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Lab to Market

May Mobility licensed five autonomous driving-related technologies from U-M that will help build out a fleet of autonomous public transit vehicles planned for business districts, corporate and college campuses, medical facilities and communities nationwidePhoto: May Mobility

By Alex Piazza

They call it the Valley of Death for a reason.

Entrepreneurs coined the term to describe the period from when a startup is formed to when it generates revenue.

Research shows that nearly 90 percent of startups fail — a stark statistic that University of Michigan alumnus Mark Kiel knows well.

Kiel holds an MD and PhD from U-M, and through his research, he devised a way to identify a more efficient method for interpreting genome sequences.

But there was one problem: Kiel had no experience translating his research from the lab to the marketplace.


Mark Kiel and S. Jack Hu

Cue the U-M Office of Technology Transfer. The team at Tech Transfer connected Kiel with entrepreneurial mentors, helped him create a business model and accelerated the development of his software so that he could secure initial investment capital. A crucial resource at the early stages of software development was funding from Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization, which is funded by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), and administered through the university's Fast Forward Medical Innovation and Tech Transfer.

The result is Genomenon, an Ann Arbor-based software company that is revolutionizing how genetic diagnoses and discoveries are made.

“Without early assistance from Tech Transfer, we could have suffered an untimely death,” said Kiel, chief scientific officer at Genomenon.

Tech Transfer is just one example of how U-M fosters innovation and commercializes university research for greater societal impact.

“In transferring university research to the marketplace, the University of Michigan plays an important role in improving lives and driving economic growth through the development of new products and services," said S. Jack Hu, U-M vice president for research.

Commercializing Research


Censys is a platform that helps information security specialists
discover, monitor and analyze devices accessible from the internet.

Critical illness and injury is a silent epidemic that affects more than 5.7 million Americans every year.

Tech Transfer connected an entrepreneurial alumna to three scientists at the Michigan Center for Integrative Research in Critical Care, and together, they developed technology that monitors the autonomic nervous system of hospital patients to help predict problems. The technology, licensed from U-M, spawned the startup Fifth Eye.

Commercialization of U-M research expands far beyond health care. Take cybercrime, for example, which costs the world’s economy billions of dollars each year.

Technology developed in the lab of U-M Professor J. Alex Halderman is the basis behind Censys, a platform that helps information security specialists discover, monitor and analyze internet devices. Censys continuously scans the internet, analyzing every publicly visible server and device, and then uses that data to create a dynamic, searchable snapshot of the entire internet.

Fifth Eye and Censys are two of the 21 startups launched last year at U-M. Nine of the 21 startups are software companies, and the majority of new startups are headquartered in southeast Michigan, where they can create jobs and diversify the economy.

“We are seeing an explosion of interest in launching software startups,” said Kelly Sexton, U-M associate vice president for research-technology transfer and innovation partnerships.


Kelly Sexton and Mike Klein

“Network security, for instance, is now one of the fastest-growing industry sectors in the Ann Arbor area, and it all started with the university’s investment in the early internet, which eventually gave rise to U-M startups. At the same time, we’re launching companies like the autonomous shuttle startup May Mobility, which can help maintain our region’s competitiveness in the automotive industry.”

In the case of Genomenon, Mark Kiel utilized the mentor-in-residence program at Tech Transfer to help transfer his technology to the marketplace. Mike Klein was one of those mentors, guiding companies like Genomenon from the conceptual stage to company launch. The mentor-in-residence program is supported by the MEDC through the Technology Transfer Talent Network.

“One of the big challenges aspiring entrepreneurs need to figure out quickly is whether their research has merely led to an interesting technology or might possibly result in the creation of a company,” said Klein, who followed Kiel from U-M to Genomenon and now serves as the company’s CEO. “There’s a big difference between the two, and the mentors at Michigan really help bridge the gap between, ‘This is a cool technology’ and ‘This a viable business.’”

In addition, Fast Forward Medical Innovation (FFMI) provides a front door for the campus community and industry partners to access and navigate the university’s rich biomedical innovation ecosystem. The team at FFMI has developed unique and integrative programs that help U-M researchers accelerate and transition their discoveries onto viable commercialization paths.

Student Ventures


Three U-M graduate students developed Canopy, a health
technology company that provides people with the necessary
tools to better prepare for future health care issues.

Have you spoken with your family members regarding their end-of-life wishes?

The conversation could have a lasting impact on your life and theirs.

To help promote these conversations, three U-M graduate students developed Canopy, a health technology company that provides people with the necessary tools to better prepare for future health care issues.

The students developed a mobile app that promotes discussion and action regarding end-of-life health care decisions. The app then shares those decisions, through a legal document, with loved ones and medical providers.

Canopy is the culmination of a five-month, campuswide challenge that encourages collaboration among undergraduate and graduate students so they can address real-world problems.

At U-M, students from across campus are empowered to start and develop companies, nonprofits, products and services that drive social and economic progress. Their work crosses disciplinary boundaries to transform ideas into action, solve problems and develop innovations that will succeed in the marketplace.


Mark Schlissel

Innovate Blue connects and unites the university’s top-ranked entrepreneurship programs, including more than 15 centers and programs in entrepreneurship and more than 30 entrepreneurial student organizations. Together, these programs encourage innovation, creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit that spurs economic development and contributes to the public good.

The Center for Entrepreneurship, for example, provides active learning experiences to all U-M students and faculty that are designed to teach the skills necessary to successfully translate high-potential projects and ideas into the world. And the university’s Zell Lurie Institute advances the knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship and innovation through education, symposium, competitions and global community outreach.

“At U-M, we seek to compete at the highest levels in everything we do,” said U-M President Mark Schlissel. “Thanks to the strength of our ecosystem of entrepreneurship, our university and students are poised to lead the way to a brighter, more innovative future.”


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