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The Michigan Marriage Pact, shots from scrunchies and soaps that look like American states, what do they have in common? These student-run businesses all began as projects in ALA/PSYCH 223.
Also known as Entrepreneurial Creativity, the course is a requirement for all students pursuing the University of Michigan’s minor in entrepreneurship. Students in the class are asked to work with one small group throughout the semester to bring an idea for a product, service or event to fruition.
Students can pursue a wide variety of paths, according the course’s lecturer, Eric Fretz.
“(Students are) like, ‘Well how do we know when we’re done?’” Fretz said. “‘Well, we’re done when the term’s over.’ ‘How do we know if we get an A?’ ‘Well, (you’ll) get an A if you do epic shit.’ ‘What does that mean?’ ‘I’ll tell you when I see it.’”
Fretz, who graduated from the University with a dual Ph.D. in psychology and education in 2010, said he designed the course to bring students out of their comfort zones and help them navigate the professional world after graduating from the University. He said he does not present himself as a typical lecturer but rather as an educator whose only goal is to prepare his students for life after college.
“I always tell them that ‘You’re not gonna like me because I’m gonna treat you like I was your boss … I don’t have a research thing, I don’t have an agenda, right, I’m just here to try and make you great Wolverines and go out and crush it in the real world,’” Fretz said.
Fretz’s unconventional teaching style may be due in part to his circuitous path back to the University from his undergraduate graduation in 1989. After leaving the University for the first time, Fretz began a 20-year term in the Navy, during which he was deployed three times, married and moved to five different states.
He said he did not expect to be accepted into the University’s dual PhD program when he applied in 1998. However, Fretz was accepted and graduated 12 years later, after experiencing changing personal circumstances and undergoing military service. Fretz said he was unexpectedly offered a lecturer position at the University in 2013, soon after he retired from the Navy.
“I became an instant faculty member without ever planning to,” Fretz said.
Fretz’s courses, which combine practical knowledge with engaged, student-oriented teaching, have been popular ever since, several students told The Michigan Daily.
LSA senior Elien Michielssen and her group created the Michigan Marriage Pact — a survey that matches U-M students with their most compatible partners — in fall 2019 as their project for Fretz’s class. Michielssen said Fretz immediately supported her group’s idea for the MMP.
Unlike most projects, the MMP continued beyond the end of the semester, and Michaelssen and her team have no plans to end it. Michielssen credited Fretz’s teaching style with creating an environment that allowed her group to succeed.
“He was pretty bold and very upfront with his feelings or his thoughts on people’s ideas,” Michielssen said. “He was not afraid to share when something was a good idea and when he didn’t think something was a good idea.”
Michielssen said her team has hired new members and continues to refine the MMP’s algorithm in anticipation of its next iteration. She said Fretz’s lessons on teamwork and personal finance stand out as her most important takeaways from the course.
Heather Gaynor, who graduated from the University in 2020, helped create the Scrunchie Shot in November 2019 with her entrepreneurial creativity group. Gaynor is now the chief executive officer of Scrunchie Shot, LLC, which produces scrunchies with flasks hidden inside. Like the MMP, Scrunchie Shot continued to operate past the end of the semester after initial success in the course.
The business has seen success on TikTok after multiple viral videos have helped its growth, but Fretz’s support was where it all started, Gaynor said.
“I would not be running my own business if I had not had this class,” Gaynor said.
Gaynor also said Fretz’s candor set him apart from the other lecturers at the University.
“He’s willing to tell you no and be direct about it,” Gaynor said. “But he’s also willing to be the biggest hype man you’ve ever had.”
Scrunchie Shot debuted ahead of a Michigan football game during the fall 2019 season and sold out within 36 hours, according to Gaynor. Now, Gaynor said the team hopes to continue its momentum and is considering expanding their product line, moving into Amazon or purchasing Big Ten licensing.
Engineering junior Catherine Loder is the chief finance and operating officer at Scrunchie Shot. Loder said Fretz taught practical life skills as well as business strategies to his students.
“He did a finance lecture I’ll probably never forget,” Loder said. “It was really one of those (moments that make you think) ‘Ah, I finally understand what’s happening in the finance world thanks to him.’”
Loder said her team has worked well together because of Fretz’s lessons on team dynamics and that her group remains in communication with Fretz, whose “wealth of information” has been invaluable to her company’s success.
When LSA senior Zachary Layle took the class, he helped create Fifty State Suds, a company that sells soaps that look and smell like American states. While the company currently only sells Michigan soaps, they plan to eventually branch out in making soaps for other states and selling them across the country.
“The plan generally is to get ourselves into stores,” Layle said. “And right now, we’ve been focusing on Michigan as we build our soap base.”
Layle said Fretz’s course was different from other classes he took at the University because of the level of interaction it offered.
“In this course, not only are you discussing the ideas, but you’re actually implementing what you’re learning in class with a lot of hands on experience,” Layle said.
Fretz acknowledged his teaching style is unusual, but said he thought it allows him to be most effective in achieving his main goal as a lecturer — changing lives.
“I’m very in the weeds, and very up close and personal with my students in a way that is sort of atypical,” Fretz said. “But that’s where I believe the power is. I’m teaching to change things and people. I want impact.”
Daily Staff Reporter Eli Friedman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.