By Matthew Totsky
Big things are always happening at Oakland University in Rochester Hills, Mich., which lately includes a huge buzz on campus about OU INC.
“OU INC is one of 18 state-designated SmartZone Business Accelerators,” says Amy Butler, executive director of OU INC. “We help companies accelerate innovations to market through coaching, networking and connecting them to people and business to serve their specific needs. We work in collaboration with the City of Rochester Hills, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation (MEDC), Oakland County and various industry partners to foster a healthy environment for the growth of new startup companies while providing support for existing entities through our facility and business development resources.”
OU INC’s focus is on energy, medical device and information technology, all emerging sectors in the region and industries with high demand for innovation and startup assistance. The incubator provides entrepreneurial resources and strategic business solutions for developing business ventures and accelerating ideas to market. The organization is committed to advancing the economic strength of the nation by transitioning industry and university innovations into commercial success.
“As an international soft landing designated incubator, we’ve been recognized for creating an environment and for gathering resources for international companies that want to establish themselves in Michigan and access the American market.”
– Amy Butler
“We provide customized entrepreneurial and strategic business solutions to both domestic and international technology companies,” Butler says. “Our purpose is to help startup companies establish and accelerate their path to market by leveraging the assets of Oakland University. The connection with OU is an important part of what we do. We assess companies on their business, finance and technology progress, and then develop a roadmap or pathway to accelerate to market and sustainable growth. We focus mainly on high-tech companies, where our expertise, resources and funding tools align.”
OU INC’s facilities provide nearly 30,000 square feet of office space, technology space and centers of development where clients, students and faculty work together. The facility allows for several projects to be carried out at once as well as close collaboration between OU INC clients and the students at the university. The space also has a high-tech integrated resource center that enables the incubator to facilitate projects and collaborate in unique ways by combining technology with human interaction. It’s a resource and service that extends beyond the startups to other companies, communities and organizations that want to take advantage of those facilitation and collaboration services.
“Our space is truly innovation at its heart,” Butler says. “The building used to be the historic horse riding arena for the Matilda Dodge Wilson estate. With its location on Oakland University’s campus, it’s become a bridge between the university and the business and technology community.”
“OU INC fosters the interaction of its clients with academic programs within the university,” says Butler. “This sort of integration allows the companies to become case studies for our courses and, in turn, we help them tee up projects for the senior design program. We work closely to introduce the companies to our student population and define projects they can work on.”
Another unique aspect of OU INC is the presence of several international companies from countries such as Denmark, Canada, Italy, Germany and Greece, a factor that has strongly contributed to the success of the incubator. In 2015, OU INC was recognized by the International Business Innovation Association (INBIA) with a Soft Landings designation for its efforts in assisting foreign companies to break into the U.S. marketplace. This recognition designated OU INC as one of 31 incubators globally and identified its expertise, programs and resources.
“As an international soft landing designated incubator, we’ve been recognized for creating an environment and for gathering resources for international companies that want to establish themselves in Michigan and access the American market,” Butler says. “We’ve also partnered with Automation Alley and Oakland County for their expertise in export regulations and work with on them on trade missions to assist our clients seeking international markets. This region in particular is attractive to international companies due in part to the large concentration of international companies already located here and the access to a major concentration of customers.”
“This didn’t happen overnight, but instead it grew organically,” Butler says. “One of the first companies we partnered with had to be close to the OEMs in order to build a strong business relationship. It’s situations like these — as well as referrals, trade missions and relationships with international chambers of commerce — that have helped us attract international companies to our facilities.”
Another way Butler represents OU INC is by serving on the Board of Directors of Global Ties-Detroit, an organization that helps foster relationships and facilitates international exchange throughout the region.
“We have a number of delegations that come to Michigan and they visit our facility to learn about innovation, technology, energy engineering and so much more. We share information with them and develop long-term relationships that prove beneficial to everyone.”
“There’s something new going on here every day,” Butler says. “We’re working with startups and get to see a lot of new technology as well as a variety of different cultures and how they develop and flourish in a new environment. This incubator benefits so many people. It helps contribute to the local economy because the companies we work with are open to hiring students and working with local researchers. They also hire local university graduates and they live in our communities. These international companies are bringing a new dimension to the region and we’re proud to be a part of that.”