Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Student companies grow at TechArb business incubator

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A group of student entrepreneurs has opened a small-business incubator in the basement of a downtown Ann Arbor building. They'll spend the summer sharing space, equipment and ideas.

The incubator, called the TechArb, hosts 30 students running 10 different start-ups. The space came together with the help of Ann Arbor venture capital firm RPM Ventures, the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship, and a new student-run entrepreneurial organization on campus, Maize Ventures.

The aim of the TechArb is to create a community for student entrepreneurs. Marc Weiser, RPM Ventures managing director, compares it to a beehive.

“A bunch of bees flying out on their own aren't really productive,” Weiser says. “But you get them all centralized in one place and they become very productive and make lots of honey.” Weiser also is an adjunct professor in the College of Engineering and a member of the board of directors of the Center for Entrepreneurship.

A broad range of student businesses are involved. Several of them specialize in smart-phone applications. Others include a Web site that allows fans to purchase stock in their favorite bands, a public transportation tracking system, and a venture that creates games that utilize social networks and GPS technology.

It all began with a few students looking for a place to work on their start-ups outside of their homes.

“The thrust for this was about a year ago I had a previous venture that unfortunately sort of fizzled out once we hit the semester. We had nowhere to work,” says Jason Bornhorst, Maize Ventures group manager and co-founder of one of the incubator’s businesses. Bornhorst will be a senior in computer science and engineering.

The TechArb exists now as a four-month experiment, but those involved hope that it will continue throughout the school year and, with more support, become permanent.
“I believe that this is the kind of thing that will help the University of Michigan in the long run be recognized nationally for the great entrepreneurial center that it is,” Weiser says.

The student companies involved include:

•, which allows bands to raise money from their fan base to make records.

• Carrier Mobile, which aims to replace hand-written logs for truck drivers with cell phone software.

•, which focuses on iPhone applications and other ventures.

• Mobil33t, a mobile development company primarily focused on smart-phone application development.

• Shepherd Intelligent Systems, which tracks public buses and posts their locations online through Google Maps.

• Phonagle, which focuses on team-based multiplayer games incorporating social networking.

• Crowd Clarity, which uses the wisdom of crowds — often called crowdsourcing — to assist in product development.

• Backyard Brains, which enables high school teachers to incorporate neurophysiology into their lessons.

• WOMP Software, which creates and distributes lightweight, easy-to-use software.

• Troubadour Mobile, which provides iPhone and iPod Touch users fast, fun ways to connect with their friends.