MSU MTRAC: Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Program for the Bio-Economy

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The State of Michigan and Michigan State University are working together on an initiative to accelerate commercial development of promising bioprocessing, biotechnology, and bio-based products that deliver scientific advancements and boost economic growth.

The statewide enterprise is driven by the Michigan Translational Research and Commercialization Program (MTRAC), and supported by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC). The focus is to support innovative, novel, and breakthrough technologies that are commercially viable and regarded as favorable for local, regional, national and/or global economies.

Andrew McColm leads the MSU MTRAC program within the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. With a background in venture capital and commercialization, McColm works to unite MSU faculty, agricultural and business leaders, government officials, and entrepreneurs in fostering cutting edge research and corporate partnerships that have potential for financial viability, high growth, and job retention.

According to McColm, the long-held tradition of cross collaboration for problem solving at Michigan State University is one of the strongest features of the MSU MTRAC program.

"Rarely do you get a solution from one source, with regard to innovative start-ups or licensable technology. As projects develop at MSU there is a great deal of cross-department and cross-college collaboration. It is a very effective way of addressing technical issues and producing a more successful outcome, often in a tighter time frame," said McColm.

He attributes strong and deep involvement from external stakeholders and community partners with contributing to the success of engaged scholarship at MSU. An Oversight Committee for the MSU MTRAC program, consisting of agricultural leaders and professionals from venture capital, private industry, government, and academic sectors, is charged with making the final funding decisions, and additionally provides guidance and mentoring for faculty.

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"We have an outstanding Oversight Committee with decades of experience across finance, industry, and government, all focused on the ag/bio space. They bring a tremendous amount of commercial focus and insight to the program," said McColm.

McColm also credits MSU's legacy as a land-grant institution with setting the tone for a strong tech transfer function that supports the MSU MTRAC program and promotes connections between the university and industry.

"The MEDC is thrilled to be working with the great minds at MSU to develop agro-bio technologies for commercial use. Using a translational research platform developed by the Coulter Foundation, and with their full support, MEDC has partnered with our strong research institutions to create a regional model for collaboration and commercialization. MSU is a national leader in this space, and we are supported by a network of industry investors and expert advisors," said Paula Sorrell, vice president for Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Venture Capital at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

The MSU MTRAC program operates in collaboration with MSU Technologies and Spartan Innovations in the MSU Innovation Center, and looks for commercial products and services that come from animal studies, crop studies, prototype development, software development, agricultural technologies, biomass feed stocks conversions, biofuel production, and a host of additional subjects. The projects must have shown promise in a laboratory setting, but need scale-up or other technology de-risking in order to achieve commercial success. MSU colleges involved in the collaboration include Agriculture and Natural Resources, Natural Science, Engineering, and Veterinary Medicine.

Building on an initial state grant of $1.09M, Michigan State University is providing matching funds for a total of $2.4M. The MSU MTRAC process is fast-paced, with pre-proposals submitted in November 2013, full proposals in January 2014, and funding decisions announced in early spring. Funded proposal amounts will range from $25,000 to $100,000 and can be renewed upon successful completion of commercially-driven milestones for up to $300,000 in total. Proposals include descriptions of the nature of the translational research, commercial potential, development plans, and budget projections.

While the funding is important, McColm stresses that the holistic approach and collaborative efforts in each step of the process create a strong environment for success. "The proposals that will be funded tackle some complex agriculatural and bio-economy issues. Michigan State University encourages an atmosphere where everyone is working together to provide best practices toward a common goal and the MSU MTRAC program is a way of contributing solutions that impact society."

  • Written by Carla Hills, University Outreach and Engagement
  • Photographs courtesy of MSU Photography Services

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