Entrepreneurial-minded Students Look for Inspiration and Direction at Entrepalooza 2014 

At the conclusion of Entrepalooza 2014, Michigan students from a variety of disciplines sat down to Lunch and Learn with the event speakers, who included successful start-up company founders, corporate entrepreneurship professionals and members of the U-M faculty. The impromptu one-on-one conversations followed a morning of keynote remarks, panel discussions and informal networking that provided inspiration and direction for many of the aspiring entrepreneurs.

Here are a few of their comments about the University’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and the resources available through the Zell Lurie Institute, Ross and the Center for Entrepreneurship:

“I’m attending Entrepalooza to learn more about entrepreneurship and innovation. There are lots of ways to apply the ideas and frameworks of entrepreneurship to innovation within a larger organization. I’m considering whether to do that in my current position at VivaKi, a digital advertising programmatic trading desk for Publicis Groupe, or to pursue my own start-up venture.” ─ Justin Mayer, Weekend MBA ’15

“I recently interned with a large strategic consulting firm and loved it. I wanted to know more about the benefits of being entrepreneurial within a large corporation, which is where I’m headed. Someday I may want to start a company.” ─ Gabriel Craft, MBA ’15

“I had a good engineering job in Peru. However, I didn’t feel I was doing what I wanted and I had a desire to change my life. I’d like to start a company while I’m in school at Ross. I hope to meet the right person with a new idea for a start-up venture where I could apply my experience.” ─ Walter Roman, MBA ’16

“I wanted to hear the advice, perspectives and stories of entrepreneurs, so I could learn from their experience and mistakes. I’ve run my own business, a tennis lesson service in Mount Laurel, New Jersey, since I was 12 years old. I’m looking to expand it or do something else.” ─ Alexander (“A.J.”) Goldstein, LSA ’17

“I’m interested in entrepreneurship and would like to start my own company or join a start-up. I’m here at Entrepalooza to hear the entrepreneurs’ stories and to meet people. Previously, I worked for a technology start-up in Sao Paulo, Brazil, and enjoyed the day-to-day challenges, autonomy and opportunity to make an impact.” ─ Gustavo Martucci, MBA ’16

“I came to Entrepalooza hoping to learn more about entrepreneurship, because I want to start a business as a BBA student. I also wanted to meet people in the Ann Arbor entrepreneurial community.” ─ Joshua Boike, BBA ‘’17

U-M to host Fireside Chats Friday, September 19

The Center for Venture Capital and Private Equity Finance is hosting two fireside chats this Friday, September 19, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m in the Blau Auditorium at Ross.

Hosted by Professor David Brophy, the chats will kick off with Gary Zenkel, President of NBC Olympics and Operations & Strategy for NBC Sports Group. Under Gary’s leadership, the 2014 Sochi Games reached more Americans than any other winter Games, and the 2012 London Games became the most-watched event in U.S. television history, while also live streaming every sporting event during both Games.

Gary’s chat will be moderated by Richard Lui, a journalist and news anchor for NBC News and MSNBC. Lui previously worked as a news anchor for five years at CNN Worldwide, and most importantly, graduated with an MBA from Ross. The first of the day’s events, Gary and Richard will kick off at 2 p.m.

The chat will be followed by a panel discussion, “The Path to Private Equity,” at 3:30 p.m. Moderated by Jeff Gelfand, Senior managing Director and Chief Financial Officer at Centerbridge Partners, the panel includes movers and shakers in the private equity field. Panelists include:

  • Lisa Barse Bernstien, Global Head of Human Resources, Apollo Global Management
  • Philip Harrison, Associate, Centerbridge Partners
  • Ben Johnston, Head of Strategy, Strategic Funding Source
  • Robert Kalsow-Ramos, Principal, Apollo Global Management
  • Gretchen Perkins, Partner, Huron Capital Partners
  • Andrew Wolff, Analyst, Square Mile Capital Management

To find out more, visit http://umfiresidechats.com and tweet “Excited to attend #UMFiresideChats Sept. 19 PE Fireside Chat @MichiganRoss!”

Ross Graduates Highlight the Advantages of Corporate Entrepreneurship

Large corporations, once considered stodgy backwaters of organizational inertia and inbred thinking, have pivoted dramatically in recent years. Now many companies are hiring bright, talented individuals who can bring entrepreneurial thinking to the corporate boardroom and guide venture-capital investments in high-potential start-ups. At Entrepalooza 2014, three Ross School graduates spoke about their decisions to pursue careers in corporate entrepreneurship and VC investment. They also discussed the pros and cons, and offered advice to students considering similar pathways.

Greater resources and support:

Heath Silverman, MBA ’08, relishes the opportunity to pursue entrepreneurial ventures within large companies where resources and support are more plentiful and failure is not the end of the line. “At my own start-up companies, I was putting in 100 hours a week and had no chance to do anything outside the office,” said Silverman, who previously worked at two software ventures, one of which he co-founded and sold. “I knew if I failed, it could be all over.” Silverman spent three years at Intel, where he was a strategic planner in the Education Market Platforms Group, and also worked at Amazon.com as a product manager in the Web Services group. Currently, he is the head of international business at Edmodo, a social learning platform. “The environment at Edmodo is similar to that of a start-up ─ complete total ambiguity,” Silverman remarked. “I work with a small team. It’s very complex. I handle lots of responsibilities, including business development, marketing, product development and fundraising, so I have to focus on prioritizing and measuring results.”

Instant credibility and a secure paycheck:

Instant credibility and a secure paycheck are two of the benefits that Philip O’Niel, MBA ’10, has found at DTE Energy Resources. “We make investments in existing businesses and also do start-ups,” explained O’Niel, who is a manager in the New Business Development and Commercial Strategy group. He said developing new ventures at DTE is similar in many ways to launching his own technology start-up, Ambiq Micro, while he was in graduate school at Ross. “DTE has more resources,” O’Niel observed. “If I need top-level advice, it’s a phone call away. I have internal dollars to work with, so I don’t spend time on fundraising. Getting things approved is not easy in a utility holding company, however.” Other benefits of corporate entrepreneurship: instant credibility and a steady paycheck. On the investment side, O’Niel evaluates and invests in businesses with large, capital-intensive assets and near-term earnings potential. “Energy is becoming increasingly technology-driven, so investing is a great way to keep up with new technologies and get insights into the future,” he said. “As a public company, we need to see a clear direction to earnings within three years. We don’t spend a lot of time evaluating the company’s team, because we’ll replace it with our own people.”

Jump-starting new businesses:

As a self-described “jack of all trades” with a lifelong penchant for creating ideas for new businesses, Marie Wolf, BBA ’05, has found her near-perfect job niche as global director of research innovation at Unilever. She works primarily with technology start-ups, leading-edge suppliers and academia to help build the future of consumer research. “We are actively scouting, partnering and investing in companies,” Wolfe said. “In my role, I screen 30 companies every two weeks and look at their future potential. The ‘what’ is just a check box. It’s the ‘how’ that’s important ─ do they have entrepreneurial spirit, and can they be creative and flexible and work within a corporate environment?”

Preparing for corporate entrepreneurship careers:

O’Niel identified three key components that prepared him for his corporate entrepreneurship position at DTE Energy Resources:

  • Ross MBA analytical tools for evaluating companies and investments
  • Presentation skills developed through the Zell Lurie Institute
  • Industry knowledge gained from on-the-job experience

Silverman pinpointed key programs and work assignments that helped him hone his entrepreneurial skills:

  • A MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Project) with Intel Corp. and an entrepreneurial MAP at an Irish business incubator while at Ross
  • Networking with students and alumni through Zell Lurie and Ross
  • A full-time position at Intel after graduation where he learned to “walk the talk”

Achieving success in a corporate setting:

People often underestimate the value of working entrepreneurially inside a corporation, according to Wolfe. “Corporations offer the best training grounds with world-class marketing and organizational structures,” she said. “I look at my work as managing the Company of Marie and think about how an entrepreneur would do my job, grow my business, build my reputation and delight people.”

Michigan Ross and the Zell Lurie Institute Again Named a Top Graduate Program in Entrepreneurship

Today the Ross School of Business announced that it has captured a position in the top three graduate entrepreneurship programs in the nation for the third year in a row, driven in large part by the programs, initiatives and courses offered through the Institute. This is the third consecutive year that Ross has attained a spot in the top three in the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine’s joint ranking of the “Top 25 Graduate Schools for Entrepreneurship Programs for 2015,” which surveyed more than 2,000 schools.

“Developing successful entrepreneurs is core to Ross and the University of Michigan, and has been for decades,” said Alison Davis-Blake, dean of the Ross School of Business. “Interest in entrepreneurship continues to grow and we’re proud to be one of the top business schools to study and teach best practices in new business creation. Through our Zell Lurie Institute, students have access to impressive resources and faculty to help them successfully transform their innovative ideas into viable businesses.”

“To be included yet again in the top ranking across the nation is an honor for us and proof that our initiatives are having an impact on students, alumni and the overall entrepreneurial ecosystem,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director Institute. “This past year we’ve worked to increase cross-campus collaboration, accelerate the growth of student-led entrepreneurial companies and engage U-M alumni and practicing entrepreneurs in customized executive-education programs. With multiple action-based learning opportunities available to our students, we’re looking forward to another year of boundaryless learning and success for our student community.”

“We are on our way to building one of the top campus-wide entrepreneurial education experiences in the country,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, senior counselor for entrepreneurship at the University of Michigan. “We are connecting programs in business, engineering, information, medicine, law, public health and more – joining forces across the university to create a truly collaborative entrepreneurial program.”

Since its inception, the Institute has been leading the way in entrepreneurial education. In the past year, the Institute has continued to innovate through the introduction of new initiatives, including the launch of the new Desai Family Accelerator. With this new program, startups in the area can benefit from student assistance as these early-stage companies progress and bring new innovations to market.

This new initiative serves as a complement to a robust portfolio of offerings that include:

  • Three student-led venture funds, including the pioneering Wolverine Venture Fund, that have nearly $7 million under management, delivering returns comparable to the top quartile of professionally-managed funds
  • TechArb, a student accelerator jointly managed by Zell Lurie in partnership with the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering
  • The Michigan Business Challenge, an annual business plan competition that exposes students to the rigorous, multi-phase business development and planning process
  • Dare to Dream Grants of up to $5,000 for student startups that support business development from ideation to launch
  • Entrepalooza, the annual university-wide symposium designed to bring together entrepreneurship and venture capital leaders to share insights and experiences with students, alumni, faculty and members of the broader business community
  • The annual Michigan Growth Capital Symposium, a major driver of entrepreneurial engagement in the region, showcasing emerging startups and high-growth companies in new businesses and emerging technologies

The Princeton Review chooses the schools based on a wide range of institutional data it evaluates for this project. Schools are asked about the levels of their commitment to entrepreneurship inside and outside the classroom, the percentage of their faculty, students, and alumni actively and successfully involved in entrepreneurial endeavors, the number of their mentorship programs and their funding for scholarships and grants for entrepreneurial studies and projects.

Ross has been recognized by multiple sources as a leader in entrepreneurial business education. In addition to the Entrepreneur and Princeton Review ranking, the school has held a spot in the top ten programs ranked by US News & World Report and PitchBook recently included Ross at the number eight position on its annual list of the top universities for VC-based entrepreneurs.

Young Entrepreneurs Provide Insights into Launching and Growing Start-up Ventures

Four young entrepreneurs who launched and grew start-up ventures while they were students at the University of Michigan shared their insights during a panel discussion at Entrepalooza 2014. A common theme resonating throughout their discussion was the competitive advantage they gained by utilizing the resources available through the Zell Lurie Institute, the Ross School of Business and the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering.

“I have a wife and three kids, so I couldn’t take a year off to start a company,” said Tyler Paxton, MBA ’11, the founder of Are You A Human, which uses minigames to replace annoying CAPTCHA programs to protect websites against bots and to verify users are actual people. “Enrolling in the MBA program at Ross gave me two years to work on a start-up in a supportive environment where I had access to resources and financing. This was a huge enabler. I participated in everything the Zell Lurie Institute offers for entrepreneurship, including the Dare to Dream grant program and the TechArb student business incubator. I also did an eMAP (entrepreneurial Multidisciplinary Action Project) and internship. I even found our company’s lead investor through a U-M event.”

“I picked Michigan because I liked the people, and the Ross network is fantastic,” remarked Cavan Canavan, MBA ’12, the co-founder of Focus, a centralized motion recognition and insight platform that empowers the emerging ecosystem of health and fitness wearable developers.

He and his partner, Grant Hughes, MBA/MS’13, used funding from a Mayleben Family Venture Shaping grant and a Dare to Dream start-up grant to hone their market focus and tone up their business plan. With coaching from Zell Lurie Program Manager Sarika Gupta, Focus catapulted to a first-place finish in the final round of the 2013 Michigan Business Challenge, winning the $20,000 Pryor-Hale Award for Best Business.

The four panelists also weighed in on some of the common issues around new venture creation, start-up launch and emerging company growth.

It’s all about execution:

“People think of ideas all the time,” said Paul Schrems, Eng Sys MSE ’12, the co-founder and director of product development at TurtleCell, which has developed a retractable headphone case for the iPhone 5/5s. “But [entrepreneurship is really about] people who can execute and turn those ideas into a business.”

“It’s not the idea, it’s the execution,” Canavan added. “When you are pitching to investors, you have to convince them that you will the person to do it better.”

Build a strong team:

“Building a strong team around you is one of the most important things a start-up founder can do,” Paxton said. “You have to learn when to hire contractors.”

“An entrepreneur can have any kind of educational background and must be willing to learn,” explained Danny Ellis, MSE Aerosp ’13, BSE Aerosp ’11, the co-founder and CEO of SkySpecs, a company that builds flying robots. “There will always be holes, so hire the skill sets you don’t have.”

Business partners make sense:

“People have no idea of how much time it takes to get all the cogs up and running in a start-up,” Schrems said. “There are just not enough hours in the day. A business partner can help you get things done and be someone to rely on. It becomes a journey, like sailing around the world with a best friend.”

“I have four business partners, which is a lot,” Ellis explained. “One or two might be better. It’s good to hear other voices and get other perspectives that can help you make the right decisions.”

Networking is key:

“One of the biggest mistakes an entrepreneur can make is not talking to anyone else about his or her idea,” Schrems noted. “It’s important to get connected.”

“The secret to success is networking,” Ellis agreed. “You get 99 people who say no and one who says yes. We’ve found investors in the most random places by networking and talking to everyone.”

Advisers play an important role:

“We have formal advisers, including Hollywood celebrity trainer Ashley Conrad and former Wolverine athletic strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis,” Canavan remarked. “We use their networks, knowledge and pitch points. Now we also have technical advisers and financial advisers who help us with pitching to investors.”

“We have an official board of advisers and a group of 50 unofficial advisors who are interested in and passionate about what we are doing,” Ellis explained. “We keep them informed and generate buzz. We get a lot of advice.”

Failure isn’t all bad:

“Fail often and learn from it,” Schrems advised. “A lot of things don’t work. We fail a lot. It is a way to get to a better solution.”

Entrepreneurship has its own rewards:

“I turned down six-figure job offers from SpaceX and Northrop Grumman, and I don’t regret my decision,” Ellis remarked. “Now I’m working on something I’m passionate about and have control over. It’s much better than working in a corporate cubicle. My recommendation is to try entrepreneurship. You have nothing to lose. You’ll get that high paycheck someday.”

Where are they now: Ross Alumna Liz Haynes

Surat Camp Ultimate Match 2

Camp participants play an ultimate frisbee match.

As a newly-minted graduate of the University of Michigan, Liz Haynes (BBA 2003, MAcc 2004) moved to New York City to work in accounting and finance. She stayed for about five years before seeking other opportunities in New Orleans and Tulsa to work with a number of non-profits including disaster relief organizations and charter schools. Her latest move has taken her quite a bit farther from where she had attended school in Ann Arbor and had taken several entrepreneurial studies courses with Professor Len Middleton and others.

About a year ago Liz moved to Chennai, India to work with a local NGO, Pudiyador, which offers after-school programs for youth at five centers across the city.

Through running one of the center’s sport and art based programs, specifically geared towards teenagers, Liz teamed up with likeminded Pudiyador staff in May 2014 to organize India’s first sleep-away Ultimate Frisbee camp for teens in Gujarat. The uniquely designed sport-art camp brought together 120 kids and 35 coaches from across the country for five days with a mission to inspire a generation of Indian youth to bridge the gaps created by poverty, gender, and caste. The next Bridging the Gaps: Ultimate Frisbee Youth Camp will be held in southern India in Auroville from December 26-30, 2014.

Surat Camp Organizers and Coaches

Camp organizers and coaches.

“It’s been a fantastic ride,” Liz said. “I feel like I’ve really found my niche.”

She’s now looking forward to spending half the year in India creating sleep-away sport-art camps for underprivileged youth and the other half of the year in Sydney at the University of New South Wales to evaluate the impact the camps have on teens’ levels of empathy, open-mindedness, gender equality, confidence and teamwork.

Michigan Basketball Luminary Rob Pelinka Shares Secrets of His Entrepreneurial Success at Entrepalooza 2014

Former Michigan basketball star Rob Pelinka, BBA ’93, JD ’96, returned to the U-M campus on Friday, Sept. 12, to speak at Entrepalooza 2014 where he provided an animated play-by-play recap of his meteoric career in sports law and his decision to strike out on his own by launching The Landmark Sports Agency. Now one of the preeminent sports agencies in the world, Landmark has offices in Los Angeles and New York and represents global icons such as Kobe Bryant, who plays for the Los Angeles Lakers, and James Harden, of the Houston Rockets.

“There is no easy way up the mountain of success,” Pelinka told the 130 students who attended this year’s annual entrepreneurship conference, held at the Michigan League. “Things don’t just happen. It takes incredible focus, dedication to your craft and a lot of hard work.”

Coming from “humble roots,” Pelinka grew up in Chicago where he often went to basketball games at Northwestern University and dreamed about playing someday in the Big Ten conference. That opportunity came during his junior year in high school when Michigan’s head coach called and invited him to play basketball for the Wolverines. Pelinka said yes.

“It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made,” he remarked.

While at U-M, he played on three NCAA Basketball Final Four teams and won an NCAA Basketball National Championship in 1989.

“I was committed to doing well in sports and being a standout in the classroom,” Pelinka told his audience. “I became inspired to dive deep into academic opportunities and to expose myself to areas I’ve never studied.”

He graduated cum laude and was awarded the NCAA Walter Byers Scholar Athlete of the Year Award in 1993, which enabled him to attend Michigan’s Law School.

After receiving his law degree, Pelinka joined a leading law firm in Chicago. He might have stayed there, but “out of the blue,” a contact from his U-M network opened the door to a job as general counsel for a major Los Angeles sports firm.

“There were a million reasons for not going to Los Angeles, but I had to follow my passion and overcome those voices,” Pelinka said, recalling the advice he had received early on from Michael Jordan, who became a sports legend with the Chicago Bulls.

Fate dealt Pelinka another unexpected hand when the L.A. firm was later spun off by its owner, Clear Channel Communications. Rather than staying in his comfortable, well-paying job, he decided to “cut against the grain” by pioneering his own agency and following his vision to create a company that would make the best decisions for its clients.

Pelinka said his success as an entrepreneur and the CEO of Landmark has hinged on following a number of key principles. He offered these suggestions to aspiring entrepreneurs:

  • “Focus on your core competency and ethos. Know who you are and what you want to do. This will translate into success.”
  • “Pursue excellence. Fear of failure can be a healthy motivation.”
  • “Provide service to your clients and put others first. It will shine through. People can tell whether you’re in the game to help them or help yourself.”
  • “Context is important, so be sure you understand your client’s mindset and world view. Listen to your customers.”
  • “When you hit tough patches, go back to the trenches, refocus and relearn things.”

One of the biggest surprises in entrepreneurship, according to Pelinka, is realizing the buck stops with the company founder, who must take ownership of tough issues and make hard decisions. He recommended building a collaborative team by hiring individuals who have integrity, the desire to achieve excellence and a diversity of interests. Pelinka also said he draws inspiration from high achievers, such as Michael Dell, as well as from ordinary people, including friends, neighbors and strangers he encounters.

“For an entrepreneur, inspiration is in everyday [life],” he explained. “I encourage people to look around them for inspiration and to give inspiration to others.”

Zell Lurie Institute Executive Director Stewart Thornhill presented Pelinka with the 2014 Alumni Entrepreneur of the Year Award. The event was sponsored by Zell Lurie, the Michigan Entrepreneur & Venture Club, the Center for Entrepreneurship, the School of Information, Innovate Blue and Ann Arbor SPARK.


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