Spartan Innovations

Spartan Innovations (SI) is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Michigan State University Foundation (MSUF).  SI’s objective is to help drive MSU entrepreneurs to develop their ideas, create business plans and successfully launch highly technical businesses.  SI sources its inventions through its close relationship with the MSU Technologies, the technology transfer arm of Michigan State University, which receives 175-200 unique invention disclosures every year from MSU faculty.  This close collaboration provides SI the opportunity to identify and nurture early stage technologies that could serve as the foundation for a new venture.  Once a project is identified, SI works with the inventors through a series of steps designed to drive towards an eventual entity formation.  These steps include a discovery phase, a validation phase, and a planning phase where people and funding are identified.  The end goal is to launch an entity capable of executing the plan.

Spartan Innovations provides many resources to help launch entrepreneurial ventures including commercial/market assessment, commercial development planning, start-up advising, business documentation and support services, mentoring programs, business accelerator programs such as Conquer Accelerator, venture fellows, entrepreneurs-in-residence, internship programs, business plan development, gap funds and grant funding.  Spartan Innovations also works in concert with Red Cedar Ventures, the venture arm of the MSU Foundation.  It is expected that entities created through the Spartan Innovations process will pitch to Red Cedar Ventures for early stage funding.


Spartan Innovations (SI) works through a variety of different programs to advance the mission of the MSU Foundation, provide support to Michigan State University and enhance entrepreneurship opportunities within the East Lansing regional ecosystem.

SI provides many resources to help launch entrepreneurial ventures including commercial/market assessment, commercial development planning, start-up advising, business documentation and support services, mentoring programs, business accelerator program, venture fellows, entrepreneurs-in-residence, internship programs, business plan development, gap funds and grant writing assistance.  Spartan Innovations also works in concert with Red Cedar Ventures, the venture arm of the MSU Foundation, in developing funding milestones and applying programmatic investment into these new entities.  It is expected that entities created through the Spartan Innovations process, when significantly de-risked, will be transferred to the Red Cedar Ventures portfolio for continued development and preparation for larger Angel and VC investment funding.

The EIR program was created in order to give new startup companies, coming out of MSU, expertise in developing the plan, people and funding needed to launch a successful startup.  EIR’s are outside of the university and do not have the constraints or conflicts of being within the university system.  They are typically industry experienced business professionals with backgrounds in scientific fields relating to advanced materials, physical sciences, engineering and/or life sciences.  SI runs a year-round training program to cover areas that EIR’s may have deficiencies in to ensure they are able to create a startup, generate a business plan and execute on that plan.  EIR’s can take an active role in the companies they support as CEO, president, COO, business development officer or other.  There are 9 EIR roles within SI that are dedicated to startups and though EIR’s are paid a stipend through the program, they can also draw salary and take equity in these companies as well.  The goal is for the EIR to support the company as part of the EIR program for 12 to 18 months and then leave the program to continue running the company independent of SI.  The EIR’s also serve as an advisory group to SI, sponsored startups and other organizations that SI supports.

The MIR program is similar to the EIR program; however, MIR’s do not join companies, have more of a consulting role and in general, fulfil longer term positions.  They can assist EIR’s with strategies as well as MSU faculty who have technologies that are still to early for a startup opportunity.  There are 2 MIR roles within SI, including one that also works with partner institutions around the state.

Red Cedar Ventures (RCV) has a “Pre-Seed” fund that can be used to invest in early stage companies.  For SI sponsored startups, SI utilizes program-based milestone investment funding up to $50k, subject to the approval of RCV.  The investment is usually made as a convertible note with standard terms.  Additional funding beyond the SI based milestones are possible through direct interaction with RCV.

SI directors, EIR’s and MIR’s often perform scientific due diligence for investments under consideration by RCV, given SI’s scientific breadth and industry experience.  Reviews typically have an internal component as well as a customer/investment discovery outreach component in order to provide RCV with enough information to make quality investment decisions.

Spanning the academic year, The Venture Fellows Program offers access to top-ranked faculty and industry experts, which means our fellows have the opportunity to expand their professional networks while honing their expertise in business plan development and raising capital while refining project management skills.

Each year, Spartan Innovations selects top-tier candidates into the Venture Fellows Program, and they become part of a three-person team comprised of  first- or second-year Broad Business School graduate student (MBA) and two STEM/STEAM PhD students.  Across the eight-month-long fellowship, student teams are responsible for the development of a cohesive, viable business plan for a specific technology moving towards commercialization. By the end of the fellowship, it is expected that each team will have a clear path regarding what is needed to launch their respective technologies as a startup company.

Fellows projects are selected directly from the pipeline of MSU technologies—all of which are being considered for commercialization. The two main objectives for the Venture Fellows program are: (i) provide an opportunity for MSU graduate students from the sciences and College of Business to gain first-hand business experience in the commercialization of breakthrough technology; (ii) advance the development of MSU technologies with the eventual goal of increasing the number of successful technology startups coming out of the University.

Learn more about the 10-week program, here.


  • NIH Proposal Prep – Friday, March 13th at 9:00 A.M. – 3:30 P.M. (MSUT Board Room)
  • NSF SBIR training – Wednesday, April 8th at 11:00 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. (Free Webinar Registration Here) 
  • Phase II SBIR training – Wednesday, June 24th at 11:00 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. (300 Room)
  • DOE SBIR and ARPA training – Wednesday, July 15th at 11:00 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. (300 Room)
  • DLA/QuickBooks accounting – Thursday, August 20th at 11:00 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. (300 Room)
  • DOD SBIR/Contract training – Wednesday, October 21st at 11:00 A.M. – 12:30 P.M. (300 Room)

2020 Program Event Agenda: 

  • June 3 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Market Assessment I – What is CommercializationTechnology Assessment – Is the Technology Good Science or a Good Innovation?
  • June 16 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Customer Discovery – What Customers Want; Intellectual Property Protection – The Basics
  • June 18 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Market Assessment II – Competitive Analysis; Business Plan Development, The Importance of Strategic Planning
  • June 23 at 2:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (one session) Company Formation – What, When Where and How to form a Company
  • June 25 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Equity Agreements – Diving the Pie: It’s the Size of the Pie not the Slice; Understanding Options and Licenses – Having the Right to Commercialize Technology
  • June 30 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Introduction to SBIR/STTR Grants – The General Rules for Obtaining SBIR/STTR Funding Incubators and Accelerators – Facilities, Support & Ecosystems for Startup Companies
  • July 2 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Financing – Understanding Angel, VC, & Capital Equity Investment State of Michigan and MSU Specific Grant Opportunities – Leveraging Federal Grants Locally
  • July 7 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Strategic Partnerships – Keys to Creating Partnerships to Rapidly Move to Market Regulatory Environment(s) – Difference between Law, Guideline, Good Practices & Industry Standards
  • July 9 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) Manufacturing – Scaling up products and when to Outsource
    Quality Assurance and Quality Control – Managing the Process
  • July 14 at 1:30 P.M. – 4:00 P.M. (300 Room) CRO/CMO and Outsourcing Management HR Management – Best practices to Recruit, Train, & Maintain Talent

Contact Tom Stewart for more details on the Conquer Accelerator program.

The Innovate State Speaker Series at MSU is a collaborative program designed to connect forward-thinking speakers with students and professionals interested in innovation and entrepreneurship. Topics include startups, new business creation, leadership and team-building, customer acquisition, fundraising and other special topics.

Visit Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation for the full list of Spring 2020 speakers!

Spartan Innovations Team

Dr. Brad Fingland

Director of Venture Creation - Physical Sciences

Dr. Fingland has spent his career commercializing early technologies. As an Entrepreneur-in-Residence (EIR) at Spartan Innovations, he worked with Michigan State University faculty and staff to facilitate commercialization of bio-based materials technologies discovered or developed at the university. Before his arrival at Spartan Innovations he the lead materials research and lightweighting activities in the Core Science group at Tenneco Automotive, where he worked to develop the next generation of exhaust and suspension systems. Prior to Tenneco, was at ExxonMobil where he investigated renewable fuels, catalysis, and hydroprocessing technologies that resulted in large investments in refining capacity. Through these roles, Brad has experience working with start-ups, national labs, research institutes, and university faculty on commercializing new technologies. He earned his B.S. in Chemical Engineering at the University of Missouri and his Ph.D. at Purdue University in Chemical Engineering with an emphasis on heterogenous catalysis.

Frank Urban

Director of Venture Creation - Life Sciences

Mr. Urban has over 20 years of experience in various life science industries; especially in drug discovery and diagnostics. He has transitioned midway in his career from a bench scientist to a business development/marketing professional and has also been trained in academic technology management. He has worked for entities such as Parke Davis-Warner Lambert, Pfizer, the University of Michigan Medical School, Molecular Imaging Research, Charles River Laboratories, Everist Genomics, Wayne State University and Spartan Innovations. Mr. Urban holds a Bachelor’s in Biology, General Science and Physical Science from Concordia College, a Master’s in Molecular Biology and Graduate Certificate in Business Administration, both from Eastern Michigan University.
Mr. Urban is the Director of Venture Creation for Life Sciences within Spartan Innovations. He has helped to create and oversee the process to assess, develop, mature and fund multiple startups that have launched out of Michigan State University.

Nichole Maguire

Administrative Assistant

Nichole has 13 years of experience in marketing and communications with an emphasis on customer relations and data management. Nichole holds a B.S. in Family and Consumer Sciences and Human Science Communication from Ball State University.

EIR’s, Mentors & Post-Docs


  • Keith Evans, Ph.D. – Physical Science
  • Kenneth Foster, Ph.D. – Materials Science and Engineering
  • Michelle Tokarz, Ph.D. – Materials Science and Engineering
  • Michael Kraft – Materials Science and Engineering
  • James Vrbanac, Ph.D. – Life Sciences
  • Vijay Baragi, Ph.D. – Life Science
  • John McIntyre, Ph.D. – Agriculture
  • Thomas Stewart – Business/Entrepreneurship
  • Kendell Pawelec, Ph.D. – Life Science


  • Matthew Rudd – Physical Sciences
  • Karen Studer-Rabeler – Life Sciences

Supported Post-Doctoral Fellows

  • Paul Quayle, Ph.D. – Physical Science