The University of Michigan promotes an open spirit of inquiry, out-of-the-box thinking, and creativity that inspires students to push their boundaries and go on to become Leaders and Best in their chosen fields. Here are two examples of students and student teams who have successfully leveraged the University of Michigan’s large entrepreneurial network and resources.
A platform that gives food-insecure children and their families a way to find free food assistance programs
When Jack Griffin was a sophomore in high school, he watched a segment on 60 Minutes that profoundly altered the course of his life. The segment profiled a couple of middle-schoolers from Florida as they struggled with homelessness, sometimes utilizing public restrooms in gas stations and libraries to get ready for school.
This proved to be the catalyst that propelled Jack out of his comfort zone, and the spark for what would eventually become FoodFinder was ignited. Currently, FoodFinder uses a web and mobile app to make it easy for families in need to locate the nearest free food assistance programs. After Jack arrived at the University of Michigan, he discovered that U-M was uniquely equipped to catapult FoodFinder to the next level.
Jack began exploring U-M’s entrepreneurial ecosystem by utilizing Entrepreneurial Advising at the Zell Lurie Institute and the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) at the College of Engineering, where students and alumni have the opportunity to connect individually with team members, mentors, and entrepreneurs-in-residence. This year, along with being a part of the third cohort of CFE’s Entrepreneurs Leadership Program (ELP), Jack also received funding through optiMize and the Zell Lurie Institute’s Dare to Dream Grants. Additionally, he placed third in the Michigan Business Challenge Seigle Impact Track along with placing first for the Elevator Pitch Award. The Center for Social Impact cohosts the Seigle Impact Track as part of the Michigan Business Challenge, in partnership with the Zell Lurie and Erb institutes. While speaking about his experiences with developing FoodFinder at U-M, Jack said: “Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem has been terrific in terms of mentorship, networking, and overall learning.”
A web application that helps people address end-of-life healthcare decisions
After winning the Grand Prize at the School of Public Health’s Innovation in Action Competition in 2017, Ann Duong, Brandon Keelean, and Elisabeth Michel (representing three different schools at U-M) were ready to take Canopy beyond the START phase. Canopy creates digital tools to help families talk about and make end-of-life healthcare decisions along with sharing those decisions through a legal document with loved ones and medical providers.
In developing their venture, Brandon noted: “If there’s anything we’ve learned, it’s that the role we have as entrepreneurs is to adjust to new information as efficiently as we can and do our best to chart a path through the complexity.”
“As students and alumni of the university of Michigan, we recognize the energy of the University and the wider Michigan entrepreneurship ecosystem,”
In 2018, Canopy tapped into the considerable resources offered by U-M’s entrepreneurial ecosystem. They leveraged the support of the Zell Lurie Institute’s Zell Entrepreneurs Program, the School of Information’s Design Clinic, and Michigan Law’s Entrepreneurship Clinic to learn how to grow their venture, develop their brand, and navigate legal or corporate issues. Canopy also placed second in the Michigan Business Challenge Seigle Impact Track, and placed second in the Elevator Pitch Award.
Turning ideas into tangible impact
Both FoodFinder and Canopy are currently part of TechArb’s Winter 2018 cohort. TechArb, a student venture accelerator, is a joint initiative of The Center for Entrepreneurship and the Zell Lurie Institute. This out-of-the-classroom program enables students to bring their ventures to life through an intensive and structured entrepreneurial experience.
Ultimately, these are two specific but impactful examples of how the University of Michigan’s entrepreneurial ecosystem empowers students and student teams from different academic backgrounds to confront big problems and conceive of innovative solutions in a multidisciplinary, collaborative way.