Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Friday, February 3, 2012

Entrepreneurship expanding at Michigan Engineering and beyond

This is the fifth year for the Michigan Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE), and it's expected to be a pivotal one, as its dynamic, collaborative programs swell in popularity and help to shift the culture of the campus and community.

Entrepreneurship, which began in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, is growing into a cross-campus value at U-M, and the center is playing a role in making that happen.

  Doug Neal

"In 2012, the CFE will be growing our entrepreneurial activities in unprecedented ways," says Doug Neal, the newly promoted executive director of CFE who is beginning his second term. "I see 2012 as a tipping point for us."

Those activities include:

• This year the center and the College of Engineering, along with the Ross School, will launch the university's new Master of Entrepreneurship program.

• The CFE also will tap alumni to serve as mentors for its students.

• It will continue to broaden its entrepreneurial courses and programs.

• Moving beyond its previous focus on students, CFE will hire an associate director of entrepreneurial practice to expand understanding of the science of innovation and encourage faculty researchers to commercialize their inventions.

CFE opened its doors in January 2008. During its first four years, it has helped make entrepreneurship a household name at the college and beyond. More than 5,000 students have taken CFE-sponsored entrepreneurship classes and 300 have officially enrolled in the Entrepreneurship Certificate program. LSA and the School of Kinesiology recently approved this certificate, drastically widening its potential impact on campus. Now it is available to more than 87 percent of the U-M student body. More colleges and schools are considering approval.

In the past three years, 7,100 students have submitted ideas in the annual 1,000 Pitches idea contest that CFE sponsors with the MPowered student organization. And more than 85 student businesses have been nurtured in the TechArb student business incubator in downtown Ann Arbor. TechArb is sponsored by CFE, the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Neal has played a critical role in making all this happen, says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean of entrepreneurial programs at the College of Engineering.

"Doug has been key to the success of establishing a consistent customer-centric venture acceleration process in the TechArb, as well as scaling all of our activities across the board," Zurbuchen says.

A Michigan native, Neal has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. After 10 years at Hewlett Packard and Symantec in California, he co-founded a venture-backed mobile software security company called Mobile Automation, which was acquired in 2005 for $20 million. He also has served on the investment fund advisory board at Ann Arbor SPARK. In his next term at CFE, he plans to utilize these experiences to engage the entrepreneurial community beyond campus.

"I have found myself continually drawn to the problems that exist in our ecosystem related to the lack of early stage capital, effective mentor networks and experienced entrepreneurial talent for our emerging startups," Neal says. "I'm thrilled to begin another term with the center as the executive director and I look forward to working with our ecosystem to continue to develop ways to accelerate our Michigan startups and grow the entrepreneurial ecosystem in Ann Arbor."

U-M offered its first class in entrepreneurship, Family Business, in 1927 at the Ross School. Zell Lurie, within Ross, was established in 1999. The CFE in the College of Engineering is one of a handful of new centers that have sprung up in schools and colleges outside the business school in recent years. Others include the Medical Innovation Center and the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Program.

With innovative, hands-on entrepreneurial education programs and more than a dozen business pitch, plan, and model competitions, the university is educating, inspiring and supporting faculty and student innovators across campus. U-M consistently ranks among the top 10 U.S. research universities for technology transfer performance. In the past decade, inventions developed in faculty labs have spawned 92 startups.