Universities Key to Michigan's Revival

By Marcia Goodrich

If you want to revitalize Michigan, Dave House told Governor Rick Snyder, look to its universities.

House ’65 was a special guest during a panel discussion with Snyder, held in Kalamazoo October 10 and sponsored by the Council of Michigan Foundations as part of the Reinventing Michigan conference. He shared his thoughts on the topic later during a visit to Michigan Tech.

"I told them new jobs come from technology and innovation, and universities are the crucible of innovation," said House. "I used Silicon Valley as an example of where that’s happened. The difference between what I see in Michigan and Silicon Valley is the way industry and universities work together."

House noted that the origins of Silicon Valley trace back to Stanford University, but it wasn’t university discoveries alone that drove its growth; it was its people. Stanford professor Fred Terman earned the title "Father of Silicon Valley" by encouraging post-war graduates like Hewlett, Packard, and Varian to stay in the pastoral Santa Clara Valley and start their own companies instead of leaving for the big city. "He thought in terms of helping students," House said, "but the end result was a flourishing center of innovation." Today 40 percent of all US venture capital funding goes to starting Silicon Valley companies, he said.

Stanford also encourages faculty to take sabbaticals in industry and to leverage university-based research and innovation to start up new companies. Businesses like Google and Facebook spun out of work begun on university campuses, and companies like Apple and Intel owe their success as much to the brainpower honed at nearby universities as to the inspiration of any individual.

That’s because universities by their very nature can provide a heady, creative atmosphere, he said. "Graduate programs lead the way, but the whole university environment is an area of unconstrained thinking," he said.

Thus, Michigan, which has long focused on heavy industry, might do well to reconsider the role higher education can play as an incubator of its economic future.

"Michigan historically has had one of the finest university systems in the United States, outstanding crucibles of innovation," said House. "So, bottom line, if you want to reinvent Michigan, look to your universities, especially your leading research universities."

Dave House is the chair of Michigan Tech’s Generations of Discovery capital campaign and chairman of the board of Brocade Communications. Among his many leadership positions in electronics and telecommunications industries, he was a longtime Intel executive, CEO of Bay Networks, and president of Nortel Networks. He is board member and/or advisor to a number of Silicon Valley start-ups and founder and owner of House Family Winery in Saratoga, California. House earned a BS in Electrical Engineering from Michigan Tech in 1965.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.