WMU News

Business incubator facility launched at WMU

Dec. 14, 2000

KALAMAZOO -- A business incubator aimed at invigorating the development of new high-tech and life sciences-oriented businesses in Southwest Michigan has been established on the Western Michigan University campus.

The Southwest Michigan Innovation Center was officially launched on the fifth floor of McCracken Hall Wednesday, Dec. 13, by Southwest Michigan First, an economic development organization for the region.

Last spring, Southwest Michigan First received a $5 million grant from the Michigan Legislature to establish an incubator facility in Southwest Michigan. Because a number of businesses had expressed immediate interest in participating in the incubator, Southwest Michigan First reached an agreement with WMU to launch the center on campus until a permanent location is established.

According to organizers, the goal of the Innovation Center is to serve as a conduit for transferring technology from corporations, the University and entrepreneurs to the private sector in the interest of creating start-up firms. A benefit of the center's initial location on campus is the fact that University researchers will have access to means of developing marketable ideas they have.

Barry Broome, chief executive officer of Southwest Michigan First, says establishing the incubator is "crucial to this community's economy."

"It is the seed of a new economy," he says. "The Innovation Center is one step in enhancing science and technology exchange between the University and the businesses and industries of this region."

The fifth floor of McCracken Hall, where the Innovation Center is located, formerly housed labs for departments including chemistry and biological sciences. This space became vacant last year when many of those labs were moved to Haenicke Hall, the University's new research facility. In addition to lab space and equipment, the University will provide support services including administrative assistance and basic office facilities.

"McCracken is the perfect facility for the interim," says Rebecca Schall Josvai, WMU director research and sponsored programs who also directs the SMIC. "There are companies who want to be in the Innovation Center and need wet laboratory space. McCracken has all that and only needs a little lipstick and rouge before it can be made available. In addition, biotechnology companies require expensive equipment and the best way for young companies to have access to that equipment is to share it with other small companies."

She says that the Innovation Center ultimately hopes to attract high technology, advanced engineering and information technology-oriented businesses in addition to biotechnology firms.

Dr. Donald E. Thompson, WMU vice president for of research and dean of the graduate college, says that the Innovation Center will allow some of the campus' "brightest, most creative talents" to take their innovations from concept to commercialization.

"By taking these fine minds and transferring their skills and research, the center will have the ability to create jobs and that's what it's all about," he says.

Josvai, who also oversees the efforts of the University's research officers, will do double duty running the center. A scientist by training, she came to WMU several years ago from Madison, Wis., where she worked for a biotech startup within the University of Wisconsin's business incubator.

"I'm thrilled to be involved in this," she says. "It is more fun than anything I've ever done. I have contact with scientists and entrepreneurs and interact with faculty who are passionate about what they do. It is very exciting to be around those people."

Media contact: Marie Lee, 616 387-8400, marie.lee@wmich.edu

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