These were some introductory notes that were given as part of a WPO-YPO meeting in Ann Arbor:
I very much appreciate the opportunity for me to address you today. I was asked to speak on the challenges of building an entrepreneurial ecosystem. Before I address this question, I want to give you my perspective.
I started the Center for Entrepreneurship, which is located in the College of Engineering. We started this Center primarily for two reasons. First and foremost, we think that entrepreneurship is a mindset of future leaders of the world, technically, economically and – eventually, politically. Educations have a different nature today. Our engineers are launched into a connected world that changes at the speed of innovation. Successful careers are not static – they are in constant flux and adaptation. Second, we think our research and our teaching should support objectives that are both local and national. Our economy is in need of reinvention and we better deploy our assets, which are primarily our people, but also our technologies and our inventions. We have something like 300 invention reports each year, and about 100 agreements with companies that take these inventions and deploy them in industry. Entrepreneurship is a deployment mechanism for us, one that is crucial for Universities to deliver on their promise.
At the Center for Entrepreneurship, we think that impact driven entrepreneurship is the solution to these challenges. We live in a time of change that requires leaders who embrace change, and adapt faster than their competitors. Entrepreneurs excel in this environment of risk taking and seizing of opportunities. Entrepreneurship is a mindset that can and must be taught to enable future leaders. Impact driven entrepreneurs are those who make a positive impact on society with disruptive ideas that are scalable. That’s what we support and live by.
Since the CFE’s inception four years ago, we have taught over 10,000 students who were engaged in entrepreneurial programs. Right now, we have a student-led activity; 1000 pitches, which seeks to collect well over 1000 ideas from students. If you are on campus, we want you to know we expect you to have ideas, and we want you to talk about these ideas and we expect you implement them. We also had over 3,000 students in classes that deal with entrepreneurship in a direct way. Finally, we have assisted in the creation in over 100 ventures, the vast majority of which have an important presence in Michigan.
So, what does it take to build an entrepreneurial ecosystem?
The most important aspect of this I learned very early. I noticed many entrepreneurship related programs around the University had boundary conditions that destroyed the very thing they tried to create – entrepreneurship has to be cutting across boundaries. For example, every one of our classes is accessible to students of all backgrounds. The best teams often consist of students with various majors; an engineer and a business major, for example. Also, we noticed we had to become very transparent to our entrepreneurial community. It needs to be easy to step in and out of the University entrepreneurial programs. Some of our best classes are taught by people from the community: Rich Sheridan, Marc Weiser and Jeff Schox, just to name a few. Also, TechArb, our business accelerator is down-town Ann Arbor, off campus. The goal of companies is not for them to be “the University’s,” the goal for companies are to succeed in the market-place and that is off campus, almost by definition.
We also learned an important lesson: It is amazing what you can get done if you are willingly sharing credit with all participants. What will make Michigan a hub in entrepreneurship is not the best institute in the Business School or the best entrepreneurship institute in the College of Engineering. It is together many institutes and centers form a coalition that builds unprecedented opportunity for all of our students!
So what can you do?
Entrepreneurs at all stages can meet our students and serve as real-life examples of entrepreneurial activity and success. This can be through participation in our venture challenges, which basically replaced business plan competitions across the board. Business plan competitions very seldom result in real companies, unfortunately. Come and help students succeed to create real success! Also, many classes welcome real-life examples and projects. If you have any such ideas, please let us know. Here at the University of Michigan the Business Engagement Center has been set up as a front-door for all company engagements. Go ahead and use these services, and let us know what we can do to improve them.
Some startup companies have been “adopted” by other small companies and both have tremendously benefited from that. This may be a Michigan model we should consider more often!
We would also like Michigan to hire our students. Many of our undergraduate and graduate students still move out of state even though they tell us they would love to stay in Michigan if given the opportunity. To me, this is something I would really like to change.
And, finally, please tell us what we are missing or what’s not working. Sometimes, bad interfaces, omissions or just plain mistakes are tough to identify for us. You will help us if you tell us and give us a chance to fix these issues!
In summary, our entrepreneurial programs can only be successful if we start developing and growing a space that our business community and our universities both occupy. That is the space where insights are being exchanged, and experiences are being transmitted and learned. This will then also the space that will ultimately create the best opportunities for all of us involved.