MRUN hit a home run with venture capital investors who attended the 2014 University Research Pitch Track at last year’s Michigan Growth Capital Symposium. The Midwest Research University Network, a.k.a. MRUN, invited the leaders of technology-transfer efforts at four Midwestern research universities in its alliance to present their institution’s unique commercialization model and to profile three of their most-promising high-tech spinoff companies seeking early-stage capital investment.
“The four MRUN members who made presentations said it was a great experience for them, and the investors loved it,” says Gary Keller, who assumed his new role as MRUN’s president last October. He also is the CEO of Xomix, a Chicago-based technology accelerator and consultancy.
MRUN will return to the MGCS again this year (May 19-20) to host the 2015 Pitch Track, which will spotlight the commercialization landscape at a different set of member universities and showcase a new cohort of start-ups with promising research in the pipeline. In addition, all MRUN institutions will be invited to submit information about IP-based spinoffs that are going out into the venture investment market to procure funding. These profiles will be made available to VCs attending the symposium.
From its humble beginnings 12 years ago as “a conversation on commercialization” among the technology-transfer directors at eight major land-grant research universities, MRUN has expanded its footprint to 50 universities and research institutions located in 14 Midwestern states and two Canadian provinces, Manitoba and Ontario. The network was granted tax-exempt status as a section 501(c)(3) charitable organization in the state of Illinois last October, which opened the door to new sources of operating revenue and more broad-based regional programming initiatives.
“Today our organization comprises public, private and federal laboratories that do start-ups, as well as accelerators that are responsible for optimizing the success of start-ups and early-stage funders that provide capital to start-ups,” Keller explains. “We are fortunate to have some extraordinary relationships with several Midwest-focused venture forums including the MGCS, the Mid-America Healthcare Investors Network and the Midwest Co-Investment Network.”
Keller characterizes the Midwest, comprising eight states, as the fifth-largest start-up economy in the U.S. If MRUN’s 14-state region is considered, he estimates it ranks even higher on the scale. “What distinguishes the Midwest is its people and their friendly, collaborative, hard-working attitude ─ they are the ones other people want to work with and build companies with,” Keller observes. “But what has been missing in the Midwest is the ability to operate as a community of common commitment and shared resources. MRUN is focused on being the conduit for that to occur.” The network’s goal, he continues, is to attract critical resources from around the U.S. and the world to the Midwestern region to support collaborative investment, development and soft landing (a situation where a start-up with a promising product is unable to attract outside venture funding and opts instead to fold its product into a larger established company).
“Ultimately, it’s a matter of critical mass,” Keller says. “If we can build a larger base of start-ups coming from our institutions here in the Midwest and attract more from other places, everybody wins. A rising tide lifts all boats.”
To learn more, plan to attend MRUN’s 2015 annual conference, CATTEC VIII, which is being hosted at the University of Chicago on Oct. 15.