Executive Director Thornhill featured in Washington Post

In today’s Washington Post, Executive Director Stewart Thornhill shares his thoughts on the birth and death of startups. Over the last decade, the percentage of new businesses started by entrepreneurs between the ages of 20 and 34 has declined, whereas entrepreneurship programs have become increasingly common in U.S. universities. While entrepreneurship is on the forefront of young business minds, thanks to runaway successes like Facebook and pop culture hits like Shark Tank, he says, a lack of funding and huge companies like Home Depot that capture a large market segment make it much harder to get a business off the ground.

For more insights, read the full article here.

Jordana Schrager, BA ’16, Profiled in Crain’s Detroit Business

This week, student entrepreneur Jordana Schrager, BA ’16, was profiled in Crain’s Detroit Business for tying her arts and business inclinations together to form a business for custom and school-themed sneakers. The article covered Jordana’s work with Skicks and Sneakers by Jordana, and discussed her company’s origins at the University of Michigan. Zell Lurie Institute Executive Committee member Len Middleton, who taught Jordana’s entrepreneurship studies class and advised her as her business launched, is also quoted in the article.

Read the post we wrote about Jordana last fall here, and read the full Crain’s Detroit article here.

Zell Lurie Advisor featured on Forbes.com

Over the weekend, Professor Peter Adriaens shared his thoughts on tech companies that are branching out into car production with Forbes.com. In the article, Professor Adriaens says that this move is not out of left field, as it would appear to be at first glance, and is a trend that will continue. “It’s a means to an end,” he says in the article. “It’s a way to sell data and other services.”

Check out the full article here.

Zell Lurie Institute Awards $129,500 to Student Startups in 32nd Annual Business Plan Competition and Dare to Dream Grant Program

The Zell Lurie Institute announced today the winners of the 32nd annual Michigan Business Challenge, as well as recipients of the Applebaum Dare to Dream and Mayleben Family Venture Shaping Grants. The business plan competition and grant programs, which recognize promising student-led startups, provided grants and funding totaling $129,500 this year.

“The student teams who competed in this year’s Michigan Business Challenge demonstrated tremendous entreprenuerial spirit, work ethic and commitment,” said Stewart Thornhill, executive director of the Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. “Our hope is that with the resources awarded today, the winning student teams will achieve even greater success and continue to boost the entreprenuerial ecosystem in Michigan.

Michigan Business Challenge

The Michigan Business Challenge is a four-month, multi-round competition that began in the fall with students from across the University’s 19 schools and colleges. Round one hosted 80 teams in December. Of these, 22 teams advanced to round two where the field was narrowed down to eight semi-finalist teams. On Friday, February 20, the final eight teams were put to the test again, and four finalist teams were chosen to present their businesses to a panel of judges including professional investors. Over $75,000 was awarded at the competition.

The Pryor-Hale Award for Best Business for $20,000 went to Companion represented by Danny Freed (BBA ‘15), Lexie Ernst (BBA ‘17), Nathan Pilcowitz (BA ‘15), Kathryn Reiner (BBA ‘16) and Jake Wayne (BSI ‘16) for their peer-to-peer safety app that allows family and friends to keep an eye on you as you walk home late at night. Public safety organizations can harness real-time walking data combined with historical walking patterns and a predictive engine to determine the optimal placement of officers. “MBC was an amazing opportunity for us to grow as a team and really think through our business,” said Freed. “We couldn’t have done it without the help of everyone from Zell Lurie and are excited to see what the future holds.” The team also received the Most Successful Undergraduate team award for $2,500 as well as the Marketing Award sponsored by Marketing Associates for $2,500.

Other top winners included:

  • The Pryor-Hale Runner-up award for Best Business for $10,000 and the Williamson Award for the most outstanding business and engineering team for $5,000 went to RainDance Recovery represented by CW Bourgeois (MsE ‘15), Courtney Dansby (MsE ‘15), Jonathan Lilley (MsE ‘15) and Alexander Perlman (MsE ‘15) for their mobile water distillation rigs (RainMakers) that can filter clean water at oil wells that naturally produce, which can be used in ongoing oil and gas operations or sold for local industry.
  • The Outstanding Presentation awards for $2,000 each went to CubeWorks and Graduate. Cubeworks, represented by Zhiyoong Foo (PhD ‘13), Gyouho Kim (PhD ‘14), Pat Pannuto (PhD ‘16) and Nikhil Prem (MBA ‘16) is a millimeter-scale wireless sensing platform, which will be used in glucose monitoring application to improve the quality of life of diabetic patients. The fully implantable continuous glucose monitor eliminates the inconvenience and discomfort of existing products. Graduate, represented by Eric Katz (BBA ‘17) and Camille Merritt (MBA ‘16) is a mobile application that allows students and parents to view which graduation requirements the student has completed, is currently working toward, and still needs to complete in order to graduate from high school in four years. Graduate helps students make a plan and stick to it.
  • The Best Written Plan award for $2,000 went to Stethos, represented by Courtland Keteyian (MD/MBA ‘11), Farrukh Mohammed (MBA ‘07) and Andrew Plaska (MD ‘17), for their attachment that easily and reversibly converts a mechanical stethoscope into an electronic stethoscope, allowing sounds to be recorded, analyzed and played back within the earpieces.
  • The Marketing Award sponsored by Marketing Associates $2,500 went to South Asian Flavors, represented by Harinee Sampath (PTMBA ‘15) for her exotic food company offering premium healthy,savory yogurt-based snacking dips in a variety of South Asian flavors, made with natural ingredients.
  • $1,000 to each of the Finalists that didn’t receive a larger award
  • $500 to each of the Semi-final teams that participated in the competition
  • $200 to each of the 16 teams that advanced from Round One and competed in Round Two

The Social Impact Track

New to this year’s competition is the Social Impact Track, presented in partnership with the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute and the Center for Social Impact, which was introduced to stimulate the creation of new businesses, products or services that prioritize social and/or environmental considerations. Three teams competed in the finals on February 20.

The prize for $15,000 went to Blueprints for Pangaea, represented by Anna Chen (BS ’16), Olivia Cholewa (BSN ‘16), Jungwoo Ha (BS ’16), Raj Kadiyala (BS ‘15), Danny Luan (BS ‘17), Ben Rathi (BBA/BS ‘17), and Sanjay Reddy (BS ‘17). Pangaea will provide accessible healthcare to communities in emergent nations by engaging the abilities of undergraduates nationwide. Ultimately the company hopes to establish a systematic method of collecting unused medical supplies from local hospitals and shipping them to targeted areas in emerging nations. “The Michigan Business Challenge not only improved our ability to concisely present our business plan, but more importantly, it afforded us an opportunity to receive critical feedback on our venture,” said Rathi. “The prize money is a blessing that will propel us into the direction of success, and will be directly used for reducing pollution and saving lives.”

Dare to Dream Student Startup Grant Recipients

The Dare to Dream Grant program funds students looking to test their business idea, formulate a plan and work toward launching their business while earning their degree. The first phase, a Venture Shaping grant of $500 sponsored by the Mayleben family, allows teams to determine how to transform identified opportunities into businesses. More advanced teams may apply for a $1,500 Assessment grant to establish the feasibility of their business or a $5,000 Integration grant to move their company toward launch. Grants are awarded in the fall and winter terms. Grants totaling $21,000 were awarded during the Fall 2014 semester and grants totaling $34,500 will be awarded winter term 2015 among 24 student teams.

The Dare to Dream Fall 2014 program awarded grants to the following teams:

Applebaum Dare to Dream Integration Grant of $5,000:

  • South Asian Flavors – an exotic food company offering premium healthy, savory yogurt-based snacking dips in a variety of South Asian flavors, made with natural ingredients.

Applebaum Dare to Dream Assessment Grants of $1,500:

  • com – an online website platform that automates data scientist operations by using machine learning to understand what data scientists are looking for in every new dataset.
  • BetterHope - an online marketplace for products made with dignity.
  • Incearch - a referral-based recruiting platform. (Also received Mayleben Family Venture Shaping Grant of $500.)
  • Pet Perch – solves a fundamental problem faced by pet owners who co-sleep with their furry companions by offering a product that secures to the bed and allows the pets a space of their own.
  • Range Messenger - offers hyper-local, real time deals and messages using our patented “Digital Sonar” within a user defined distance to drive retail business or for individual use.

Mayleben Family Venture Shaping Grants of $500:

  • CookForMe – an online marketplace that connects cooks in a local community with customers who want the convenience of food cooked in their homes without compromising on nutritional needs and their health.
  • Legacy Peak Capital - utilizing Medicare, health system, and payor claims data, provides full transparency into the cost and quality of Post-Acute Care providers by disease state and provide relative rankings.
  • Eat Food – a platform that makes it easy to plan, buy, and track our food consumption.
  • EnergyHarvesting - a device that harvests the kinetic energy created by eye movements and provides this energy to implanted ophthalmic medical devices.
  • Allergenesis – application that allows individuals to create a profile with their specific food allergies and/or intolerances, filter fast-food menus by ingredients, and locate fast-food restaurants near them.
  • FindMyHome - aims to be the “eHarmony for Home Search.”
  • Augmented Technologies – a training suit for emergency scenarios.
  • Graduate – a platform for students and parents that tracks students’ progress towards high school graduation.
  • Local Products Discovery – a database of Chinese local snacks and commodities.
  • Local Seeds - links investors, innovators, and retailers through a “Hub”, a centralized point for communication and negotiation that would create a new entrepreneurial and investment landscape.
  • New Aegis Corporation - a non-newtonian fluid and foam composite for football helmets that reduces acceleration forces by 30 percent and substantially reduces the resulting shockwave.
  • SmartPlays – a technology-based, easy-to-use video recording and gameplay-analyzing tool for football coaches.
  • Stiily – a patent-pending technology that substitutes real fashion models with their virtual dummies and allows endless possibilities to mix and match different articles of clothes and accessories.
  • VeriMAb Diagnostics – a portable point of care testing device that provides rapid feedback for potential allergies.
  • Woila – a platform that helps urban Indian youth find a match for the purpose of serious dating, possibly leading to a marriage.
  • Yes Now! – a location-based search that uses the current location of the buyer to search for items and connect with sellers in the neighborhood.

For more about the day, follow @ZellLurie on Twitter.


The Companion team, recipients of The Pryor-Hale Award for Best Business for $20,000, the Most Successful Undergraduate team award for $2,500, and the Marketing Award sponsored by Marketing Associates for $2,500.


The Companion team, on hearing their name announced as winners


The RainDance Recovery team, recipients of The Pryor-Hale Runner-up award for Best Business for $10,000 and the Williamson Award for the most outstanding business and engineering team for $5,000

Meet Alex VanDerKolk, ’13: Native son and entrepreneur

While working as a data analyst for the University of Michigan’s Comprehensive Cancer Center, Alex VanDerKolk, BBA ’13, found himself elbow-deep in data that doctors were trying to use to plan the most effective and cost-efficient treatments for breast cancer patients. Alex watched so many projects stretch on past deadline and over budget as doctors struggled to work with cumbersome data systems that he created a solution of his own: Symport, a cloud-based software enabling more efficient collection, storage and sharing of sensitive healthcare data used in medical research.

Alex and a team of fellow Ross students (Nikhil Kumar, BSE ’14; Max Wolff, BSE ’14; Rahul Iyengar, BSE ’14; George Zakhem LSA ’14; David Middleton, LSA ’15) founded Mountain Labs to distribute their software to research hospitals and institutions. Their concept and client pitch determined, Alex and his team entered Mountain Labs—then called Lab Compass—into the Michigan Business Challenge, where they learned how to address perhaps their most important audience: potential investors.

“[Our concept is] difficult to explain outside of the healthcare industry,” Alex said. “So the most valuable thing we got out of the Michigan Business Challenge was learning how to explain how we were going to make money out of this.” When it comes to pitching investors, “you only get one chance, and you can’t mess it up,” he said.

The team went back to the drawing board to simplify their pitch and explain how their concept could turn into a profitable business. After several rounds of judging, Mountain Labs took home The Most Successful Undergraduate Team award and used the money to legally form the company. They also received a Mayleben Venture Shaping grant, which they used to interview customers and attend industry conferences.

Alex credits his Zell Lurie advisors, especially Len Middleton and Sarika Gupta, with helping the team stay focused and offering them access to the professors’ local networks. “It was a huge help to not have to build them on our own,” he said. The team also attended a workshop led by Jim Price, who had experience working with the healthcare industry and could share his knowledge of potential roadblocks the team would face.

Mountain Labs certainly appears to have taken their lessons from the MBC to heart. After raising $350,000 during their first round of funding, they will close on a $750,000 second round of funding this summer. Other goals for the company over the next few months include scaling their sales force and marketing efforts, and expanding throughout Michigan.

With all the resources at hand in Ann Arbor—including access to the University of Michigan, one of the best research universities in the country—Alex, a Michigan native, has no plans to relocate his fledgling business elsewhere. “It’s a great city for entrepreneurs, and it’s a great city to live in,” he said. “The entrepreneur ecosystem has exploded over the last year. Being able to work with new startups and share resources and best practices is one of the most valuable parts of being a young business. It’s been incredible to watch it develop, and it’s been incredible to take advantage of it.”

The Mountain Labs team. From right to left: David Middleton (LSA ’15), Rahul Iyengar (BSE ’14), Aaron Schwartz, Alex VanDerKolk (BBA ’13), Nikhil Kumar (BSE ’14), George Zakhem (LSA ’14), and Max Wolff (BSE ’14). Not pictured: Siegfried Martin (BSE '15)

The Mountain Labs team. From right to left: David Middleton (LSA ’15), Rahul Iyengar (BSE ’14), Aaron Schwartz, Alex VanDerKolk (BBA ’13), Nikhil Kumar (BSE ’14), George Zakhem (LSA ’14), and Max Wolff (BSE ’14). Not pictured: Siegfried Martin (BSE ’15)

Zell Lurie Entrepreneur in Residence Devises Ebola Healthcare Solutions

Joshua Botkin, Entreprenuer in Residence at the Institute, recently participated in a multi-discipline design charette hosted by the U-M Stamps School of Art & Design. Teams were challenged to improve procedures and products used in Ebola healthcare, from better ways to remove gloves and protective gear to a device that allows an actual physical embrace between an infected patient and a caregiver or family member.

Teams had three days to conceptualize, design, and create their inventions, which were to focus on one of three key areas: design of personal protection equipment; health communication across cultural and linguistic barriers; and transportation of infected and diseased bodies.

Joshua’s team chose to focus on improving personal protective equipment. Because the disease is transmitted through contact with bodily fluids, containment is essential—but protective suits are expensive and only fit certain body types and sizes. Removing suits and rubber gloves without coming into contact with any contaminants on them can also be difficult.

Together, the team devised a disposable, inexpensive strap that could be added to protective suits to make them easier to remove safely. To solve the problem of suits only fitting a narrow set of body types, they created a visor mask that could be combined with any waterproof material to create an emergency suit.

Safe glove removal also proves difficult for field workers, so Joshua and his team devised two solutions: a disposable sticker that attaches to the inside of the glove, and a reusable, sanitizable glove removal hook.

“This event was a powerful example of how to leverage the amazing knowledge and skills that exist across campus,” said Joshua, who also coaches student teams involved in the Dare to Dream Grant, Michigan Business Challenge, and Tech Arb student programs. “It shows how U-M can provide students with a compelling experiential learning experience that simultaneously benefits society at large.”

For more information, and to read about other projects, visit the Stamps website here.

Stewart Thornhill featured in Washington Post article

Executive Director Stewart Thornhill weighed in on the potential for university-led venture funds to succeed in the Washington Post earlier this week. In the article, he advocates for diversification, and the article points to the Wolverine Venture Fund as an example of one that has backed successful companies and grown past its original endowment.

To read the complete article, visit the Washington Post‘s website here.


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