Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Monday, December 12, 2011

Student entrepreneurs celebrated for innovations

After class on a recent weekday afternoon, Cheng Chen awaits a call from BlackBerry developers Research in Motion. The industrial and operations engineering junior from Canton explains the smart phone company is interested in working with one of his startup companies.

  Cheng Chen (left) and Chase Lee speak during an event honoring them as the Center for Entrepreneurship’s RPM Student Entrepreneurs of the Year 2011. (Photo by Scott Soderberg, U-M Photo Services)

Chase Lee, a business administration junior from Grand Rapids, reports the startup business Fetchnotes he co-founded in March with classmate with Alex Schiff, a business administration junior from Palm Harbor, Fla., has 1,223 users. “That number will increase to around 6,000 or 7,000 by the end of the year,” he says, as a new round of invite links is set to appear in online tech magazines. Fetchnotes offers a quick note-taking app for the Web and cell phones.

Chen and Lee were honored Dec. 9 as the College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship’s (CFE) RPM Student Entrepreneurs of the Year 2011, in an event at the Walgreen Drama Center Stamps Auditorium.

Chen says weekly CFE Entrepreneurship Hour classes were an inspiration. “They gave me an idea of how many things I could handle,” he says. Chen also learned that even as startups become successful, sticking with college is important. “I don’t want to be like (Mark) Zuckerberg and other successful entrepreneurs that drop out of school,” he says.

“We are excited to see so much entrepreneurial activity happening on campus and in Ann Arbor,” says Doug Neal, CFE managing director. “It has been growing for years but we appear to be approaching a tipping point where entrepreneurship is starting to become part of the fabric of the University of Michigan.”

The award provides each student $2,500. Chen was cited for his work with two startup companies. Educatrium Corp. offers tutoring, mentoring and consulting services to students in China and the United States. He’s also opening an Ann Arbor spinoff of LanguageMate, which develops translation and interactive learning services to serve the health care community.

Lee’s Fetchnotes allows users who get ideas on the go to send texts to existing online lists or documents, by adding a hashtag before a word. That way, #todo goes to a personal to-do list.

“We’re adding speech really soon,” Lee says.

Chen and Lee were selected from a group of 12 applicants by a panel of judges made up of staff, faculty and community partners. Neal says both have been involved in programs such as Entrepreneurship Hour, 1000 Pitches (run by MPowered) and TechArb Student Accelerator, supported by the CFE, The Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and the Office of the Vice President for Research.

Both say they were inspired by the atmosphere at the TechArb space at 500 E. Washington. Currently, students with 20 student startup companies work there.

“They collaborate as a unit, bouncing ideas off each other. We provide them with wi-fi, coffee and water. It is a great incuabator space to be creative,” says Susan J. Hill, events program coordinator with the College of Engineering.

“The Center of Entrepreneurship has first and foremost provided us with some of the best mentors,” Lee says. “They also brought us into the TechArb. A wealth of doors and connections were opened to us.”

Neal identifies award co-sponsor RPM Ventures of Ann Arbor is a key CFE partner. “RPM founders Marc Weiser and Tony Grover are part of the Ann Arbor entrepreneurial ecosystem and provide assistance to our students in a number of ways,” he says.