Encouraging Entrepreneurs

BY KATHERINE MITCHELL

Published January 30, 2007

As University and Ann Arbor leaders scramble to stem the losses from Pfizer's departure, an effort to germinate new business ideas is underway on North Campus.

The College of Engineering hosted an open forum on entrepreneurship last night for all engineering students interested in the business aspects of their fields.

The newly-created Committee on Entrepreneurial Environment and Programs for Students got feedback from students about how to incorporate business into the engineering curriculum.

"It's about the marriage of technology and marketing," Engineering senior Israel Vicars said.

The committee combines faculty, students and external supporters like lawyers and venture capitalists, said Engineering Prof. Thomas Zurbuchen, who chairs the committee.

It aims to transform student ideas and innovations into opportunities for business growth.

"A lot of engineers have the good ideas but don't know what to do with them," Vicars said.

Students proposed several ways to foster a culture of entrepreneurship for undergrads both on- and off-campus. Zurbuchen said his committee will take the ideas from the meeting, summarize them and implement measures that the committee thinks will be useful to students.

Many students said they feel that entrepreneurship skills need to be developed early in a student's engineering schooling, a student business group or legal service needs to be available, and a solid bridge must be built between the engineering and business schools.

Zurbuchen said he wants to "create that drumbeat of excitement" for entrepreneurship. But cautioned that "you can't change culture by decree."

He hopes to start that culture change with a spring break trip to the San Francisco Bay Area for engineering students and faculty. He said the trip will be an opportunity to see big business up front and hear directly from innovators.

- KATHERINE MITCHELL