KALAMAZOO — In a move that could help Kalamazoo strengthen its base as a life sciences center, the Southwest Michigan Innovation Center has been awarded a $600,000 grant from the Michigan Strategic Fund.
The 2012 Business Incubator Grant, which was the fourth-largest awarded, was part of $6 million given to a dozen incubators across the state by the Michigan Economic Development Council in Lansing.
"We believe this is the beginning of an opportunity for Kalamazoo to be the center for life sciences," said Paula Sorrell, managing director of entrepreneurship for the MEDC. "We know that the Innovation Center is a well-run organization. Because of the unique mix of backgrounds there, they have a lot to offer the state, as well."
The grant is the largest awarded to the center in the past three years, said Rob DeWit, PhD, president and CEO of the non-profit life sciences incubator in Western Michigan University's Business Technology Research Park, which opened in 2003 and has a state-of-the-art, purpose-built wet lab.
"This is really exciting for us. It comes at a moment when we need to do additional outreach to bring attention to the fact that we have such a broad-based expertise in Kalamazoo," said DeWit, who called the grant a "wonderful reflection" of its partnership with the MEDC. " I think we have a real opportunity to expand our services."
The SMIC plans to use the grant to expand its capacity, expand the capacity of its existing clients and attract new scientist entrepreneurs to the center.
In addition, DeWit says the SMIC plans to build a web-based training program for laboratory safety, chemical training and regulatory training that would be available "not only to our clients but other incubators as well in the state of Michigan," he said.
"There's such a powerhouse of knowledge at the SMIC now, it completely makes sense for them to run that program," said Sorrell.
As of 2010, the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research estimated that the center had been responsible for creating 346 jobs in Kalamazoo, with 204 people directly employed by companies at the center. (For every job at a SMIC company, another 0.7 job is created elsewhere in the area.) The $13.8 million in personal earnings paid by SMIC companies generated an estimated $18.6 million in personal earnings in the Kalamazoo-Portage area in 2010, the Institute found.
"We have a pretty cool success story here in Kalamazoo," said DeWit.
The grant, which is a two to three year grant, should help the center expand on that success, Sorrell said.
"We expect to see many great things come out of Kalamazoo in the next couple of years," she said.
By Yvonne Zipp at 269-388-2737 or firstname.lastname@example.org.