Lab work Innovative business program to help diversify the economy

By Debra Talcott

Legal News

It is no secret that the majority of start-up, small businesses fail within the first four years. That is why the metro Detroit area is fortunate to have a unique collaboration between Cooley Law School and Oakland University's School of Business Administration and School of Engineering and Computer Science called the Ideas 2 Business Lab (i2B) program. This partnership was formed to help create and support new business ventures and to increase their odds of success.

The i2B Lab program, which has been in development since mid-2011, is a student-centered program with advisers from the fields of business, technology, engineering, and law who help connect entrepreneurs with various resources needed to research, design, and launch new business ventures. Open to students, faculty, and staff from Oakland University and Cooley Law School, the i2B program invites individuals and teams to present their ideas for new business ventures to a committee of faculty and business leaders. Those accepted into the program will receive support from a diverse network of advisers as they more fully develop their business plans and learn about start-up costs and investment strategies.

Oakland University Dean of the School of Business Administration Mohan Tanniru explains how the i2B program will address some often-overlooked steps in the process of successfully launching a new venture.

"A successful entrepreneurial endeavor requires an early evaluation of the potential market and differentiating features for a product (physical or service) innovation. It also requires an understanding of the capacity (financial and management resource) needed to make it a success. A component of this evaluation, often not given sufficient attention, is defining the scope of the innovation that can be protected through patents."

Dean Tanniru says doing a thorough job of defining the scope of the innovation can potentially lead to exploring options such as licensing and joint ventures as parts of a successful launch.

"We believe that our Cooley Law partnership in i2B will help address this need while, at the same time, help Cooley students develop their own entrepreneurial ideas," says Tanniru.

Individuals and teams that are admitted to the program and successfully develop their business plans to the point of pilot-stage commercialization may eventually have the opportunity to launch their businesses through one of Oakland University's SmartZone business incubators: the OU INCubator in Rochester Hills or the Macomb-OU INCubator in Sterling Heights. Those whose ventures "graduate" to OU INC in Rochester Hills may be given the opportunity to launch their businesses at this location, thereby minimizing start-up costs. The network these participants form with fellow entrepreneurs will be a valuable asset that can last even beyond the one year they are allowed to receive services from the i2B Lab.

Cooley Professor David Berry, who also serves as director of its Graduate Program in Intellectual Property Law, shares his excitement about the i2B lab.

"This program will be a great opportunity for our students who would like to launch law-related businesses. Cooley Law School and its students are noted for their entrepreneurial spirit, and the i2B Lab program provides a valuable springboard to help make their ideas for new businesses a reality. The i2B Lab will also benefit law students who plan to practice in the fields of technology and entrepreneurship law."

On November 3, a kickoff event was held at Oakland University to inform students, faculty, and staff about this new opportunity. Officials from OU, representatives from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, and representatives from regional development agencies were on hand to discuss how such a program that supports new business ventures is critical to the transformation of Michigan's economy. The ultimate goals of i2B are to give OU and Cooley students an experiential learning opportunity unlike any other and to increase the odds that the new businesses coming out of the program will become sustainable, contributing members of Michigan's economic community.

To that end, participants in the program will be paired with an adviser from a pool of Oakland University faculty, staff, and alumni; local business executives; and area entrepreneurs.

Participants also may receive assistance from the team resource group, which consists of undergraduate and graduate students who will be paid to share their expertise in diverse areas. These students will offer the i2B participants support in product design, prototype development, product testing, marketing, manufacturing, accounting, human resources, and legal issues. Students and faculty from Cooley's three business-related L.L.M. programs-Tax, Intellectual Property, and Corporate Law and Finance-will support business plan implementation through the team resource group.

Plans also call for a series of guest speakers to be invited to discuss topics of interest to students who want to launch a new entrepreneurial idea.

Now in its initial phase, the i2B selection committee has admitted one team, and additional individuals and teams are in the process of applying. The program will likely accommodate five to six individuals and/or teams each semester.

Professor Wayne Blizman of the Oakland University School of Business Administration will serve as the i2B Lab Coordinator. Blizman prepared the initial proposal to develop a minor in entrepreneurship for non-business majors at OU, and he currently teaches a number of the courses required for that minor. He also serves as Senior Advisor - Commercialization at the Macomb-OU INCubator and assists OU INC, the incubator/accelerator at Oakland. Blizman's experience in industry and private consulting will also prove beneficial to the i2B Lab.

"The i2B program is an exciting new program for students, faculty, and staff of Oakland University and Cooley Law School," says Blizman. "The i2B program will provide the resources for entrepreneurs to develop and commercialize their business ideas and realize their dreams. Additionally, students that will be supporting the business teams will gain valuable experience by applying the academic skills that they have gained in the classroom to real-life business ventures. These are unique opportunities for everyone involved in the program and will enhance the academic and experiential offerings of both Oakland University and Cooley Law School."

Published: Thu, Jan 12, 2012