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.”
Jeni Olney’s role at the University of Michigan is to get students excited and interested in entrepreneurship, to be exposed to the idea of entrepreneurship as a useful skill set and a valuable degree. “Then, once I get them into classes, my job is to connect them to resources,” Olney says. This is Innovate Blue, the University of Michigan’s program for connecting any and all undergraduate students with the option of a minor in entrepreneurship.
Mario Loria is still in his late twenties, but on his team at super hot Detroit-based startup StockX, the billion-dollar luxury goods stock exchange run by Josh Luber, he’s one of the older team members. Loria is the founder of Ann Arbor meetup Orchestructure (2017) for devops and related folks to geek out over latest tech and best practices, and his career started in Ann Arbor with a tech company that had a more traditional management style. He also founded his own company between these gigs, somewhere between helping organize DevOps Days Detroit and starting several other projects. Thus, he has some strongly held ideas about team structure and culture, and what he sees as a slow shift toward transparency in the workplace serving tech teams well–but kind of taking forever.
Cronicle Press is you, the Ann Arbor tech community. We don’t talk enough. We don’t follow each other on Twitter. We come to occasional meetups, but maybe we don’t have time for every group we’d like to keep up with, and it’s getting harder by the year to follow how many new startups are out there in town.
It was packed to capacity and standing room only. The sixth annual UX Ignite meetup on user experience held this year at Circ Bar next to the Blind Pig on downtown Ann Arbor’s west side was an almost comedy club type setup for some very engaging speakers on the subjects of digital product design, user experience… and goats. One speaker, Jonathon Baugh of Pillar, had recently moved to the country west of Ann Arbor to start a family farm, so his talk focused on the parallel lessons between running a farm and the user experience of technology products. He told stories about surprisingly predictable seasonal visits from owls, and how he learned you have to catch the maple syrup at the exact right time of spring when the up and down cold weather makes the sap run. “Think about the season your users are going through,” he said, pointing to a photo of his toddler son drinking from a maple sap tap hose. “And learn to lean in to your users.” Instead of telling users what they need, listen to how they already use products and interfaces. The example for this? His goats found ways to knock down trees as snacks. Instead of restraining them, Baugh started a yearly tradition of feeding his goats an offering of recycled Christmas trees. Creating new routines on the farm and in technology can also create unintended users, he said, pointing to a video of him petting a “trash panda,” an opossum who was attracted to the farm’s new offerings.