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Posts Tagged ‘Midland Michigan’

It’s one thing for an organization to fill a niche that leads to success and growth. That’s a goal of most companies.

It’s an entirely different dynamic to fill said niche while simultaneously helping other companies grow, especially when your wheelhouse is stocked with a dream team of scientists, researchers and technology experts.

And amid high-end, industry-changing research and development collaborations, the Michigan Molecular Institute has gone one further, doing this little thing called sustaining a community. They do that by being the rigid information technology backbone to numerous mid-Michigan nonprofit health and human services agencies. These are the folks that, among so many other things, help keep food in the fridge and hot water running in homes of countless families who need a hand up.

This, coming from a Midland-based research powerhouse that takes scientific- and technology-based exploration to unprecedented heights.

MMI is a nonprofit contract research organization that uses state and federal funding and grants to provide research and development that crosses multiple platforms for companies big and small. It also yields a wide array of successful results, and has been doing so for more than 40 years.

The institute has a hand in several enterprises, from fulfilling an organization’s analytical needs, to designing and manufacturing specialty dendrimers and polymers. Dendrimers are synthetically engineered molecules that can be developed into practically applied products. They also serve as the motors in nanotechnology machines that can eventually deliver everything from insulin within a human body to battery power. Polymers are large molecules composed of many smaller ones.

 

MMI operates on an unusual model: It uses a third party to get in touch with potential collaborative partners, and itself is a nonprofit. Their partner could be a company in Texas looking to elevate the performance of a sealant they’ve been making for 20 years; it could be a start-up in Bangkok that is inventing a new line of state-of-the-art medical equipment. MMI’s role is to help bring those cutting-edge technologies together and bring practical products to market.

Not your average chief research officer, Dr. Steven Keinath is a senior research scientist program manager at MMI. He says MMI’s layered skills set is the mechanism that has enabled the company to grow into a diverse tech-based research organization.

“We really are more than just a research organization,” Keinath said. “Over the years, we have spun off for-profits that enter into joint ventures.”

One of those for-profits–Dendritech, Inc.–became MMI’s entry into the commercial production of the above-mentioned dendrimers. Launched in 1992, when nobody else was doing it, MMI found success swiftly.

“MMI was probably one of the first commercial houses to do it,” Keinath says. “Now, Dendritech is the largest commercial producer of dendrimers.”

Keinath says they saw this first-hand in a past National Science Foundation program. There, MMI officials met a company needing a coating material with an anti-fouling agent that would stop organisms from building up on surfaces. It was a coating for boat hulls to keep zebra mussels from attaching.

“MMI accomplished this by using a dendritic form,” Keinath says. “They refrain from attaching. It’s a nice way of carrying a chemical repellant agent that isn’t released.”

 

Creating a from-scratch chemical application that leaves no negative footprint. Imagine that.

And as good as MMI is at generating leading-edge scientific developments, it applies that same drive to secure monies to keep this high-tech party going. The boat hull research and development was carried through with Small Business Innovation Research grants and funds from the National Science Foundation. With help from the state’s energy department, MMI became schooled in pursuing federal grants to research, develop and commercialize new breakthrough technology innovations, says Mark Clevey, who works in technical assistance at the Bureau of Energy Systems.

“They excelled in these programs and we were able to secure several million in research dollars as well as several million in private-sector investments to commercialize the successful research results,” Clevey says. “MMI is a fine example of how government invests in technological advancement in the U.S.”

Another for-profit spin-off of MMI is Oxazogen, launched in 1996 and established to chase federal monies. Practical applications of these pursuits include batteries and fuel cell research and development. Another MMI group is Impact Analytical. That organization provides top-shelf analytical and chemical services to companies working in pharmaceuticals and plastics, among others.

However, some of its most rewarding and impactful work could come from its subsidiary, the Midland Information Technology Consortium. Launched in 2000 and sponsored by the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundation, MITCON provides comprehensive IT services and support to a large group of other area nonprofits. These clients are, for the most part, United Way-funded agencies. That’s 37 nonprofits, delivering critical health and human services to people in the state who can’t otherwise do it for themselves.

It takes a lot for these organizations to provide the assistance they do. It’s a sometimes thankless job with tricky funding and grueling behind-the-scenes work that often goes unnoticed. The last thing they need are rickety computers and low-grade servers to put their efforts in the weeds. MITCON takes care of all of it, from hardware to software, to everything in between.

“A lot of these nonprofits have similar IT needs,” Keinath says.

MMI has the tech research chops to define and change the game at the same time. By using the same drive and focus, mid-Michigan can expect the institute and its related companies to keep breaking new ground and taking bright ideas from conceptualization to reality–and supporting the community all along the way.

John Horn is a suburban Detroit-based freelance journalist.

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