It took more than a year to land Mark Coticchia for the new position of chief innovation officer, but officials at Detroit’s Henry Ford Health System say it was time well-spent.They think they have hired the best person to make the health care organization a national leader in spinning off high-tech for-profit companies through its Innovation Institute and collaborations with research universities and health systems across the country.

This week, officials at the health system will announce the hiring of Coticchia, a nationally known expert in economic development who focuses on technology born at research universities and health systems. He also will be a health system vice president.

Over the past 20 years, Coticchia has helped launch more than 200 companies, first in the technology transfer office at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh and then as director of tech transfer at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.The best known launch was that of Lycos Inc., an Internet search engine that began as a research project at Carnegie Mellon in 1994 and had an initial public offering on Nasdaq in 1996 that valued the company at $300 million.

Before joining Carnegie Mellon in 1992, Coticchia, now 54, was senior corporate engineer and markets manager for the Westinghouse Electric Corp.

Henry Ford officials began trying to hire Coticchia soon after he started coming to town periodically as a consultant for the New Economy Initiative to evaluate technology capabilities at such local institutions as the Detroit Medical Center, Henry Ford, Wayne State University, NextEnergy and TechTown.

Based in part on Coticchia’s evaluations, last March the NEI announced more than $30 million in grants to area institutions as part of a 10-year program it billed as the Regional Innovation Network.

“We had to make him fall in love with us,” joked Bob Riney, president and COO of the health system, who said he first heard of Coticchia about a year and a half ago from Dave Egner, NEI’s executive director and president and CEO of the Detroit-based Hudson-Webber Foundation.

The NEI was formed in 2008 as a $100 million initiative by 10 regional and national foundations to boost economic activity in Southeast Michigan.

Soon after Egner’s call, Riney and Coticchia found themselves at a meeting of area health care executives and doctors.

“There was a bunch of people there and Mark was talking and I said to myself, ‘He gets health care, he gets the scientists and the physicians, he has the background. This could work,’ ” recalled Riney. “I didn’t know what ‘work’ meant, whether it was consulting with us or as a member of the team, but I wanted him.”

At the time, Henry Ford was about to announce the creation of the Innovation Institute in an Albert Kahn building on the health system’s main campus. It was intended to be a collaborative effort by local institutions, including Wayne State University’s engineering department and the College for Creative Studies, to design medical devices and equipment and form companies to make and sell them.

Madhu Prasad, a cancer surgeon at Henry Ford, had been named the institute’s director, but Riney wanted someone with a background in tech transfer to help with national collaborations, attract venture capital funding and grants and speed up the complex process of turning a good idea into a company that has products to sell to the market.Prasad agreed with Riney that Coticchia was the one to do it, but it took a while for Coticchia to agree.

He had recently left Case Western to form a successful consulting practice, Redwind Innovations LLC, so he wasn’t looking for a job. And he needed to be convinced that Henry Ford was a large organization that wasn’t just giving lip service to claims that it was serious about changing corporate culture and serious about attempting collaboration on commercialization projects with competitors such as Beaumont Health System and the Detroit Medical Center.

“Frankly, I had to give it a lot of thought, about whether I could go into an institution and build an organization second to none,” said Coticchia. “I told Bob, ‘Look, a lot of places say they want to do this stuff, about most don’t want to do it right.’

“I needed to be convinced they were serious. I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think we had the recipe for success here. This stuff is hard work, and you need people passionate about it.”

Part of the proof for Coticchia that Henry Ford was serious was Riney’s commitment of a fund raised internally of up to $10 million to fund operations at Innovation Institute startups for their first five years. Riney said he expects the fund to grow substantially from personal investments by doctors and health care executives and from local and national venture capital firms.

“We’ve already had a lot of interest from VCs,” he said.

Speaking on behalf of DMC, Chris Rizik, who serves on an advisory board there and is fund manager and CEO of the Ann Arbor-based Renaissance Venture Capital Fund, said he has met with Coticchia several times and hopes his hiring does lead to meaningful collaboration between the two Midtown health care heavyweights.

“It is great news Mark is coming to Detroit. One of the key elements in strengthening innovation in a region is the addition of people who are proficient at the difficult process of turning technology into real products, companies and jobs, and Mark brings a lot of experience in that area,” he said.

“Between the DMC, Henry Ford Hospital, Wayne State, CCS, TechTown, NextEnergy and others, there is a growing pocket of innovation in Midtown that has the chance to be an incredibly powerful collaborative community. I’m hoping Mark can play an important role in making that happen,” he said.

John Shallman, director of Beaumont Commercialization, a unit of the Royal Oak-based Beaumont Research Institute of the Beaumont Health System, said he welcomed collaboration with Henry Ford and hearing from Coticchia.

“There’s a multitude of reasons why organizations like ours can work together to help each other. This is something we’re absolutely excited about. There’s no downside. There are no drawbacks,” he said.

Riney said collaborating with Beaumont and DMC “is absolutely essential. We believe organizations can compete for patients and still collaborate and co-exist. We’ll compete in the marketplace, but we can get better results in innovation and commercialization through collaboration.”

Coticchia said he has begun discussions with people at universities and companies around the country that he’s worked with before about collaborating on research and product development, including Carnegie Mellon, the University of Michigan; the University of California, San Diego; Stanford University; the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; New Hampshire-based DEKA Research and Development Corp., founded by Dean Kamen, the inventor of the first insulin pump and the Segway two-wheeled vehicle; and Columbus-based Battelle, a global research and development organization.

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