In our recent two-part series on the student entrepreneurs of the University of Michigan at the TechArb accelerator and Innovation in Action program, we profiled a young entrepreneur named Scarlett Ong Rui Chern and her venture called Peerstachio. One of the things that struck me as I interviewed Chern was the sheer number of grants she had managed to wrangle to keep her venture afloat, and the amount of support she had received from TechTown and the University of Michigan programs and departments dedicated to supporting student entrepreneurs. “There are so many resources at U of M,” Chern tells me, “we really have the upper hand.”
… Innovation in Action uses the same work space as TechArb for students to come brainstorm ideas for new ventures. Students and mentors first meet to discuss ideas, then browse presentations on the walls featuring different components of the business ideas and the challenges they are attempting to solve. People can place a dot sticker near any idea that sparks their interest, and leave Post-Its with questions the idea raises for them. This was the process going on during the IIA meeting. Entrepreneurs can see how their idea strikes people, where the interest is clustered, and have a chance to address concerns or questions as their business idea progresses. As we go around the room at the Innovation in Action meeting, Gourley introduces people involved in one or both programs with Innovation or TechArb.
In the office suites below the Washington Street parking garage near State, student entrepreneurs from the University of Michigan and their mentors have gathered for a meeting, where they present business ideas in a setup similar to an art gallery. The atmosphere is hushed, thoughtful. The ubiquitous Zingerman’s catering elves have come and gone, leaving pound cake and coffee. Attendees mill around examining the structure for each business on the walls. At the end of the meeting, the posters and papers are covered in little stickers and notes of feedback.