An MBA student in a bright yellow button-down smiled as he asked an audience of business and engineering students, “How many of you want to start businesses?”

Dozens of hands shot up. But the listeners’ hands didn’t budge for the next question: “How many of you know how to start it?”

How to start a business and earn that coveted title of “innovator” was the central topic of the Entrepalooza Symposium Friday, which included a keynote address and three unique panel sessions. To cap the day’s events, “Lunch and Learn” gathered University students and area CEOs, company founders and leaders of entrepreneurship activity at the University.

Venture capitalists, lawyers, startup founders, members of the University’s entrepreneurial community and those from the Michigan business community spoke and attended the half-day symposium, which was hosted in the Michigan League.

Nkem Nwankwo, co-president of the Entrepreneur & Venture Club, which helped organize Entrepalooza, said the symposium offered a space for business students like himself to see how they can enter the startup world without an engineering background. He said networking was also central to the event.

“We want to get people networking with different skillsets of the Michigan community,” Nwankwo said. “We want them to meet these people who have already done it, get their experiences and really absorb their knowledge.”

The Business School, EVC and Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies sponsored the event. It follows the organizations’ and the University’s push to widen their entrepreneurial footprint.

University alum Rob Pelinka delivered the keynote address. A former basketball player, Pelinka was a member of three NCAA Final Four teams as a Business undergraduate. He went on to earn a J.D. from the Law School and founded Landmark Sports Agency, based in Los Angeles.

Pelinka emphasized hard work and connections, invoking anecdotes from working with a certain very famous client of his — Kobe Bryant. After his speech, he spoke to interested students.

One panel topic explored business creation as a young adult. Four business founders — late-20-something men in business casual clothes — discussed their experiences as budding entrepreneurs.

The impetus for founding their companies often came from everyday instances. Business alum Tyler Paxton founded Are You a Human, which validates that a user is not a robot by, for instance, telling a user to drop an iPhone or Android into a shopping bag rather than presenting CAPTCHA. A co-worker of Paxton, then a consultant, came into their cubicle one day, complaining of his failure to buy Hannah Montana tickets. Ticket scalpers using robots bought up all the tickets, and Paxton thought there must be a better way to ensure that robots weren’t using services made for humans.

One facet of Are You a Human surveys the user’s mouse movements.

“We found out that we could build this cool system of monitoring the way people interact with a website and could decide whether it was a person or an automated bot,” Paxton said.

The panelists also discussed what it was like in the early years of their startups, making little money as their former classmates earned six-figure salaries in office jobs. While Business alum Cavan Canavan was founding Focus, a fitness wearable company, he turned off Facebook to ignore photo albums of his friends’ European adventures. Canavan also had to forget about his internship experiences at Apple to get his company off the ground.

“It was a great internship,” Canavan said. “What I take away from it is that it’s a great company, you’re a great person and everyone there is great, but you’re part of one machine. Is that what you want to do? And that’s not what I want to do. I wanted to have control. I wanted to make my own thing. I like making stuff.”

The other entrepreneurs said they did not feel at ease with corporate lifestyle.

Engineering alum Danny Ellis founded Ann Arbor-based SkySpecs, a company that builds “flying robots.” He said he even rejected two coveted job positions, including one at SpaceX, to found his company.

“I still don’t regret that decision one bit,” Ellis said. “Working in something that you are this passionate about is a much better experience than sitting in a cubicle being told what to do, and waiting three months to make a decision because you’ve got to wait for the hierarchy to make a decision.”

He added: “My recommendation is to try it. You’ve got nothing to lose. So you have to live in student housing for another couple years? You’ll get the high paycheck someday; you don’t need it right away.”

Across the hall, more-seasoned entrepreneurs discussed their careers as innovators. Their advice was contrary to the norm.

“The customer is highly overrated,” said Vinay Gupta, founder of two companies and CEO of outsourcing relationship management company Janeeva, amid laughter. “Steve Jobs, the foremost entrepreneur of our generation, consistently believed he knew more than the customer did.”

Nancy Gilby, director of entrepreneurship at the School of Information, countered that Jobs didn’t write off the customer’s needs, but rather gathered them through non-traditional means.

“He was an incredible introvert but a keen observer of watching people use technology,” Gilby said. “There’s a right way to learn about the world of your customers. You need to understand how they perceive the world, how they use tools and then you’ll really understand and see their problems.”

Another non-traditional perspective came from Doug Cass, co-founder of toy companies Kahootz Toys and Giddy Up. He said the light bulb moment of getting a new idea is unimportant; one must instead deliberate about the execution.

“The key is building a foundation of people, a vision,” Cass said. “You gotta look at finding the right people and building your team.”

One of the tenderfoot innovators echoed this notion.

“At the end of the day, you can have a great idea, but that idea is worth nothing until you’ve been at it for a few years,” Paxton said. “It just takes a long time until you have something that’s of value.”

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