The University’s business incubator TechArb will continue on its quest to help students develop into successful entrepreneurs and business owners as it makes the move from McKinley Towne Center to the basement of a parking garage at The Offices at Liberty Square, formerly known as Tally Hall.
Both the Towne Centre and the Tally Hall locations are owned by the Ann Arbor-based real estate company, McKinley, but according to Thomas Gritter, vice president and managing director of commercial real estate at McKinley, the basement at The Offices at Liberty Square will be cheaper than the Towne Center location.
TechArb — which is jointly run by the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering and the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School of Business — houses approximately 20 student groups and provides them with an area to work 24 hours a day with free Internet and guidance from entrepreneurs and University faculty. Teams chosen for the project are given six months to work with TechArb and utilize their resources.
However, the program is not exclusive to engineers and business majors, according to Doug Neal, managing director of the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering.
Neal said he hopes the new location will provide more space to accommodate additional teams, adding he hopes to have about 25 teams for the next six-month period starting in November.
“We’re putting entrepreneurs in the perfect habitat, here in the garage, working on the next big thing,” Neal said.
MBA student Ben Blackmer said TechArb’s goal in the office at McKinley Towne Centre is not strictly confined to business initiatives, but also to promote collaboration among students.
“It’s very eclectic and it fosters a lot of interaction between the groups,” said MBA student Ben Blackmer.
Blackmer and University alum Stuart VandenBrink are members of “Are You A Human?” a company working on alternative methods to CAPTCHAs — a program used by many websites to verify users are human rather than computer generated.
However, Paul Davis, a recent MBA and environmental science graduate and a member of the TechArb venture ReGenerate Solutions, LLC, said he thinks the move will be a disadvantage for TechArb because fewer windows mean less natural light.
“Light inspires innovation,” Davis explained. “The loss of natural light is a hard trade-off for space.”
Gillian Henker, a recent Engineering graduate and member of the TechArb venture Design Innovations for Infants and Mothers Everywhere, said TechArb is especially useful for non-business students. She said engineers often have great ideas, but encounter difficulty when turning them into business models.
“TechArb has been great in giving us that business support,” Henker said.
While the move from the fourth floor of the McKinley Towne Centre means a loss of windows overlooking downtown Ann Arbor, Neal predicted even greater entrepreneurial creativity among students.
Neal said the new space will serve as an “entrepreneurial hive” and will provide a designated area to increase interaction between TechArb, students and other entrepreneurs.
“You want somewhat of a controlled chaos,” Neal said.