Regions Cultivate Startup Cultures

Entrepreneurial ecosystems are springing up worldwide as a result of wide-ranging collaborations among local businesses, academic institutions, and government agencies.
Regions Cultivate Startup Cultures

The Innovation Hub at Michigan State University

THERE ARE A FEW long-standing regional centers of innovation in the world, California’s Silicon Valley perhaps the best-known among them. But as more governments view entrepreneurship as the key to economic growth, entrepreneurial hubs are springing up in regions less well-known for innovation. Often the outcome of wide-ranging collaborations among businesses, academic institutions, and government agencies, these comprehensive ecosystems are working to amplify innovation and drive startup formation within their communities.

One such effort is taking place in Michigan in the U.S. The state’s Michigan Strategic Fund (MSF), part of the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), announced that it would continue its funding to support the commercialization of university technologies and greater access to resources for entrepreneurs. It has pledged nearly US$1.9 million in continued funding for two programs at Michigan State University (MSU) in East Lansing. Of that money, $1.1 million will go to the school’s AgBio Innovation Hub, part of the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Program (MTRAC), to help researchers developing innovations related to bio-derived and bio-based materials, natural resources, and animal health. Since the university transitioned the Ag- Bio Innovation Hub to a statewide model two years ago, the hub has launched two startups, received 19 patents, and attracted $10 million in funding for its researchers’ innovations.

In addition, MSF will provide $500,000 to MSU’s University Early-Stage Proof-of-Concept Fund (ADVANCE), which supports university technology transfer offices in the state; and $345,783 to Invest Detroit Ventures’ Hacker Fellows, a one-year fellowship program for software developers in Detroit. The fellows are paired with early-stage technology startups for mentorship and participate in a five-week boot camp.

“Developing university technologies and supporting the growth of high-tech entrepreneurs … is the mission of all of our programs and initiatives,” says Fred Molnar, vice president of entrepreneurship and innovation at MEDC.

A similar effort has been initiated in Monterrey, Mexico, where organizers are building what they call that country’s “first digital transformation ecosystem.” A group of companies and academic institutions are collaborating to create the Monterrey Digital Hub, which they hope will position the city as Mexico’s technological center.

The Monterrey Digital Hub will sponsor boot camps and workshops focused on digital technology training, as well as offer specialized mentoring and programs focused on innovation. The facility features co-working spaces to enable interaction among entrepreneurs, investors, service providers, universities, organizations, and accelerators.

Three academic institutions and eight companies are sponsoring the hub. The universities include Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey (ITESM), Universidad Autónoma de Nuevo León (UANL), and Universidad de Monterrey. Participating companies include multinational conglomerate ALFA, beverage companies Arca Continental and FEMSA, finance services company Banorte, building materials company CEMEX, steel producer Deacero, and technology companies IBM Mexico and NEORIS.

Rogelio Garza, rector of UANL, believes the hub will transform Mexico’s businesses by helping them devise more robust digital strategies. Companies need to “transform their current business models into a new, completely digital model,” says Garza. He adds that the need for transformation is no different among universities, which must integrate and promote digital technology more extensively in their curricula. Only then, he says, can they provide students and employers alike with “the tools and capabilities needed for these digital transformation processes.”