We recently reported that the University of Michigan was offering a masters in entrepreneurship (joint program from business and engineering). Michigan is going deeper into the innovation and collaboration world with the announcement of microgrants to interdisciplinary teams to pursue new areas. From Paul Basken at The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Under the plan, which begins today, all Michigan faculty will be eligible for a $20,000 credit that can be redeemed only if they work with two other faculty members, including one outside their academic field.
The idea, which appears to be unique among American research universities, has numerous elements that Michigan leaders believe will be attractive to professors and the institution, including its emphases on encouraging interdisciplinary work and helping faculty compete for a tightening pool of federal money.
And, said Mary Sue Coleman, Michigan’s president, it will help Michigan and perhaps other universities overcome their widespread failure to let faculty pursue high-risk, high-reward hunches.
“I know that people have new ideas, good ideas, they’d love to try it out,” Ms. Coleman said in an interview. “But we don’t have good mechanisms now within the university for them to do that.”
Later in the piece,
The University of Michigan is offering the grant program, dubbed MCubed, as the first major project in its Third Century Initiative, a program announced last October to mark its 200th birthday in 2017 by spending $50-million over the next five years on ways to attack global problems like poverty, climate change, and social injustice.
MCubed is intended as an alternative for researchers who might otherwise lack the resources to develop an idea to the point where they could seek a major grant from a public or private source like the National Institutes of Health or a major foundation.
It was suggested by a trio of leaders in the College of Engineering who felt that the standard sources of start-up money for researchers are too limited both in their willingness to entertain unusual theories and too slow in their months-long approval processes.
One of the plan’s promoters, Mark A. Burns, a professor of chemical engineering and chairman of that department, said the idea was borne out of frustration with the realization “that the problems that I’m trying to solve aren’t necessarily the problems that I think are the best problems to solve for society.”
As an example, Mr. Burns said, an AIDS researcher might have an idea for a new HIV test and would use the money to hire a graduate student to conduct preliminary experiments on a store of blood samples. Getting a few thousand dollars for that kind of work could take a year of grant applications. Now, a group of three faculty members could discuss it over lunch and have $60,000 to begin the work the next day, he said.
The University of Michigan has 2,983 tenured and tenure-track faculty at its Ann Arbor campus. It anticipates MCubed, with a budget of $15-million over two years, will finance 250 projects involving 750 faculty.
Is this sounding like Y Combinator or an accelerator? This is the type of project that Zoltan J. Acs and I call for in working paper –Backing the Horse or the Jockey: University Knowledge Commercialization in the Entrepreneurial Age. The paper is in final editing for publication. Email me an I’ll send you the last version from about 3 weeks ago.
Glad to see the University of Michigan (where I earned my BA) continues to lead on entrepreneurship and innovation.