Corporate expenditures on existing University of Michigan research rose to $100.8 million in the past fiscal year. The U-M Business Engagement Center reported that total corporate investment in U-M — research expenditures coupled with philanthropic contributions — rose to $142.8 million.
Since the BEC’s inception, corporate philanthropy to U-M has increased 53 percent and corporate research expenditures have nearly tripled.
“After years of declining federal funding, industry has stepped in to fill a very critical gap,” said Jack Hu, vice president for research. “I see this trend continuing and see opportunity for industry — both domestic and international — to connect with U-M for comprehensive student support and dynamic research.”
Fiscal year 2017, which ended June 30, also saw pledges from corporate partners for future research awards to the university hit a new high, at $196 million. This figure, which is separate from expenditures for existing research, represents new investments in upcoming research initiatives.
Corporate engagement at U-M is an integral part of its heritage. The first corporate gift to the university was the land it sits on. In 1837, the Ann Arbor Land Co. gave property to form the Ann Arbor campus — what is now known as the Diag.
Since then, the university has relied on corporate involvement. Industry has played a significant role in the Victors for Michigan campaign, with corporate support for students, discretionary gifts for deans, research grants for faculty members, and sponsorship funds for events and student teams or projects.
“Our industry partners have proven again this year how valuable they are to U-M and the business community at large,” said Jerry May, executive vice president for development. “I’m grateful for the tremendous impact our partners have had over the last decade, through their growing engagement and generosity.”
Collaborative research initiatives are central to the mission of the BEC. Innovative research involves interdisciplinary approaches and can often be propelled to the next level by industry involvement through funding or collaborative research partnerships.
Since its inception, the BEC has helped orchestrate more than 10 master research agreements for companies that engage across campus for such collaborative projects.
The BEC reports jointly to the Office of Research and Office of University Development, a model that works well in U-M’s decentralized university. This unique model has been a draw for other institutions. More than 113 universities or organizations have looked to the BEC for advice on establishing a similar structure.
Daryl Weinert, the BEC’s first executive director and current associate vice president for research, said the center has become known as a leader nationally and globally for its impact across campus and for providing seamless, service-oriented assistance to external and internal partners.
“The number of schools who have come through to kick the tires and learn from U-M is astounding,” Weinert said. “It’s great to see that our mentorship has helped many institutions develop their own model of corporate engagement.”
The eight relationship managers at the BEC work with more than 900 companies around the world, a 166 percent increase in corporate relationships in the last decade. Industry sectors represented include automotive, manufacturing, technology, consumer products and financial services.
BEC Executive Director Stella Wixom said the trend in industry involvement and need for continued support is an opportunity to celebrate.
“We started with U-M leadership behind us and with that foundation, the place we’ve been able to take corporate engagement with the state of Michigan and our corporate partners has wildly exceeded our expectations,” Wixom said. “And the best is yet to come.”