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Michigan Starts Seed Fund for Collaborative IT Projects

State CIO hopes small investments will result in innovative partnerships between state and local government.

Michigan plans to play the role of angel investor with new funding that will go to innovative technology collaborations between state and local government.

The $2.5 million innovation fund was approved by the state Legislature in Michigan’s 2012 budget. The fund was made formal this week in a directive from Gov. Rick Snyder. The fund will be overseen by a five-person board that includes Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) Director John Nixon and state CIO David Behen.

The board will solicit for projects, determine eligibility criteria, and oversee performance and reporting, and loan repayment, officials said. The board will also have the ability to terminate underperforming projects.

According to a statement from the governor’s office, all state executive branch agencies and departments — as well as shared service projects involving local governments “and other public service providers” — are eligible to receive loans from the fund.

The fund’s intent is to bring forth technology projects that otherwise wouldn’t see the light of day, DTMB spokesman Kurt Weiss said Tuesday, Jan. 10. The seed money likely will be awarded in $100,000 to $300,000 amounts, Weiss said, which should allow the state to fund 10 or more projects from the initial $2.5 million fund.

The DTMB originally asked for $5 million, but legislators whittled that in half during budget negotiations.

“The good news is that they didn’t cut it out totally, and the Legislature sees the value in it. So they stuck with us on it; we were pleased to get $2.5 million to get us started,” Weiss said. The DTMB is interested in eventually growing the fund.

Behen wants the funding to result in projects that cross government boundaries, Weiss said. In many cases, this should spur collaborations between the state and local governments and schools.

Weiss mentioned that a video arraignment system developed several years ago by Michigan counties is the type of project the innovation fund will pursue. The system was later adopted by the state’s Department of Corrections. It’s both innovative and efficient because inmates no longer have to be transported to and from a courthouse.

Miriam Jones is a former chief copy editor of Government Technology, Governing, Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines.