Michigan’s University Research Corridor is proving to be a powerful business incubator for students, faculty and alumni, playing a dramatically increased role in nurturing business startups and providing a boost to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Graduates of the three universities that make up the URC – Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University – have started or acquired businesses at double the national average rate among college graduates since 1996, according to a new study. URC alumni were 1.5 times as successful as the average U.S. business owner at keeping those startups and acquisitions alive in the past five years, according to a report released at the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Mackinac Policy Conference.

A survey included in the report prompted responses from more than 40,000 of the three schools’ 1.2 million alumni. The responses revealed that more than 19 percent of the alumni surveyed have started a company, and some have created more than one. That entrepreneurial activity reached to every state and more than 100 countries, with nearly half the new enterprises started or acquired in Michigan.

The report was prepared by East Lansing, Mich.-based Anderson Economic Group using alumni survey data collected by Survey Sciences Group LLC. It showed that URC alumni were more likely to have started a business if they held a degree in business, the arts, communications, computer and information sciences, architecture or law. Most URC entrepreneurs started a business in an area outside their major area of study, suggesting that the URC universities are preparing graduates with a broad base of skills useful in launching a business.

“We often think entrepreneurs are people with an engineering or scientific background, but the survey shows that Michigan’s entrepreneurs come from many fields of study,” said U-M President Mary Sue Coleman. “In many cases, you’re just as likely to start a business if you studied architecture or the arts.”

The universities each revamped their curricula in recent years and took other steps to encourage an entrepreneurial spirit in their students and graduates. They now offer more than 40 programs and resources for students, alumni and faculty, including classes and degrees in entrepreneurship, business incubators, special advisers and gap funding to help startups get off the ground.

The URC universities conferred the most graduate and undergraduate degrees and the second-highest number of high-demand degrees among seven university innovation clusters nationwide in 2011, MSU President Lou Anna K. Simon said.

“Michigan’s three premier research universities are doing more every year to promote an entrepreneurial mindset while helping Michigan’s businesses grow by providing the talent they need,” she said. “By focusing on entrepreneurship at all three universities, we’re creating a deep pool of talented graduates who can help startup companies succeed.”

A total of 589,840 URC alumni live in Michigan. Some bring their talents to businesses statewide, while others tap their talents to start their own enterprises.

“The three URC universities see themselves as the leading engine for innovation in Michigan and the Great Lakes region, with a focus on increasing economic prosperity and connecting Michigan to the world,” said WSU President Allan Gilmour. “Our coordinated efforts should encourage even more entrepreneurs and startups in the future.”

A full news release and the URC Entrepreneur Report can be found at http://urcmich.org.