WMU News

MEDC funds business accelerator at BTR Park

July 30, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- With a $550,000 grant announced July 30, the Michigan Economic Development Corp., the state's economic development organization, has given Kalamazoo SmartZone officials the boost they need to develop a technology business accelerator that will serve as a model for the state and nation.

Matt Dugener, managing director of Targeted Community Initiatives for MEDC's Community and Business Services, traveled to Kalamazoo to deliver both a check and news of his agency's support to city leaders, principals in the Local Development Finance Authority and the heads of Southwest
Michigan First and Western Michigan University. The grant, which was awarded to the city's LDFA, will be used to fund the first two years of activity for a business accelerator that will be located in the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center in WMU's Business Technology and Research Park.

The new accelerator program will supplement the innovation center's basic incubator services with a communitywide approach to nurturing new firms that will include entrepreneurial training programs, access to capital, technology transfer assistance, access to talented personnel, market and product development research and other high-level business development services. Among the key features of the accelerator will be:

  • a venture capital focus to expand economic development opportunities by expanding access to seed money;
  • a mentoring program for the CEOs of start-up companies utilizing management talent in the area as well as further development of Kalamazoo's technology talent pool;
  • an on-site hub bringing together Kalamazoo community resources in the areas of personnel development, technology transfer and small business development; and
  • establishment of both an area business service provider network and a sophisticated Web site that will include multiple databases of information and resource links.

Southwest Michigan First created the proposal for the MEDC grant application. The innovation center has been developed over the past two years as part of Kalamazoo's economic development initiative to help emerging life science companies germinate and form a high-tech cluster that will diversify Kalamazoo's economy. With the $12 million necessary to construct its physical infrastructure now raised, the center is ready for self-governance, and an independent board of directors is being formed.

The MEDC grant will be used to partially fund staff salaries, acquire additional bioscience equipment and launch accelerator programs. The accelerator will be managed by an experienced CEO, who is currently being recruited through a nationwide search, as well as a chief operating officer and a client services manager. The accelerator is expected to be self-supporting by the end of the two-year grant period. Collaborators in the accelerator effort are the city of Kalamazoo and its Local Development Finance Authority, Western Michigan University, Southwest Michigan First, the Small Business Development Center and ARCH Development Partners, a venture capital firm based in Chicago that has offices in Kalamazoo.

"This is a community uniquely positioned to create an infrastructure to provide resources that will help technology-based businesses succeed faster than they would through normal business incubation practices," says Kalamazoo Mayor Robert Jones. "We have an enormous talent pool with extensive knowledge in the life sciences, educational resources to effect technology transfer and an economic development initiative that already has established a statewide reputation."

A one-stop hub for business services

To facilitate their work together and improve fledgling firms' access to their services, a number of organizations will locate at the innovation center to form the accelerator hub. They will include offices for WMU's Technology Transfer Office and the Office of Business Development
Services, which is part of the Haworth College of Business; the Small Business Development Center, which is based at Kalamazoo College; Southwest Michigan First; and ARCH Development Partners.

"We're planning to eclipse the traditional business incubator model by providing a strong network of service providers, research specialists, venture capital providers and management mentors who can provide a jump-start for promising young companies that are based on emerging technology," says Barry Broome, executive director and CEO of Southwest Michigan First. "We're focusing on near-term technology and a license-in approach to birth start-up companies that will become viable and vigorous members of our business community."

The Southwest Michigan Innovation Center currently occupies space on the WMU campus. Early next year, it will move to a new 58,000-square-foot facility under construction at WMU's Business Technology and Research Park on the University's Parkview Campus. The campus also is home to the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences' new complex which also will open in 2003. The BTR Park is focused on attracting companies in the life sciences, information technology and advanced engineering. In addition to the innovation center and the five tenants currently committed to that facility, four other firms have become part of the park community in the past 18 months. They include three firms that have or are planning to build their own facilities and a fourth that is part of a building designed to accommodate multiple tenants.

According to Dr. Elson S. Floyd, president of WMU, the new business accelerator plan will enhance the University's overriding goals for the parkeconomic development for the entire region, and enhanced research and educational opportunities for students and faculty. In addition to
its offices that will be housed in the accelerator hub, the University has pledged to make a wide array of research facilities available to accelerator client firms at reduced or no charge. Such resources include laboratory space, an imaging facility, DNA sequencing capabilities, a wind tunnel, spectroscopic assay capabilities, and biological and greenhouse research facilities. In addition, faculty members in the areas of chemistry, biology, business and engineering are expected to provide technical assistance, and start-up firms will have opportunities to employ talented students in those fields as interns and recruit recent graduates.

"This development will allow us to leverage University resources in a way that will benefit not only the University and the community, but also our state and nation," Floyd says. "I expect this accelerator model to demonstrate a 'best practices' approach for other municipalities seeking to marshal their resources to greater advantage. We're committed to this collaborative approach to the development of new technologies and to ensuring that good ideas have a chance to benefit our citizens. There is simply no limit to the kind of discovery and innovation that will result from what we are doing together as a community."

In April 2001, the BTR Park was designated one of 11 Michigan SmartZones by the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

Additional Media contacts:
Kel Lee Chin, Southwest Michigan First, (269) 553-9588
Eric Marvin, City of Kalamazoo, (269) 337-8016
Sandra Cochrane, Technology Initiative, Southwest Michigan First, (269) 553-9588

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