U-M Continues to Cultivate West Michigan Roots


By Jane Sugiyama, Researcher Program Coordinator 

This fall, the University of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) is partnering with Grand Valley State University (GVSU) to continue its charge to lead innovative programs in the region.

U-M CFE will assist GVSU students and faculty in examining the commercial potential of their technologies as a part of the Introduction to Customer Discovery (ICD) program. The ICD is a four-week intensive course that requires participants to leave their academic units and engage with industry to conduct customer interviews. CFE’s work is essential to the Michigan Economic Development Corporation’s (MEDC) Entrepreneur and Innovation Initiative, which fosters business and economic growth across the state.

“Through this MEDC program, we have been fortunate to work with passionate technology innovators across the state of Michigan,” said Jonathan Fay, managing director of U-M CFE. “The GVSU program is a great example of the economic impact that can occur when the right mix of technology, students, and experienced entrepreneurs are all brought together through a hands-on real-world curriculum.”

This year’s iteration of the ICD program follows a successful 2015 ICD campaign led by U-M. Recognizing the value of the course’s curriculum, Linda Chamberlain, director of GVSU’s Technology Commercialization Office, asked U-M to train a new cohort of students and faculty.

“U-M CFE provides connections to the larger entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Chamberlain. “This partnership and program helps expand on existing relationships that will help GVSU projects advance from idea to market. It’s truly a collaborative effort, building on ideas to deliver top-line curriculum and program outcomes.”

Since 2014, when U-M received the $580,000 grant from the MEDC to run the initial ICD program, more than 450 participants and 90 instructors from 15 institutions have completed the ICD curriculum. This has resulted in the creation of 14 startups and over 30 jobs in Michigan; a testament to the CFE’s leadership in innovation and helping establish the State of Michigan as the destination to create and grow a business.

More about the program: The ICD program is based on the National Science Foundation Innovation Corps™ (I-Corps) curriculum, which has a very simple goal: take a team researchers and add savvy business people to make innovating scientific breakthroughs marketable. This first-of-its kind curriculum is an intense and immersive program where teams are able to validate the sustainability of their businesses. The ICD course covers the two most critical components of the business model canvas: value proposition and customer segments. Teams participating in the program will be properly prepared and ready to apply for a NSF I-Corps™ program, which brings even more in-depth mentoring, customer discovery work, and potentially $50,000 in funding.