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Ford engenders entrepreneurial innovation with TechShop plus

Ford has provided an intellectual home to innovation for more than a century, and now is taking their penchant for the creation of intellectual property into the field via the Motor City Innovation Exchange, TechShop and Jump Start.
Posted: May 31, 2012 - 7:45PM
Author: Don Bain

"There was a time not so long ago in this business when ideas that were not invented here got easily dismissed," says William Coughlin, CEO, Ford Global Technologies, a wholly owned subsidiary of Ford Motor Company that manages the company's intellectual property portfolio. "The competitive pressures in the auto industry today are greater than ever, with demands for improving quality, safety, technology and of course fuel efficiency, so we are both encouraging and looking for new ideas wherever we can find them."

Ford is launching several major initiatives to support entrepreneurship and engender technological innovation in Michigan. Pursuant to the recently improved Patent Incentive Program providing Ford employee inventors with a three-month free membership to TechShop Detroit, Ford is also cultivating innovation beyond the company’s walls.

"TechShop is a place where entrepreneurs and other makers have access to over one million dollars of tools, software and high-end equipment that allow them to rapidly and inexpensively prototype," said Mark Hatch, CEO of TechShop. "Innovation happens when you add community and crowd-sourcing into the mix – which is exactly what the Motor City Innovation Exchange will do for our members, the automotive industry and anyone in the greater Detroit area who has an idea they want to turn into a reality."

Creators with well-developed ideas need to put them into the marketplace and that's where the Motor City Innovation Exchange comes into play. The Motor City Innovation Exchange, opened by Ford's intellectual property licensing group, provides a display case for innovators to demonstrate their creations to potential customers.

Further, by partnering with TechShop, the nonprofit AutoHarvest Foundation and Wayne State University's TechTown, Ford is helping to make sure entrepreneurs get the opportunity to commercialize their creations.

In addition, Ford Land now offers the Jump Start program to provide affordable work and development space along with focused support to spur job-creating businesses.

"Bringing TechShop to Detroit was the critical first step in the creation of the Innovation Exchange," says Coughlin. "It will be an open meeting place that will enable inventors to showcase what they create in TechShop and then negotiate, network and even sell their prototyped solutions to players in the automotive industry, from manufacturers and suppliers to research institutions and startups."

The Innovation Exchange is also part of Detroit’s AutoHarvest Foundation, a npo founded by automotive executives to engender connections between the industry and Detroit's entrepreneurial heartbeat.

Ford Global Technologies, along with other automakers, suppliers, universities and research centers actively support AutoHarvest with the mission of building a dynamic marketplace for licensing tech innovation both within and without the automotive industry.

Previously, there were miles of intellectual real estate between a great idea and its realization by companies actually able to put it to use. For outsiders, making the connections needed to present an innovative concept or product was a daunting task.

AutoHarvest and Innovation Exchange hope to bridge this gap to commercializing the intellectual property created by everyday inventors, industry insiders, universities and research labs.

TechTown, the Wayne State University business incubator, will hold regular Office Hours sessions at Innovation Exchange to provide informal business support to TechShop members and others. Participants can take advantage of free or low-cost workshops on a variety of highly-relevant topics presented by TechTown instructors – in essence, showing them the ropes of the corporate arena.

"Innovation Exchange is all about helping to spread the word about the innovation happening both inside and outside of TechShop, and giving the creators the foundational resources they need to understand how to sell and commercialize their idea and connect with the right players while respecting their intellectual property," says Coughlin.

TechShop members with big ideas and a need for affordable working space can look to the new Jump Start Program offering discounted rentals in Ford Land buildings in the Allen Park and Dearborn area.

Due to the wide diversity represented at TechShop, Ford Land will be flexible in providing space suitable to the specific needs of participants. The spaces, including locations adjacent to TechShop Detroit, can be used by individuals or small businesses for a variety of purposes including offices, garage, labs and assembly operations.

"Supporting innovation and entrepreneurs benefits the entire region," said Donna Inch, chairman and CEO, Ford Land. "By lowering startup costs, we will enable more businesses to get off the ground and have a better chance of being successful."

"Like every industry, the automobile business was built and thrived on innovation," said Coughlin. "As personal transportation is reinvented in the 21st century, the challenges facing the industry are greater than ever and fresh ideas are essential to success.

"Ford is pleased to be leading the way through its connections with TechShop, AutoHarvest Foundation and TechTown," he concluded.