Students trying to start their own businesses now have a new resource.
Creators of a new student group, called MPowered, are hoping to help students entrepreneurs network with potential investors, get advice from faculty and understand the mechanics of running a business.
MPowered Vice President Israel Vicars said the group – which is teaming up with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce – will help encourage the brightest University graduates to stay in Michigan.
“We’re partnering with the Detroit Chamber of Commerce and outside venture capitalists because they want to see Michigan’s economy grow,” he said. “They believe in the potential of student entrepreneurs to create new kinds of economic opportunities.”
Not everyone is quite as optimistic about the program.
Business School Prof. Thomas Kinnear said that other groups with similar goals have come and gone, and that the group’s biggest challenge will be to create a lasting support system.
Student entrepreneurship can positively impact Michigan’s economy in the long-term, he said, but some of the services offered by MPowered have been available to Business School students through the school’s Zell Lurie Institute for some time.
“The current group is very committed,” Kinnear said. “The question is whether they can create a structure that allows them to remain active in the next five, 10, 20 years. If they do that, we’ll all be very happy.”
Engineering junior Ashwin Lalendran, president of MPowered, said upcoming events like the Entrepreneurship Opportunities Fair on Oct. 2 – a showcase of local start-up companies – provide a chance for students to make important connections with local innovators, including University faculty and alumni.
MPowered is also hosting a golf outing for students and professionals tomorrow to aid students in creating relationships with real-life entrepreneurs.
“If you watch a professor that you really admire slice a golf ball into a lake, you’re going to be able to relate to that person a little bit better,” Lalendran said. “You realize that they’re human, and they’ll be more accessible to you.”
Engineering senior George Joshua, an Industrial Operations Engineering major, said that he plans to attend the fair to meet small business owners because small businesses allow employees more opportunity for innovation.
“It would allow me to communicate with all levels of business – from the president on down – and to have more of a say in where the company is going,” he said.
Lalendran said he hopes that exposure to local opportunities will convince students like Joshua to consider other employers besides jobs with a Fortune 500 company.
Engineering senior Alex Voice said his involvement with MPowered has encouraged him to consider working for a start-up company in the region after graduation. He said there is an advantage to staying local if you’re looking to start your own business.
“Who knows if I would have even thought about it if I hadn’t gotten involved with this organization,” he said. “It’s a trade-off because less than one out of 10 start-ups is successful, so it’s a huge risk, but also a huge reward.”
The group has grown fast for an organization that started this summer with 25 people and has been publicized mainly through word-of-mouth.
Before their official kick-off meeting Tuesday night, membership was already at 583 people and counting.
Vicars said this student participation is critical for making the program work.
“That has been the missing element all this time,” he said. “People are starving for this. There are people on the outside who are accomplished and want to feed something, and now we’ve found that outlet.”
Many faculty members have already showed their support, making their contact information accessible to students on MPowered’s website, www.engin.umich.edu/mpowered.
Besides faculty connections, members of MPowered will have access to an online blog where they can talk to attorneys and other professionals that can help them in getting patents and protecting ideas.
The group also plans to bring in local venture capitalists from Main Street-based RPM Ventures to hold office hours where students can discuss business ideas at no cost apart from $20 to join MPowered.
“I see this as an opportunity for students like myself,” Lalendran said. “There’s a huge need to solve the state’s economic problem. Working in this collaborative environment and starting from the ground up – we could be part of the solution.”