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Thursday, 27 September 2012 13:10

WMSTI may fade away as SmartZone strategy shifts

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GRAND RAPIDS — The West Michigan Science & Technology, at least in name, will likely disappear from the scene with a pending change in management of the Grand Rapids SmartZone.

Under new contracts awaiting approval by the city’s Local Development Finance Authority, Grand Valley State University’s Center for Entrepreneurism and Innovation would take over the day-to-day management of the SmartZone and the business incubator housed in the Cook-DeVos Center for Health Sciences. The Right Place Inc. will handle marketing and promotion of the SmartZone.

As a result, “WMSTI as a brand name may not continue to exist or exist in its current function,” said Jim Bachmeier, GVSU’s vice president for finance and administration.

WMSTI, which operates as a unit of the university, could fold into whatever organization the Center for Entrepreneurism and Innovation creates to manage the SmartZone, Bachmeier said.

WMSTI Venture Center Director Rich Cook will transition to a part-time academic research position at the university and work on technology transfer, Bachmeier said. Other WMSTI staff also will continue at GVSU in positions supporting tenants of the incubator, he said.

Transitioning management of the SmartZone to the Center for Entrepreneurism and Innovation should give the program “a little more of a GVSU feel,” Bachmeier said. WMSTI, which has managed the SmartZone and the business incubator since its formation more than a decade ago, “was seen as a little separate from the university. I don’t think that was helpful,” Bachmeier said. “The community will better understand the university’s intellectual assets are behind it. It’ll be easier to understand it in those terms.”

The LDFA decided this year to modernize the management of the SmartZone to create more “churn” and better ROI from life sciences companies. The LDFA wants to generate more startup companies coming out of the business incubator and increase job creation.

In its proposal to the LDFA, the Center for Entrepreneurism and Innovation projected the business incubator over five years could support 50 startup companies that would collectively raise $75 million in capital, assist in the commercialization of 100 ideas or technologies, and help to create 250 new jobs.

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