$4.35M from Davidson Foundation to fuel research-driven innovation


The William Davidson Foundation has awarded $4.35 million to U-M to support programs that will accelerate the flow of university-generated ideas to the marketplace and spur economic activity in southeast Michigan.

The funding comes in the form of two grants: one supporting the Medical School’s Fast Forward Medical Innovation effort with $2.9 million over three years, and the other providing $1.45 million for programs in the Office of Technology Transfer and Center for Entrepreneurship over two years.

The grants continue a longstanding connection between the university and the foundation, building on an even longer tradition of connection with the late William Davidson and his family. The funds will count toward the $4 billion goal of the Victors for Michigan campaign.

“Entrepreneurship is thriving at the University of Michigan. Our faculty and students are committed to developing new technologies and systems to strengthen the Michigan economy, and we are grateful for the support of the William Davidson Foundation to help ensure our momentum,” said President Mary Sue Coleman.

Supporting Fast Forward Medical Innovation

The U-M Health System is a biomedical research powerhouse, with more than $450 million in research funding, and an ongoing challenge is to bring ideas from the laboratory bench to patient bedsides. The Medical School, which is part of UMHS, has redoubled its efforts to drive technology commercialization based on the ideas and expertise of its faculty scientists and physicians.

Fast Forward Medical Innovation focuses on this challenge, and the Davidson Foundation funds will fuel specific efforts within the initiative. Specifically, it will enable programs to more deeply engage faculty and “mine” for promising projects, to broaden efforts to promote innovation and commercialization, and to create new commercialization education, training and mentoring opportunities for inventors and entrepreneurs.

“The creativity and accomplishments of our faculty present enormous potential, and this grant will help move their discoveries forward to benefit patients of the future,” says Medical School Dean Dr. James O. Woolliscroft. “This grant will also further our goal of creating jobs and spurring the creation of new businesses in the state of Michigan.”

The grant will especially help with the continued effort to strengthen the state’s biotech sector.

“We are committed to being a force multiplier for biomedical innovation in the state of Michigan and on the world stage,” notes Dr. Kevin Ward, executive director of the FFMI. “This investment by the Davidson Foundation will help us more quickly bring new technologies and innovations to patients and families, and nurture a culture of commercialization and entrepreneurship for tomorrow.”

Tech Transfer Digital Discovery Center

U-M Tech Transfer works with researchers and faculty across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses to provide commercialization services for discoveries derived from university research.

In the last fiscal year, U-M researchers reported more than 400 new discoveries to Tech Transfer with the potential to produce world-changing products, services and companies. Tech Transfer works to assess, protect, market and transform these early innovations into valuable opportunities and benefits for the general public.

Software, data and other digital matter are becoming an increasingly significant part of the innovation pipeline, and the Digital Discovery Center, supported by the Davidson Foundation, will provide resources to encourage, assess and accelerate these promising innovations. Given the explosion in health-related applications that can provide access, cost-reduction and treatment advantages, the initial focus will be on digital health applications.

“The Davidson Foundation funding allows us to launch this very important initiative to support early commercialization activities, initially focused on digital health applications,” says Kenneth Nisbet, associate vice president for research-tech transfer.

“The Digital Discovery Center will encourage our faculty and students in work with digital applications, expand our capabilities and resources, and accelerate our partnerships with the business and venture communities, producing economic opportunities and enhancements to our quality of life. We are very appreciative of the support of the Davidson Foundation.”

The Center for Entrepreneurship: MGoForward

The Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering is a strategic campus partner in accelerating student, faculty and researcher technology commercialization. The MGoForward program funded by the Davidson Foundation complements and extends these educational and startup incubation programs by providing strategic follow-on mentoring, training and technical support to graduating students whose startups show demonstrable market potential.

“The Davidson Foundation’s support comes at an inflection point at the University of Michigan,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, special counselor to the provost on entrepreneurial education. “The entrepreneurial ecosystem within the university has never been stronger and the opportunities for commercial impact in Southeast Michigan have never been greater.”

 MGoForward is one of the missing pieces in the entrepreneurial pipeline at the university, adds CFE Executive Director Tom Frank.

“We needed the ability to invest more specifically in companies and teams whose startups are genuinely on the pathway to becoming self-sustaining,” he said. “Thanks to the generosity of the Davidson Foundation we will be able to accelerate the ambitions of many young companies by providing a portfolio of new resources and expertise all focused on the specific needs of recent graduates who are already advancing through the entrepreneurial pipeline.”

The university and the Davidson Foundation and family

Previously, the William Davidson Foundation provided a leadership gift of $7.5 million in support of the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics. In addition, the late William Davidson through Guardian Industries Corp. made a gift establishing the William Davidson Institute that is affiliated with the Stephen M. Ross School of Business. The trustees of the Davidson Foundation are all U-M graduates.

Davidson, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1947 and an honorary degree in 2001, and his wife, Karen, who earned a bachelor’s degree in 1989, have been generous donors and leading volunteers for the university. Davidson served on the President’s Advisory Group, the Michigan Difference National Campaign Cabinet, and the Business School Visiting Committee.

In recognition of William Davidson’s gift to athletics and his ongoing support for the university, the Player Development Center was named in his honor.

Mark Maynard of the Office of Technology Transfer and David Thompson of the Center for Entrepreneurship contributed to this article.


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