Correction appended: An earlier version of this story misidentified the student-run business The Bearon.
Their aim was to get 1,000 signatures. And as of this morning, members of the 1000 Voices project surpassed their goal by five votes.
Launched by student group MPowered, the 1000 Voices project is a petition focusing on expanding student entrepreneurship beyond the walls of the Ross School of Business and College of Engineering. The campaign’s goal is to get LSA to offer entrepreneurial classes and other resources for students to implement their own innovative ideas.
Many LSA students have expressed a desire to have the option of taking such classes, said LSA junior Ankit Mehta, the president of MPowered, a group that focuses on entrepreneurship and student ventures. He added the purpose of 1000 Voices isn’t necessarily to incite students to start their own businesses, but to engender an entrepreneurial mindset into LSA classrooms.
“Entrepreneurship is not just a popular subject, it’s also a driving force of the world,” he said.
To spark this entrepreneurial energy in LSA, 1000 Voices is advocating for courses about entrepreneurship for students to gain credit toward their concentration through work outside class.
As of 1 a.m. this morning, the online petition, which was launched earlier this month, had recorded 1,005 “voices heard.” The organization will discuss the specifics of the integration of entrepreneurial-based classes into the college with the University administration after the petition gains 1,000 signatures.
“1000 Voices is more than just a petition, it’s a movement,” Mehta said. “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity. In the 194 years of our University’s history, no opportunity like this has ever come out.”
LSA junior Max Levenstein, who signed the petition, said having opportunities outside the classroom with hands-on entrepreneurial work would be beneficial to students.
Levenstein said he hoped that programs like the Undergraduate Research Opportunity Program could be developed for entrepreneurship.
“You (would) have a class that you’re taking credit for but you do a lot of work in the community,” Levenstein said.
Mehta stressed the desire for an entrepreneurial curriculum within LSA. He cited the MPowered program eRes — a living and learning community on campus centered on entrepreneurship and leadership that is in its pilot year — as an example of a growing need for an initiative like 1000 Voices.
“The fact that (eRes) tripled (in) size shows that there are unmet programming needs in the University of Michigan,” Mehta said.
Mehta said the success of MPowered’s other initiative, 1000 Pitches — an annual competition in which students present original ideas they wish to be used at the University or elsewhere— has also demonstrated that there is a substantial fraction of the student body with entrepreneurial interest.
“This year we got 3,000 pitches,” Mehta said. “1000 Voices is just about unifying what people want about their entrepreneurial education.”
For LSA senior Caroline Rooney, 1000 Voices has struck a personal chord. During the winter of her freshman year, Rooney launched The Bearon, a clothing company that donates 10 percent of its revenue to a variety of non-profit organizations.
She described the formation of her startup business as a difficult but rewarding experience that taught her how to make an idea come to life.
“The things you learn from entrepreneurship can be applied across the board,” Rooney said. “Everyone needs to know how to think outside the box and believe in themselves, as cheesy as that might sound. It’s a huge vote of confidence learning about how you can follow your own ideas and make them into reality.”
Rooney said there is a lack of diversity — in terms of the gender of participants and the type of startups — within the entrepreneurial community, a concern that compelled her to sign the 1000 Voices petition.
“For me specifically, I’ve been very vocal over the last year or so about getting more women and more LSA students involved, and I think this specifically struck me because of my interest there,” Rooney said.
She said many students are creating startups in the biomedical and technological fields, but there is a need for University support for entrepreneurial ventures in other areas.
“There are not as many resources for entrepreneurs who are interested in retail startups, art startups, in psychology — things that represent more of a multidisciplinary aspect of entrepreneurship,” Rooney said.
One of the challenges for LSA students that Rooney cited is the lack of easy access to resources available on North Campus like the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship, for example.
“Students on Central Campus aren’t inclined to go up to North Campus,” Rooney said.
Despite being a student in LSA, Levenstein said he hasn’t been deterred from entrepreneurship.
“It seems like entrepreneurship is probably geared towards the engineering school mainly because it’s obvious that engineers make things, they create products,” Levenstein said. “But I think LSA students have just the exact same incentives and ability to create things, but LSA didn’t think that far. We have all these theories that we learn, but there’s no component to create change.”
Levenstein said his motivation to sign the 1000 Voices petition stemmed from his desire to have more practical problem-solving courses in LSA.
“We definitely acknowledge that we need to correct these problems, but there’s never an additional aspect to our education that addresses the issue of actually solving them,” he said.