University alum James Norman knew most of his life that he wanted to be an engineer. But he was also certain that he wanted to run his own business.

Though these might seem like different career choices, for Norman they aren’t exclusive. Norman, who graduated from the College of Engineering in 2005, is one of an increasing number of students deciding to pave their own way without a traditional business education — a trend the University has also recognized.

Erik Gordon, associate director of the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School of Business, said the institute encourages graduates with different degrees to be entrepreneurs.

“If there’s one message that students should get is that we don’t care what school you’re in,” Gordon said. “Most of our (programs are) for anyone who’s interested in entrepreneurship.”

Amy Klinke, assistant director for small business initiatives in the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering, echoed Gordon’s sentiments. She said success doesn’t necessarily come with a business degree.

“If you look at some of the major entrepreneurs that came from (the University), I would say they’re from all parts of the University,” Klinke said.

Though Norman didn’t pursue a business degree, he did start several companies throughout high school and college and developed his latest venture in 2008. The business, UBI, was launched last week and gathers free streaming movies and television shows onto one comprehensive website, www.myubi.tv.

“I realized there were lots of different videos available online, but it was spread across the entire Internet so it was hard to have a comfortable viewing,” Norman said. “So I started trying to build a tool that would bring that into one place, so you could watch videos in one simple interface.”

Five days after UBI launched, it had 200 users, according to Norman, who noted that the free website is not yet available globally.

“One thing to bear in mind is that our data is landlocked to Michigan,” Norman said. “If it was a global site I’m sure it would have already gone to 2,000 people, but that’s just done because our publishers don’t necessarily want us throwing their video across the world before we’ve proven our model.”

In addition to UBI, Norman has another company called F1rst Motoring Apparel, which specializes in clothing customers can wear while driving. Norman had the idea for F1rst three years ago, but officially started selling products earlier this year.

Engineering junior Dhruv Sekhri, who is working with Norman at UBI, said he thinks a degree isn’t necessary to succeed in business, but the correct attitude is.

“There’s just certain people who have that mindset that you can go out there to have your own business and get it done,” Sekhri said. “You have to believe in yourself. You have to do everything you can to make it work. You can learn the skill sets, but it’s just all about that mindset.”

Norman said he doesn’t think earning a traditional degree in business was necessary for him to launch his startup.

“An MBA is just a piece of paper that tells someone else to pay you more,” Norman said.

But for people who do want a degree to precede their business launch, the University is starting a master’s in entrepreneurship program next fall. Like Norman’s areas of expertise, the master’s in entrepreneurship will be a joint program between the College of Engineering and the Ross School of Business.

Some recent University alumni, however, have started their own businesses in fields other than the sciences.

University alum Greg Caplan, who graduated in the spring, co-founded oBaz, a website comparable to sites such as Groupon and LivingSocial that offer members deals of local merchandise. However, instead of site administrators choosing the deals, members tell oBaz what they want, and a team of employees then negotiates deals with companies on the items members request.

A month after launching oBaz on Aug. 9, the site has more than 4,000 users, said Caplan, adding that he believes it will continue grow. Caplan said oBaz is looking to gain more members by adding specialized sections — called aisles — to the website. Currently there are two aisles — one for moms and one for college students.

Caplan has another University alum on his team — Andrea Lewandowski, who also graduated in May and is the head of marketing for the company. Caplan, who majored in business, and Lewndowski, who majored in English and communications, knew they wanted to go into business when they left college.

Though Lewandowski and Caplan started their business a few months after graduating, they don’t believe their age will have an effect on the success of oBaz.

“Age is just a number. It’s not a qualifier for what you can or can’t do,” Lewandowski said.

Age certainly didn’t play a role in Caplan’s view about starting businesses. Like Norman, he launched companies — including a T-shirt store — while he was still in high school. Though he had experience starting a business before he began college, Caplan said the things he learned while at the University helped him start oBaz.

Lewandowski said she didn’t originally plan to join a start-up right out of college, but she knew she would do with business.

“It was always my intention to go into business, but I didn’t go through the typical Ross route,” Lewandowski said. “When I started college I didn’t ever think of joining a start-up, but now I’m here, and it’s a great environment.”

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