Republican Gov. and University alum Rick Snyder joined a crowd of more than 100 local entrepreneurs, academics and engineers at the North Campus Research Complex for the Entrepreneurs Engage “unconference” Thursday.
This interactive get-together, hosted jointly by the University’s Office of Technology Transfer and the Michigan Venture Capital Association, discussed problems facing businesses, interns, CEOs and start-ups. The “unconference” had no agenda and only a skeleton set of rules.
Snyder — the founder of SPARK, an Ann Arbor-based venture capital firm — said in an interview with The Michigan Daily before the event that there are skilled educators, workers and innovators in the state of Michigan that aren’t being connected to businesses or capital.
“We need to do a better job of what I described as ‘talent matching,’ ” Snyder said. “There’s great opportunity for people.”
Stephen Forrest, the University vice president for research, said the University does a good job of pushing students into entrepreneurship.
“What we need also is pull, pull from the community,” he said. “The need of the community with the capability of the University (needs to) match.”
Only a few years ago, Pfizer Inc. occupied the large complex but closed down, leaving an empty monument.
“When Pfizer left, it was a big blow to the community,” Snyder said. “I was there when all that took place.”
Despite Pfizer’s departure, Snyder said the University and Ann Arbor will grow economically now that they have adopted an entrepreneurial attitude and more businesses continue to start up.
“This campus eventually will be stronger than it was when Pfizer was here, over the longer term,” Snyder said. “And this (event) is part of the reflection of that. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it’s on a path to be even better.”
Rich Sheridan, the keynote speaker of the event and the CEO of Menlo Innovations, explained how in the face of the loss of Pfizer, 70 community leaders were gathered by SPARK to discuss the future of Ann Arbor and Michigan.
Sheridan said he addressed the group, much to Snyder’s surprise, describing a future where Snyder was governor and Michigan was regrouping. Now, Sheridan said we are coming closer to that future.
“Back then we were all scared … we weren’t sure what was going to happen next,” he said. “Today, … this is a community that’s weathered the storm, and now we’re ready to move forward, and we are moving forward.”
Conference attendee Judy Yu, a University alum who is now an engineer ate BD Biosciences, went to the event when her husband’s startup was invited by SPARK.
“I’ve been to entrepreneurship conferences, but usually a couple guys stand up and talk,” Yu said. “This is very much spur-of-the–moment … it kind of more reflects the interest of the group rather than the interest of the speaker.”
Yu also said the event could involve students better.
“I wished they would have more of these that involve students directly because most of these are geared towards a larger community,” Yu said. “I wouldn’t feel very welcome if I were a student coming here.”