants from the C.S. Mott Foundation, New Economy Initiative of Southeast Michigan, and the Dow Foundation.

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