Dr. Michael (Mike) Crum

Professor Michael (Mike) Crum to return to Ivy College of Business supply chain faculty after serving five years as vice president for economic development and business engagement

Mike Crum, who for the last five years has led the Office of Economic Development and Industry Relations (EDIR), is stepping down at the end of the month. In his role, Crum oversees six key economic development units and a number of affiliated programs that provide to Iowa State’s clients and partners integrated business, technical, entrepreneurial support, and educational services.

Last month, President Wendy Wintersteen announced David Spalding to succeed Crum as the interim vice president for economic development and business engagement after Crum requested a return to the Ivy College of Business, where he holds the Ruan Chair in Supply Chain Management. Crum said the request reflects his desire to return to teaching and research and a need for more time to tend to extended family members with health challenges.

We sat down with Dr. Crum to reflect on his time at EDIR.


What would you say are your main accomplishments?

Mike Crum at the ISU Economic Development Core Facility. Photo Courtesy: Iowa State University Foundation.

There have been a number of significant accomplishments made by our team, so many that it is difficult to list all of them. EDIR is blessed with outstanding program directors and highly competent, passionate, and dedicated staff.  I do strongly believe, however, that it was the creation of the EDIR organization that enabled us to ramp up our impacts and establish a true economic development brand and identity for the university. EDIR brought together university units that have direct interactions with companies and entrepreneurs.  We were established to make Iowa State more accessible, to integrate and expand the technical and business support services we provide, and to strengthen the university’s entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem.

What we’re doing is pretty unique as having a separate, stand-alone organization dedicated to economic development is a different approach than what’s taken by most universities.  And reporting directly to the president is also unique and demonstrates the high priority Iowa State places on its role as an engine for economic development.

It is very gratifying to see that what we hoped would happen with the reorganization is actually happening.  Pulling the units into the same organization and physically co-locating them in the beautiful Economic Development Core Facility that was funded by the State of Iowa resulted in the kind of cross-unit engagement and collaboration we envisioned.  Our team became cognizant of finding ways to work together, and in the process added even more value for our clients and partners.

We have received extremely positive feedback from our external stakeholders – from clients to legislators and state agencies – and we have also attracted quite a bit of national attention.  In 2016 Iowa State received the prestigious designation as an Innovation and Economic Prosperity University (IEP) by the Association of Public and Land Grant Universities.  ISU is the first university in Iowa and one of only 54 in the country at that time to receive such a designation.

Current and former ISU Research Park companies’ locations across Iowa. (Click on the image to enlarge.)

It was not just the creation of EDIR, but the phenomenal growth, expansion and success of the ISU Research Park and the launch of the ISU Startup Factory that played key roles in attaining the IEP designation.  The Research Park serves as a vehicle for companies to access Iowa State’s entire value proposition of talent, research expertise, and research infrastructure. The Research Park has companies of all ages and sizes; we have startups and emerging companies and more and more we are attracting well-established Iowa companies. The university’s academic programs benefit greatly from having these companies close by as they are offering fabulous internship and work experiences for their students, and they’re engaging with researchers.

In June 2016, we launched the ISU Startup Factory to provide a clear, accessible and comprehensive support system to help researchers and inventers move their technologies and innovations from campus to market.  This unique, 52-week accelerator program has produced remarkable outcomes during its short existence, and is viewed as the premier program in the state and one of the best in the Midwest.  It is based on best practices we’ve observed across the country but adapted to mesh with Iowa State’s culture.

In a similar vein, the launch of the CYstarters program by the ISU Pappajohn Center for Entrepreneurship has greatly enhanced the university’s support of student entrepreneurs.  CYstarters is a competitive 10-week summer accelerator that uses private funds to support student businesses.  It has elevated Iowa State’s commitment to providing students with top-notch experiential learning opportunities. There are tremendous synergies between Startup Factory and CYstarters, particularly in the volunteer network of mentors, advisers, and instructors.

The robust ecosystem we have developed for innovation and entrepreneurship has attracted national attention in the academic community.  In the past year alone, we’ve had seven or eight universities travel to Ames to learn more about what we are doing. I know that several are contemplating a change similar to our model. When people come to you for best practices, that’s a really nice team compliment.

(Click on the image to enlarge.)

I am also extremely proud of the huge economic contributions made by both CIRAS and SBDC every year, and the strong reputation each center has earned across the state for partnering with other economic development groups.  SBDC and CIRAS epitomize the statewide reach of Iowa State University as they have clients in every Iowa County. The impact they have on the number of jobs created or saved, sales growth, capital infusion, and cost savings and avoidance is truly astounding.  Additionally, not only are both organizations highly regarded within the state, both have strong national reputations.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever worked with an organization that has focused as diligently on improving its internal processes and its relationships with both university and private sector partners as ISURF and OIPTT.  And our customer satisfaction surveys reveal that the efforts have produced great results!  Furthermore, Iowa State has a very strong reputation nationally as a leader in university technology transfer policies and practice.  I think it is quite impressive that twice during the past four years, including in 2017, Iowa State has ranked among the top 100 worldwide universities granted U.S. utility patents.  This recognition is an outstanding testament to the great research being conducted at the university as well as the management of the university’s intellectual property.

EDIR is firing on all cylinders and providing outstanding return on investment to the university and the state!


Going forward, how do you view Iowa State’s future role in Iowa’s economic development?

I’m very optimistic about the significant role Iowa State will continue to play in Iowa’s economy, for several reasons – the public and private partnerships we have formed across the state, the technology and innovations coming from the university, and as I mentioned earlier, the way we are organized. Iowa State touches the state economy in so many ways, and EDIR provides that strong link to the outside world. That’s only going to get stronger under President Wintersteen’s leadership.

President Wintersteen has articulated two missions that resonate very well with what we are doing. The first is the focus on entrepreneurship across campus. We are already a major component of the entrepreneurial ecosystem and we expect to grow that role.  Second, as she has wisely noted, we must shift the public perception to view the state universities as an investment, not a cost.  The university’s primary mission is educating students, and that in itself provides a huge return, but most of the citizenry and at times, some legislators don’t see or appreciate the other ways that we impact the state economy. A lot of that return is through research, technologies, and innovations that spring from the university, and the business and technical expertise we provide thousands of companies across the state every year. We do tell that story formally in our annual reports to the Board of Regents and when we go before the economic development appropriations subcommittee, but it is a compelling story that needs to be told whenever and wherever possible.

Iowa State takes great pride in its collaborative partnerships with both private and public sector partners. These relationships are essential to promoting the state’s economic development goals. The Cultivation Corridor‘s presence in the Economic Development Core Facility sends a powerful message that we are serious about promoting the entire state of Iowa to a global audience, and EDIR works closely with the Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) in a number of ways.  For example, as a member of Iowa Innovation Council’s Bioscience Workgroup, we worked with IEDA on the last study they commissioned regarding the future of the state’s bioeconomy and the university will be leading three of the four industry platforms that emerged.   Similarly, we serve on their workgroups that promote advanced manufacturing and the entrepreneurial ecosystem across the state.


What are you going to miss most?

Without a doubt, the people. I knew coming in that I had great leadership in the units we pulled together and I knew that their teams were very productive, but until you are working with them day in and day out, you don’t have a sense of their passion and energy. This is probably as vibrant of an environment that I’ve ever worked in.  We also have hundreds of students working at the Core facility and throughout the Research Park. As we were looking at the reorganization, it was very important to me that we have the student entrepreneurs and interns and the Ivy College of Business CyBiz Lab students join us here. Between the people in the EDIR units and these really bright and talented students, every day is energizing and makes it a fun place to be.  I will really miss that.


What’s next for you?

What I will do next is actually what I had planned to do five years ago when I was stepping down as interim dean in the Ivy College of Business – I am heading back to the supply chain faculty. I always had it in my mind that I would end my career teaching and researching. So, in a way, going back to the college is not really a plan B, it was always my plan A. Not many are that fortunate where they can move from a position they thoroughly enjoy and have been personally enriched by and go back to something that was their original passion and where they wanted to end their career.

President Wintersteen and Dean Spalding have both been very supportive of my request to return to the faculty. I look forward to rejoining former faculty and staff colleagues and meeting new ones in the Ivy College of Business. In addition, there are projects and initiatives I have been invited to join, and I am truly excited about doing so.  I am not totally leaving my economic development colleagues, however, as I will continue to chair the Research Park’s Board of Directors, and serve on the ISU Research Foundation Board until a permanent vice president for economic development and business engagement is named.


About Dr. Michael (Mike) Crum, Ruan Chair in Supply Chain Management
Michael Crum has served Iowa State University for 38 years. In that time, he has held several leadership positions and was named the inaugural holder of the Ruan Chair in Supply Chain Management in 2011. Crum currently serves as vice president for economic development and business engagement, a position he assumed in August 2013. Crum will return to the supply chain faculty in the Ivy College of Business in July.