Twitter chat focuses on business and innovation

By Irene Park, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 8, 2015

In recent years, colleges across the nation, including the University, have started offering degrees, certificates and classes geared toward entrepreneurship and innovation. Friday afternoon’s #UMichChat Twitter event featured four panelists who discussed entrepreneurship in Michigan.

The Twitter talk is the University’s fourth; previous events featured E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, and a discussion on social media and journalism.

Kelly LaPierre, managing director of Desai Accelerator; Engineering Prof. Thomas Zurbuchen, the University’s senior counselor for entrepreneurship; University alum Jeffrey Sorensen, co-founder of optiMize; University alum David Merritt, founder of Merit Goodness; and Michael Finney, senior economic adviser to Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, all participated.

The University is home to several programs focused on entrepreneuship, including the Center for Entrepreneurship, the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies and Medical Innovation Center.

The panelists agreed that innovation and entrepreneurship have become increasingly important over the last few years due to the interdisciplinary nature of problems facing the world today.

“Today’s world demands graduates prepared to be highly collaborative problem solvers ready to tackle big challenges,” Zurbuchen wrote.

Sorensen, who co-founded the entrepreneurship-focused student organization optiMize while he was a student on campus, encouraged students to get involved in the world around them and pursue their ideas.

“Students need to ask ‘why not me?’ and innovate to solve (the problems)!” Sorensen wrote.

Even for students who major in a subject seemingly unconnected to entrepreneurship and innovation, Zurbuchen wrote that thinking like an entrepreneur is still necessary.

“(Entrepreneurship) (is) also more than just starting a business,” Zurbuchen wrote. “It’s a necessary state of mind that views opportunity in a challenge.”

Similarly, Zurbuchen said students do not necessarily need to be part of a startup business to get involved.

“Not everybody needs to be a startup founder!” Zurbuchen wrote. “It’s about seeing and growing innovation, even in big companies.”

Merritt, a former Michigan basketball player who started his own business, recommended researching the market and connecting with the community to create a solid group of customers and followers.

“Find people that believe what you believe,” Merritt wrote. “People buy ‘why’ maybe even more than ‘what.’ ”

While the panelists also noted that the process often involves failure, LaPierre wrote that failure does not always result in negative consequences.

“Failure isn’t inherently bad,” LaPierre wrote. “Fail fast, move on and learn from your mistakes. And share your learnings with others.”

Merritt added a slightly different take — he said he defined failure not as failing to reach a goal, but as not making the attempt in the first place.

“Success is giving it all you have,” Merritt wrote. “It’s not a destination, it’s appreciating the process. The failure is in not trying.”

In addition to the social innovation opportunities on campus, Zurbuchen said there are over 10 University projects focused on Detroit and other regions in Michigan.

Speaking to the state as a whole, Finney, Snyder’s senior economic adviser, wrote that Michigan is growing various technology industries, such as information technology, biotechnology and agriculture. He also wrote that Michigan is a great location for technology industries due to the concentration of research efforts and talent.

“Michigan has 70% of auto R&D and the largest number of (mechanical engineers) in the U.S.,” Finney wrote. “Makes a great location of tech.”

According to Finney, the state-run Michigan Economic Development Corporation also provides various resources to support entrepreneurs, such as capital, technology transfer resources and incubators.

However, despite the growth in technology as a state, Zurbuchen said he wouldn’t refer to Michigan as the “new Silicon Valley.”

“I think we should not become a copy of something else, even not of (Silicon) Valley,” Zurbuchen wrote. “We should become the best hub we can be.”