Effective Technology Transfer by Ian Charles

Many great business ideas begin as research projects in Universities. Unfortunately, the Universities are not so great at spinning these ideas out of academia and into the business world.

Often the inventor wants to control the project but is unwilling to forgo the not inconsiderable benefits of a tenured academic position, so the project stagnates. Also, the professor typically has little or no business experience and finds it difficult to deal with investors, customers and vendors.

A further problem is that the University’s Technology Transfer Office will often spend considerable time and resources protecting intellectual property for which there are few or no commercial applications.

One University that is trying to overcome these issues is Michigan State with the formation of Spartan Innovations a couple of years ago.

Spartan Innovations is an L3C owned by the MSU Foundation that is staffed by experienced start-up executives referred to as “CEOs in Residence”. This team has early access to all of the University’s invention disclosures and has right of first refusal on any of them. It’s only after the Spartan Innovations team has passed on a deal that the University’s Technology Transfer Office will seek another potential licensee.

While the model still has room for improvement, the first companies have been launched. Courseweaver under its CEO, Rob Fulk, launched in April and has already signed up its first customers and is in the process of closing a $4MM equity round. Several other start-ups have been formed including LifeBlood, an innovative blood storage technology and DataShark, an autonomous underwater vehicle. Both of these won awards at April’s Greenlight business plan competition and expect to launch before the end of 2014.

The New Enterprise Forum is pleased to announce the addition of a new Stakeholder Sponsor, The Michigan Angel Fund ( ).  NEF's Stakeholders are the life-blood of the organization. By supporting NEF, these businesses/organizations have declared their unwavering support for the regional entrepreneurial community.

Skip Simms, Managing Director of the Michigan Angel Fund, “Smart entrepreneurs will take advantage of the valuable service provided by the NEF all volunteer mentors and coaches.  One of the critical success factors in raising money is making a solid presentation to investors who may be seeing the business for the first time.  A bad presentation equals no return call. 

“The Michigan Angel Fund requires companies presenting to our group to meet at least once with an NEF coaching team.  This has improved the quality of presentations to our members significantly.  Thank you NEF for performing this critical role in our entrepreneur eco-system.”


Ann Arbor based MuniRent was one of five companies chosen to receive a Code for America Accelerator grant. Code for America is a non-profit organization providing resources to start-ups that work to solve community problems through implementation of technology.

MuniRent is online clearinghouse allowing municipalities to rent large pieces of equipment to other municipalities thereby increasing utilization of otherwise idle machinery and generating income while providing substantial savings to the renter. MuniRent participated in the Fall 2013 session of Ann Arbor SPARK's Entrepreneurial Boot Camp. There, CEO Alan Mond worked with a teaching team including Viktor Brandtneris, Lee Gorman, Mark Ritz and Gerry Roston - all members of the New Enterprise Forum.

Congratulations and best wishes to Alan Mond and the MuniRent team.

On June 25th, TechTown Detroit conducted a celebration event for the seven entrepreneurial teams graduating from its Spring 2014 Venture Accelerator. The Venture Accelerator is based on the Lean Startup Approach developed by Steve Blank and relies heavily on customer feedback to accurately produce a completed Business Model Canvas. The canvas then becomes the basis for the teams business model and planning going forward. The teams began the process with a customer discovery presentation on April 5th and over the subsequent 12 weeks conducted numerous customer interviews.

On Wednesday evening, six teams updated their progress to fellow members of the TechTown community. Four teams (PhoneBar, MitoStem, Adapta-Wall, and Prombis) presented 90 second summaries of their companies to the assembled audience. Additionally, two teams, TransCuro a hospital discharge software designed to reduced re-admissions, and NeuroTheranostics a blood test to quickly diagnose concussions, were given the opportunity to present for 10-minutes to a panel of judges. The panel consisted of Paula Sorrell, Vice-President of Entrepreneurship for the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and Charlie Moret, President of Invest Michigan. The panel provided feedback to the presenters as well as directed advice on next steps.

The teams received on-going support from business mentors Marianne Fey and Bill Thomson. NEF Board member Viktor Brandtneris acted as the program's Master Facilitator, coordinating the bi-weekly classroom sessions. Additionally, NEF members Gerry Roston, Ian Charles and Stefan Sysko provided pro bono presentation coaching assistance to the teams in the weeks leading up to the celebration. Congratulations to all the teams who participated and completed the program.

GLEQ/MiQuest has announced that several NEF-coached start-ups won top honors at the Great Lakes Enterprise Quest-sponsored Business Plan Competition.  The winning NEF-coached companies are:

  • Movellus Circuits:  $25,000 Emerging Company Award (1st Place); Muhammad Faisal – Top 20 Presenter.
  • SurClean:  $15,000 Emerging Company Award (2nd Place); $12,500 Automation Alley Advanced Manufacturing Innovation Award; Susan Sprentall – Top 20 Presenter.
  • Genomenon:  $5,000 New Business Idea (1st Place); Mark Kiel – Top 20 Presenter.

Other ‘Top 20 Presenters’ coached by NEF were:

  • ArborWind:  Dilip Nigam
  • LogiCoul Solutions:  David Stout
  • DataSpeaks Health Solutions:  Dennis Nash
  • PHASIQ:  Sachin Shah

Our congratulations to all the winners!

June 17 and 18 saw the 33rd Michigan Growth Capital Symposium take place at the Marriott Eagle Crest Resort in Ypsilanti. The annual event brings together investors, early stage companies and service providers from the local, regional and national entrepreneurial eco-system. Discussion panels touched on a variety of subjects including Venture Capital Trends to Big Data questions facing industry. Additionally, 32 early stage companies present their businesses ideas in a series of forums.

The New Enterprise Forum provides a team of coaches to assist the start-up presenters with their PowerPoints. This year 12 NEF Board members provided extensive feedback to the presenting entrepreneurs.

The New Enterprise Forum is pleased to welcome Gary Hazen to its Board of Directors. Gary has been an active participant in New Enterprise Forum coaching and considers this as an opportunity to help start-ups mature into viable and investable ventures.

As in independent advisor, he counsels start-ups on critical business and go-to-market issues and how to effectively present to investors to obtain financing. Gary taps a strong educational foundation, holding University of Michigan Engineering and Harvard MBA degrees and broad and substantial business experience, in business and systems consulting, IT, Business Development, Planning & Reporting at the CFO level, plus his experience as COO with multiple Start-ups. 

Gary has worked for Andersen Consulting, Highland Superstores where he led IT and Business Development, Gap, Intrepid Systems (a software start-up acquired by PeopleSoft), and PeopleSoft/Oracle where he piloted ecommerce products with dot-coms. Additionally, he had his own start-up, an Amazon-partnered ecommerce website, and has been COO for Oviya Systems, a SaaS-based social compliance software start-up.  Currently, Gary is part-time COO of GAPro Systems, is on the advisory board of InterSlice Studios (a start-up bringing a revolutionary presentation product to market), and is on the Frankel Fund/Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund advisory board. 

Thursday, May 15, saw the latest iteration of the New Enterprise Forum’s “Pitch Pit” competition. Three budding entrepreneurs presented their early-stage ideas to a packed house and a panel of expert judges.

Wesley Steen, of Soup Spoon, demonstrated how his prototype spoons made eating dramatically easier for people with motor skill problems. One spoon had a built in suction capability to capture liquids that was especially impressive. Denis Foo Kune, of Virtalabs, explained how his malware detection device identified security threat through power fluctuations without violating hospital equipment warranties. After listening to his presentation, it was clear how his product fills a critical technology gap in using sophisticated equipment in operating rooms, critical care units and more. Karthik Raman, of Devices for the Elderly, showed how his ergonomic stool was the perfect tool for senior to safely and easily reach items on shelves. Through customer discovery his design gives the elderly what they want in counter intuitive ways to those of s who do not understand their core needs.

The judging panel asked numerous probing questions while also offering invaluable advice on how to move these business ideas forward. After much deliberation, the judges chose Denis Foo Kune of Virtalabs, as the winner of the $213 audience contributed award. The next Pitch Pit competition will take place on July 24 when NEF will host another group of entrepreneurs with compelling ideas. The session will take place at Ann Arbor SPARK, Lower Level, 330 E. Liberty Street, Ann Arbor.


Throughout the month of May, New Enterprise Forum coaches are providing presentation feedback to Michigan Growth Capital Symposium finalist teams. Taking place on June 17 & 18, the MGCS offers high-growth companies the opportunity to get their message out to a large audience of early stage investors and support providers. NEF’s focus on helping entrepreneurs communicate more effectively is designed to increase companies positive outcomes with potential investors attending the annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. Hosted by the University of Michigan, the symposium offers start-ups a good opportunity to network and present their message to an audience of investors that otherwise would not be easily accessible to them. The companies span a wide breadth of sectors, including medical devices, software systems, alternative energy, automotive, electronics and industrial processes.

Coaching teams are comprised of members from the Michigan Small Business Development Corporation as well as NEF board members. The teams meet with 30 or more companies over the course of two weeks for one to three hour sessions that may include follow-on sessions. Entrepreneurs refine their speaking points about what they do in a way that investors expect to hear and are offered suggestions for improvement from the coaching team. As a result of this coaching, the quality of the presentations over the past five years has dramatically improved.


The New Enterprise Forum is happy to announce the election of Shue-Jane Gallagher to its Board of Directors. Ms. Gallagher is highly experienced in issues related to start up businesses through her work at TechTown Detroit. Bill McPherson, President of the Forum said “Having Shue-Jane on our board will only work to strengthen and grow the positive relationship between TechTown and the New Enterprise Forum. We welcome her and look forward to her involvement.”

Sheu-Jane Gallagher is the Director of Entrepreneurial Services at TechTown Detroit, the business growth center located in Detroit’s midtown district. As director, she supports entrepreneurs developing tech-based startups. Sheu-Jane also works with local universities, including Wayne State and University of Detroit Mercy, to figure out how to take their research to the marketplace.

Prior to TechTown, Sheu-Jane has held various positions in the automotive industry with Ford Motor Co. and Decoma International, and taught mechanical engineering at Wayne State University. She holds a PhD in mechanical engineering from Rutgers University with a special expertise in biomedical engineering.

Sheu-Jane lives on Detroit’s east riverfront with her husband John and enjoys sailing on the Detroit River and bicycling on Belle Isle.