Inspired to Innovate, Students Drive Entrepreneurship on Campus

Last year, President Obama proclaimed November as National Entrepreneurship Month—a time to celebrate the hard work, ingenuity, and courage of America’s thinkers, doers, and makers.

Inspired by that Proclamation, a number of groups at the University of Michigan—including the Center for Entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurship Commission, and more than a dozen student-entrepreneurship organizations on campus—partnered to hold the first-ever university-wide Month of Entrepreneurship. This past spring, that effort resulted in more than 30 unique events relating to entrepreneurship and innovation.

Below, University of Michigan Student Body President, Manish Parikh, shares his experiences helping to coordinate the Month of Entrepreneurship and promote entrepreneurship on campus.

How did the Entrepreneurship Commission and the Month of Entrepreneurship come about?

In my campaign to become Student Body President, I promised to promote entrepreneurship on campus. Once elected, I reached out to Associate Dean for Entrepreneurial Programs Thomas Zurbuchen, our University President Mary Sue Coleman, and others at the Center for Entrepreneurship – a center within Michigan’s College of Engineering that provides resources for university entrepreneurs – to come up with strategies to expand student entrepreneurship.

With their help I was able to bring 18 different campus-entrepreneurship groups together by creating the Entrepreneurship Commission. The goal of the Commission is to make the University of Michigan ‘number one’ in the Nation for student-driven entrepreneurship. Its work focuses on bringing more resources to student entrepreneurs.

The Month of Entrepreneurship was inspired by the Presidential Proclamation released by President Obama last November. Its objective is to bring entrepreneurship to all of the 43,000 students on campus. The Month includes more than 30 events over the course of about six weeks.

What are some examples of the types of initiatives and events that are a part of the Month of Entrepreneurship?

One event is MHacks, which has become the largest hackathon of its kind in the Nation.  Another is the launch of OptiMize, a social innovation challenge involving 19 teams across campus. Teams can submit project ideas across the spheres of health, poverty, environment, or education, and selected teams get real-world experience, workshops, mentorship, and more, as they develop their projects. At the end, the best teams make pitches to be considered for up to $10,000 in funding.  Project ideas have included the Resource Fund, which provides impoverished communities with microloans, and Project Homeless, which aims to end homelessness locally in Ann Arbor.

We also established an entrepreneurship storefront in the Student Union on campus for the Month so that student entrepreneurs can sell their products directly to the student body. Additionally, MPowered Entrepreneurship, which is another student organization that promotes entrepreneurship on campus, holds a video business pitch contest called 1000 Pitches to solicit innovative student business ideas. In 2013 alone, the contest received over 4,537 submissions.

Participants in the University of Michigan's MHACKS Hackathon

MHacks, an organization consisting of university organizations Michigan Hackers and MPowered, hosts the largest hackathon in the Midwest on February 2, 2013 in the Palmer Commons on Central Campus of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI. Students from various universities across the United States and Canada attend the 36-hour hackathon, creating applications for various awards given out by sponsors. February 2, 2013. (by Joseph Xu)

In a recent interview with the University Record, you said that when you launched the Month of Entrepreneurship you “thought it would cause some ripples, but it has actually caused a wave.”  Can you elaborate on the effects you’ve seen?

The original goal of the Month was to bring interesting entrepreneurs together, but it grew into more than that—it started a dialogue about entrepreneurship on campus. After sending out the initial email announcing the Month of Entrepreneurship, I overheard kids in a coffee shop talking about entrepreneurship and received hundreds of emails about it, including emails from students in the Schools of Pharmacy and Dentistry who were each talking about how entrepreneurship relates to their fields.  Entrepreneurship is not just about business or engineering—it’s a way of life that can be applied in any field.  Coverage of entrepreneurship on campus is growing and the amount of material regarding entrepreneurship in the Michigan Daily and other student media outlets has increased over the past year. The Month has encouraged more student interest and involvement in entrepreneurship, and I hope to see more entrepreneurs coming out of the University of Michigan in the future.

What would you recommend that students at other universities do to catalyze innovation and entrepreneurship on campus?

Entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan has a uniquely bottom-up format. Students drive entrepreneurship here and they have been able to come together and work toward a common objective. My suggestion to students at other universities is to connect the dots and bring together different student leaders that are involved with, or working to promote, entrepreneurship on campus. By doing so, they can maximize their opportunities for innovation and create an entrepreneurship ecosystem.

Erica Pincus is an Intern at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy


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