Detroit Regional Chamber > Mackinac Policy Conference > Whitmer Announces Strategic Focus on Automotive and Mobility Innovation, New Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer

Whitmer Announces Strategic Focus on Automotive and Mobility Innovation, New Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer

May 30, 2024

Key Takeaways

  • Michigan’s first-ever Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer will be Ben Marchionna.
  • PitchMI will be a statewide, shark-tank-style competition that will give top innovators access to capital and exposure.
  • Michigan will be the first state in the nation to expand access to talent, testing facilities, and equipment, taking on a strategic, proactive approach to open the infrastructure for innovation.


On Building a Culture of Innovation in Michigan

During her annual keynote at the Mackinac Policy Conference, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced economic development as her administration’s next strategic focus to set up future generations for success. She will specifically direct her efforts toward bolstering Michigan’s innovation economy by providing entrepreneurs with what they need to thrive: culture, capital, and creativity.

“We must build a culture of innovation and make Michigan a place where innovators and entrepreneurs feel seen and heard. We can’t do this alone. It takes pioneers,” she said, “Thankfully, we have some doing work every day in places like Corktown, supported by organizations like Black Tech Saturdays and the Michigan Founders Fund.” She continued, “Our job is to have their backs by making sure they feel seen and represented.”

On Michigan’s Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer, PitchMI, Project Diamond

She also announced Ben Marchionna’s appointment as Michigan’s first Chief Innovation Ecosystem Officer. Marchionna will build a community of innovation in Michigan by serving as an advocate and the first point of contact for entrepreneurs.

In pursuit of increasing access to capital, Whitmer announced PitchMI, a public, statewide, shark-tank-style competition that will solicit pitches and invest in the most innovative startup. In its inaugural year, it will award $100,000 to the most innovative idea in roads and mobility.

To act on creativity, innovators need equipment, facilities, tools, and expertise, which all cost money. “While access doesn’t guarantee success, lack of access is a complete barrier,” she warned.

Prior to taking the stage, Whitmer signed an executive directive instructing state agencies to catalog technology, equipment, and facilities across the state and work with the owners to make them available to innovators who need them. She also announced an expansion of Project Diamond, a partnership between Automation Alley and Oakland, Macomb, and Wayne Counties that will use federal funding to connect manufacturers with a network of 3D printers.

The state has entered a Memorandum of Understanding with the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs to make infrastructure accessible to Michigan innovators. This MOU expands access to talent, testing facilities, and equipment.

On Supporting Democracy, Upcoming State Budget Priorities

Following her keynote, Whitmer was joined on stage by Loepp, where they discussed the challenges of bipartisanship and the results of the statewide poll recently released by the Detroit Regional Chamber and the Glengariff Group.

“All of us more than ever have to lean in here and be a part of supporting our democracy,” she said, “Can you imagine we have to convince almost 30% of our population that democracy is the best form of government?”

Whitmer also shared that she is prioritizing adding transit solutions in the upcoming budget, taking advantage of any potential CHIPS opportunity, growing Michigan’s defense sector, and developing a long-term infrastructure solution.

She said she has heard that since its genesis last year, the Growing Michigan Together Council has identified universal pre-K and two years of community college for all Michiganders as a key part of reducing educational barriers, which would improve literacy rates and career outcomes.

“Recovering from a [COVID-19] pandemic, I think, is an enormous hurdle, but I think that these investments, making it easier for people to go into teaching, alleviating the financial barrier and debt that so many people carry – it’s all working towards the same goal,” she concluded.

This session was sponsored by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.