Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, December 18, 2009

Entrepreneurship thrives in business school and beyond at U-M

No longer confined to the business school, entrepreneurship is becoming a core value across U-M, professors told the Board of Regents on Thursday.

This new mindset is expected to help the university leverage its knowledge and talents to help turn the state’s economy.

“The University of Michigan is the epicenter for the new economy in the state. The technology coming out of here combined with the business acumen is what’s going to make it work,” said Thomas Kinnear, the Eugene Applebaum Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies and a professor of marketing at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business.

Kinnear also is executive director of the Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, which was the university’s first foray into entrepreneurship education in 1999.

Since that time, the institute has awarded 993 students a total of $692,970 through its Dare to Dream business grants. Through its Wolverine Venture Fund and Frankel Commercialization Funds, it has invested $2.8 million in student enterprises. One of the most successful — College of Engineering spin-out HandyLab — employed around 60 people when it was acquired by global medical technology firm BD in November for $275 million. The local facility will remain open.

The spirit of innovation has been spreading across campus in recent years, with the establishment of the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship in 2007 and the interdisciplinary Medical Innovation Center in 2008, among other endeavors. Both of these organizations, along with the Office of Technology Transfer, help to educate inventors about the value of successfully commercializing their products.

“In the business school, we’re always looking for sources of ideas for start-up companies,” Kinnear said.

The Zell-Lurie Institute has opened many of its activities to students outside the business school. After lowering the barrier for non-business students to take part in its business plan contest in 2006, participation went up from 14 teams to 84. Zell-Lurie and the Center for Entrepreneurship also have created cross-disciplinary courses in business and engineering.

At the Center for Entrepreneurship, programs that link students and entrepreneurs aim to spark networking. TechFest brings entrepreneurs to Ann Arbor and an annual trip takes students to Silicon Valley. As many as 300 students each semester sign up to attend the center’s distinguished innovator speaker seminar, which gives successful entrepreneurs the stage. Working with Zell-Lurie, the center has established a unique student business accelerator, TechArb, downtown Ann Arbor.

The center worked with students to establish MPowered Entrepreneurship, a cross-campus organization whose annual 1,000 Pitches competition generated 2,165 ideas for businesses, products and other ventures this year. Thousands of students are involved in MPowered.

“By definition, entrepreneurship is a truly interdisciplinary activity and that’s why the fact that it’s breaking out of the business school is an enabling piece,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs and a professor in the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences and the Department of Aerospace Engineering.

“The university can be an engine in innovation and entrepreneurship and we’re learning better how to be that.”

The university’s core mission is to educate its students, Zurbuchen said, but it can build programs that do that while also creating positive change in the local economy and the world.