A Culture that Encourages Collaborations

Students take part in an Innovation in Action workshop, where they learn to enable innovation through deep design thinking.

Return to Home page

The desire is there. More than 10,000 students express an interest in developing their entrepreneurial skills each year. And U-M satisfies that interest by offering one of the most robust selections of related courses, clubs, and student competitions in the country.

We also claim an advantage that most universities can’t. Because of the extraordinary breadth of our academic array, we can provide students with a cross-disciplinary educational experience—one that will better prepare them for the collaborative environments they’ll encounter in their work lives.

1 million babies could be saved by students’ product

The Ross School of Business is among the schools that have led the way in establishing entrepreneurial opportunities for U-M students. So it’s no surprise that many cross-disciplinary programs originate here. Take the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge, for example. This business plan competition is open to students of all disciplines. And the competition’s special honors—like the Impact Track Award—really encourage that interaction.

Co-sponsored with the Erb Institute and Center for Social Impact, the Zell Lurie Institute’s Michigan Business Challenge Impact Track promotes the creation of new enterprises that put social or environmental considerations front and center. The 2017 winner, AIM Tech, developed an affordable, non-electric ventilator that’s expected to prevent the deaths of 1 million babies each year in developing countries. Its founders? Students from U-M’s business and medical schools.

A competition that focuses entirely on societal impacts is called Innovation in Action (IIA). Coordinated by the School of Public Health, the competition recently expanded to include a collaboration with the School of Education. IIA challenges student teams to identify a problem and, through a series of hands-on learning experiences, develop a solution that will have a positive effect in the world. This year’s grand prize-winning idea was Canopy, a simple web app that facilitates the end-of-life conversations we aren’t having, but maybe should be. Ann Duong, Brandon Keelean, and Elisabeth Michel, representing three different schools at U-M, made that happen.

The Pandora Challenge invited students to design a go-to-market plan for SMTD alum Daniel Passino. Photo: Center for Entrepreneurship.

Students help launch the career of “The Voice” artist

A third competition, staged for the first time last fall, is the Pandora Challenge: a collaboration among the Center for Entrepreneurship, the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance’s EXCEL program, and Real Industry. Mike Herring, president of Pandora, came to campus to challenge student teams to design—in just one week—a go-to-market plan for SMTD alum Daniel Passino, a recent contestant on TV’s “The Voice.” The winning entry was put together by students with ties to the schools of Information and Business, and included automation hacks, social media plans, taking advantage of Spotify’s Discover Weekly algorithm, and more. Said co-winner Charles Shin of the experience: “Student entrepreneurs need challenges that drive them to create applicable solutions to existing problems. What’s important isn’t so much the end goal, but the process that you navigate to get there. That’s where you learn the most and gain really valuable experience.”

Kellogg taps students to enhance a breakfast favorite

Competitions like these aren’t the only way to gain experience across the academy. The university’s aptly named Multidisciplinary Design Program, located within the College of Engineering, offers students college credit in exchange for participation in research projects with faculty and industry partners. This program, now in its ninth year, draws students from 11 of U-M’s 19 schools and colleges. How do they work together? Here’s an example. One current project, developing an app for the Kellogg Company to enable the creation of personalized Pop-Tarts, is staffed by students from four distinct disciplines:

  • Art (to develop desirable designs)
  • Engineering (to create a custom 3D food printer)
  • Computer science (to program the printer to reproduce the designs)
  • And information (to optimize the app user’s experience).

This dedicated student team will work with representatives of the food manufacturer for two semesters to get the job done.

“We encourage them to incorporate students with a diversity of backgrounds and experience. Such teams tend to be the most creative, capable, and resilient.”

TechArb Director Ryan Gourley

The Center for Entrepreneurship at Michigan Engineering has also partnered with the Zell Lurie Institute at the Ross School of Business to establish additional resources for those seeking cross-disciplinary experience. TechArb is a student venture accelerator (short-term incubator) for entrepreneurial ideas. Teams of students audition for the privilege to use the accelerator’s office space and onsite resources, receive expert mentoring, and earn grant funding to push their ideas to the next level. To ensure the teams’ success, “we encourage them to incorporate students with a diversity of backgrounds and experience. Such teams tend to be the most creative, capable, and resilient,” noted TechArb Director Ryan Gourley.

Being “capable” is easy to measure. Six of the 13 teams currently working in the accelerator have already earned awards and accolades for their work. One of these teams developed Find Your Ditto, a mobile app that connects nearby individuals living with the same chronic illness for on-demand, in-person support. In addition to being recognized in the Michigan Business Challenge, the team—made up of an engineering alum and a grad student from the School of Public Health—also received the inaugural Lyfebulb-Novo Nordisk Innovation Award for their work in addressing the management of diabetes. High praise indeed from the healthcare industry leader in this field.

Graduates ready to take it to the next level can then apply to the Desai Accelerator, a program that helps entrepreneurs move early-stage ventures to external-funding readiness by leveraging U-M’s expansive network of people and resources.