Former Central Student Government executives reflect on past entrepreneurship efforts

By Amrutha Sivakumar, Daily News Editor
Published June 19, 2013

Last March, University alum Manish Parikh, former Central Student Government president, and LSA senior Omar Hashwi, former CSG vice president, made a campaign promise to “promote the spirit of entrepreneurship on campus” if elected to executive positions. As promised, the CSG delivered.

Out of the 59 executive projects completed by last year’s assembly, 10 were dedicated to furthering the entrepreneurial community. The Annual Report compiled by CSG hailed the newly formed Entrepreneurship Commission as its proudest accomplishment.

Parikh said popularizing entrepreneurship among the student body meant redefining what it conventionally represented.

“We’ve tried with every single initiative to try to involve the entire student body,” Parikh said.

For those in CSG working on spreading entrepreneurship, involving the greater student body meant abolishing the idea that entrepreneurship was limited to those with business or engineering academic concentrations.

Parikh said entrepreneurship was the “mindset of using innovation and creativity to address huge problems.” Through supporting student ventures that involved a more diverse set of students — such as OptiMize, an LSA-based social entrepreneurship incubator, the Entrepreneurship Commissions, a gathering of entrepreneurs from over 10 University schools and colleges and the Flipped Semester, a student-designed educational curriculum — he said he had “addressed a larger part of the student body.”

Hashwi said certain entrepreneurial initiatives, such as the Venture Expo, did not heavily involve those outside of the entrepreneurial community. However, he believed that these ventures helped raise entrepreneurial awareness further on campus.

“There were a lot of people who came up to me and (asked questions) what I was doing,” he said. “They were learning not only about our companies, but what entrepreneurship really was.”

“I believe that the most powerful message that we spread was that anybody can become an entrepreneur,” Hashwi said.

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The buzz around entrepreneurship culminated in March, as CSG kicked off the Month of Entrepreneurship — a series of over 35 events spanning March and April that showcased the growing entrepreneurial community.

Although advertised as a “month,” the initiative hosted events through a six-week period. Parikh said a combination of high student demand and events that were “too huge not to showcase,” elongated its duration.

As compared to the rest of the academic year and its entrepreneurial activities, Parikh said the month was the “the most focused bit of entrepreneurship.”

“We realized why make it a month long when we can have it for an extended period of time,” Hashwi said. “Rather than having (the Month of Entrepreneurship) for a month, having it for (a longer time) was more beneficial for the students.”

Furthermore, packaging campus-wide entrepreneurial events into a month played a vital role in characterizing the University as an “entrepreneurial university,” Parikh said.

“If we aren’t able to package this, if we aren’t able to show our student body, prospective students, alumni and different colleges across the world just how serious we as a University take entrepreneurship, then I don’t really think we can be an entrepreneurial university,” Parikh said.

Parikh added that he sees his piloted initiatives as continuing for years to come.

“I think we’ve really started a catalyst for bringing entrepreneurship to the entire student body,” he said. “It’s absolutely unattainable to (reach out to every student) in the period of a year, but what we’ve done is setting the ground work.”

In a May interview, Business senior Michael Proppe, president of CSG, said the Entrepreneurship Commission and the Month of Entrepreneurship would continue to take place in the next academic year. However, available funding and its chosen allocation would determine whether other CSG-sponsored entrepreneurial ventures would continue.

Business senior Scott Christopher, former chair of the Entrepreneurship Commission, said one goal for next year would be to concentrate events into a 30-day period that would be more “structured and strategic.”

Rather than characterizing the month as a mere collection of events, Christopher said he believed that it could be an opportunity for entrepreneurs to acknowledge and share their accomplishments.

“I think the Month of Entrepreneurship should be a time to really celebrate it,” he said. “Entrepreneurship does happen every single day of the year in Michigan but entrepreneurs never celebrate what they do.”