‘Tis the season for entrepreneurship.

Dozens of people gathered in the East Liberty Street headquarters of TechArb, an incubator for student startups sponsored by the University’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the Samuel Zell and Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, for the launch of its semi-annual startup program Monday night.

The incubator, which was founded in 2009, selects a number of startups each fall, winter and spring semester to participate in its out-of-the-classroom crash course in business development.

This fall, TechArb selected 21 teams from 50 applications, which TechArb director Ryan Gourley said is the highest number of applications the incubator has ever received.

“We chose this cohort based on their proven ability, or the ability that they indicated in their application, to execute on their idea,” Gourley said. “As a bare minimum we require that each team has at least two people, two students from the University of Michigan. We really tried to get a broad swathe of teams.”

Gourley said the application consists of a series of questions to assess a team, its idea and the stage in the development process. He noted having an array of projects, as well as feasible goals, plays a key role in the selection process.

If multiple teams submitted similar projects, organizers selected the strongest proposal of the bunch.

Such diversity is evident in this fall’s incoming class. The selected startups represent a wide range of focus, from manufacturing sustainable water bottles to developing virtual tours for the apartment search process. Team members come from a variety of the University’s schools and colleges and age groups — from freshmen to post-doctoral candidates.

“We really have a wide representation of students working on both products and services, both high-tech and low-tech, approaching problems from every angle imaginable at the University of Michigan,” Gourley said.   

Those selected are given access to mentorship, educational workshops, workspace, material support and the TechArb community for a three-month period.

The workspace, which participants can access 24/7, includes whiteboards, two private meeting rooms, a kitchenette, office supplies, a printer, a foosball table and walls emblazoned with inspirational quotes like “passion never fails” and “experiment, fail, learn, repeat.”

Gourley said TechArb works hard to cultivate a collaborative community.

“TechArb is only as great as the people who make it up,” he said. “It’s a community of like-minded people that also have a high potential for a high impact. When you get such bright and interesting people in a room, really interesting things start to happen. So that’s the goal of TechArb is to connect all these people in the same place so they can see what magic happens.”

At Monday night’s event, James Holloway, the vice provost for global and engaged education, praised the students for their desire to help others as evidenced by their startup ideas.

“I think this is a really exciting, inspired place to be right now,” Holloway said. “I’m really awed by this group. You’re imaginative, you’re creative and you’re developing things that will help people.”

Holloway reassured participants that the real value of the program is not a startup’s explicit success, but experiencing and learning from the overall ups and downs of building a business.  

“Your ventures may not work out the way you expect,” he said. “The success is going to be that you learn how to do this work, you learn how to be creative, you learn how to be collaborative, you learn how to interact with others that are very different, you learn how to make something that has value for the world. That’s success. I think the real value is going to come from spending time with this group of people, learning from each other.”


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