Finance professional slated to lead WMU's BRCC

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KALAMAZOO--A financial professional with an extensive background in helping to launch startup companies will take the reins of Western Michigan University's Biosciences Research and Commercialization Center.

Stephen J. Haakenson has been named executive director of the BRCC, effective Feb. 6. He comes to the BRCC from the Michigan Economic Development Corp., where he has served as a program/portfolio manager since 2006. In that position, he was responsible for managing state investments in companies to help them develop, grow, expand, diversify and commercialize within the state of Michigan.

The BRCC he will lead is a successful life science economic development initiative established in 2003 by the Michigan Legislature. The center has supported life science startups that, in turn, have created some 250 new jobs and attracted $95 million in investment capital.

Haakenson's appointment to the leadership position coincides with the launch of a second round of funding the BRCC recently received from the state for additional life science startup investment. The new $3.8 million fund, dubbed BRCC-II, will be used to continue the center's legacy of job business support and job creation established with its original $10 million in state funding received in 2003.

"As we launch BRCC-II, I am very pleased to be welcoming Steve Haakenson as our new executive director," says Donald R. Parfet, chair of the BRCC Board of Governors and managing director of the Apjohn Group, a venture capital firm. "Steve brings to the BRCC a strong background in supporting startup companies."

In addition to his most recent position at the MEDC, Haakenson has a background that includes private-sector finance positions with such companies as Government Leasing Co., Herman Miller Inc., Capital Bidco Inc. and FMB-First Michigan Bank. He also has experience as the owner and manager of a successful privately held startup.

"Over the past eight years, the BRCC has provided Michigan's life sciences business sector with a greatly needed funding source for promising new business ventures," Haakenson says. "I am eager to provide the financial expertise and resources I have acquired during my career to expand on the BRCC's success and solidify its reputation as a supportive investor in Michigan's growing entrepreneurial community."

Haakenson replaces John Balbach of the Michigan Small Business and Development Center who led the BRCC on an interim basis while the search for a new executive director took place. The BRCC's founding executive director, Dr. Jack Luderer, is now associate dean for research of the WMU School of Medicine but remains involved with the BRCC. He serves as a member of the BRCC Board of Governors and its Investment Committee.

"We were fortunate to have several excellent applicants for this position," Luderer says. "I am confident that Steve will be successful in leading BRCC-II, and this success will ultimately lead to BRCC-III so that the legacy of this WMU program continues. The continuation of the BRCC complements the life science-based economic development strategy of our region, and has the potential to be synergistic with the research efforts of the new WMU School of Medicine."

The BRCC provides early-stage capital, pharmaceutical expertise and business development consultation. Since its inception, the BRCC has invested $10.1 million in 31 life science companies across Michigan, with 25 of the companies remaining viable entities. Of the total investments, 60 percent has been in Southwest Michigan, with the remaining 40 percent going to firms in the rest of the state. Most BRCC-funded companies are based on patents, 16 of which are licensed from Michigan universities and private inventors in Michigan and another seven coming from universities in other states. The remaining BRCC-funded companies provide services to the life science industry.

"We are excited that Steve is joining us at BRCC-II. His prior work experience fits in well with our needs, and he will provide sound and visionary leadership in this initiative," says Jan VanDerKley, WMU vice president for business and finance and a member of the BRCC Board of Governors.