Much like Diagon Alley, the Liberty Square parking structure located at 510 E. Washington St. doesn’t seem out of the ordinary. But one floor below the structure’s surface, student entrepreneurs are collaborating to create the extraordinary.
The University’s Center for Entrepreneurship, located in the basement of the parking structure, held its Student Venture Showcase on Thursday. At the event — hosted by CFE’s TechArb Student Startup Accelerator, and co-sponsored by the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, the College of Engineering and the Office of the Vice President for Research — more than 100 students and faculty attended in hopes of attracting investors for their fledgling businesses.
The 20 student venture teams in attendance were comprised of undergraduate and graduate students from varying educational backgrounds.
University alum Richard Sheridan — president and CEO of Menlo Innovations, a software design and development firm located on E. Liberty Street — gave the opening remarks at the event, citing Ann Arbor as the next Palo Alto in terms of startup potential.
“This is how we are going to reinvent Michigan,” Sheridan said of the student entrepreneurs.
University alum Mahendra Vora — the founder and managing director of Vora Ventures, which helps to found and sell technological ventures — said he attended the event to support other student entrepreneurs.
“That’s all I’ve done my whole life, is startups,” Vora said. “I’m just excited to be back at my alma mater. Twenty-five years later there’s nothing like this.”
The student startups included several Facebook and mobile phone apps, a trivia game and a hybrid solar energy system, among others.
A select few of the student presenters also had the opportunity to meet privately with investors Thursday afternoon.
Rackham student Justin D’Atri represented Torch Hybrid, LLC, a company that produces power management computer systems for hybrid boats. He said the mentorship, advisory roles and the industry connections provided by CFE were indispensible in his team’s startup quest.
“We wouldn’t even be here right now if it weren’t for the CFE,” D’Atri said. “We just had a silly idea a year ago and it’s turned all the way into something we can actually make money with.”
University alum Sam Beckett is a member of Exo Dynamics, LLC, a startup seeking to improve the treatment process for people afflicted with chronic spinal conditions. He said TechArb has been a helpful tool for his team in the past six months.
“We’re looking just to further develop it … for funding sources,” Beckett said. “(TechArb) has been very useful for feedback for different things we need to do.”
TechArb members weren’t the only University students in attendance.
In addition to the TechArb members, several student groups, including the entrepreneurship organization MPowered, came to show their support.
Social Work student Catherine Fish said she attended in hopes of learning more about TechArb.
“I’m interested in the startup scene here,” Fish said. “I thought I’d come and checkout what other entrepreneurs are doing.”
— Stephanie Dilworth contributed to this report.