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50 years of supporting research and innovation at Michigan State University

David Washburn
Russ White | MSU Today
David Washburn

Executive Director David Washburn reflects on the foundation’s history, mission, and impact and on challenges and opportunities ahead for the next 50 years.

The Michigan State University Research Foundation has been enhancing research, encouraging innovation, supporting entrepreneurship, and facilitating economic development through modern commercialization practices, venture creation activity, and innovation partnerships at Michigan State University and across Michigan for 50 years.

Conversation Highlights:

(2:26) – “We had flown under the radar for many decades. And when you unpack the story of the foundation, it was like ‘Holy Cow.’ There aren’t many organizations like this that exist in North America.”

(3:02) – “In the late 60s and early 70s, most public universities came to the realization that state support probably wasn’t going to be able to keep pace with the growth and expansion of public universities.”

(6:13) – “One major inflection point that happened at the foundation was the discovery of Cisplatin and Carboplatin cancer therapeutics.”

(7:08) – “Faculty researchers here at MSU discovered a cure for cancer.”

(12:07) – “Many faculty in university decided ‘Well, what if we just start new companies and go out and raise venture dollars to see if we can build up a product or service here locally with some local venture dollars?’”

(13:30) – “Our focus now at the foundation is in a couple areas. I would refer to them as more venture creation…a lot of states and municipalities are trying to figure out how to create new jobs and an innovation ecosystem. That’s the space we’re playing in a lot with Spartan Innovations.”

(15:40) – “The board approved it and we put together Red Cedar Ventures and have invested in close to 120 start-up companies. We’ve deployed close to $10 million out of Red Cedar Ventures, and those companies have gone on to raise hundreds of millions of dollars from the venture markets in the state and around the Midwest and on both coasts.”

(16:20) – “Between Michigan Rise and Red Cedar Ventures, we have close to $40 million in two robust captive venture funds.”

(18:10) – “We built a headquarters for TechSmith because they have a very robust student intern program, and over half of their employees are MSU alumni. They wanted to be closer to campus…They’re trying to compete with the Googles and Amazons of the world. And they thought if they had a cool campus, they would have a shot. I think that’s helped them.”

(18:58) – “We’re building spaces so as we start up new companies, not only do we want to help them with their business plan and early-stage funding, but we’re trying to find them a home in and around our ecosystem. We think that combination leads to economic development, job growth, and economic diversity. That’s really the place where we collaborate and help MSU.”

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