TechArb showcases student community in entrepreneurship

Thursday, February 18, 2016 - 10:03pm

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Over 40 people gathered in the Alumni Center Thursday for the TechArb showcase, a culmination of a University of Michigan startup training program. Teams of student entrepreneurs pitched both products and ideas to an audience of mentors, alumni and TechArb staff, previewing future goals for their companies.

TechArb is a five-year-old initiative jointly coordinated by the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering and the Zell Lurie Institute, a entrepreneurial studies program housed in the Ross School of Business. The program graduates three cohorts of fellows a year, aiming to provide students with resources and space to foster their startups.

TechArb director Ryan Gourley said the program’s greatest strength is the community of entrepreneurs it forms.

“It’s important to get such driven, entrepreneurial students in one room,” Gourley said. “There’s something to be said about physical proximity and what can happen when you’re sitting across the table from someone and exchanging ideas with them.”  

At the event, students presented businesses centered around an array of products, including commercial fish feed and water bottles with built-in phone chargers. A majority of teams presented mobile apps with millennial issues and needs in mind. Engineering junior Steven Schmatz introduced Mist, a mobile shopping app tailored to social causes.

“We want to bring good design and sustainability to shopping,” he said.

Nearly all of the presenters had already landed partnerships with existing community businesses and programs at the University prior to the showcase.

TechArb aims to facilitate these relationships and provide each startup with multiple mentors outside of a classroom setting.

“We provide the intensive framework for students to do this on a daily basis and to do a deep dive,” Gourley said. “Nowhere else on campus do they have to opportunity to work on their own startups intensively.”  

The fellowship is open to all members of the campus community. Dinghao Zhou, who graduated from the Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning masters program and now works as an architect in Ann Arbor, credited TechArb as the springboard for his future plans. Zhao currently heads Nova Robotics, a startup designing a smart-home security robot, and hopes to join a startup lab in Grand Rapids in the future.

“The robot was only possible through the 3D printer at TechArb,” he said. “The cohort helped us a lot in giving us advice.”