FIRING UP ASPIRING YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS

Ann-Li Cooke, MBA ’12, is an entrepreneurial super star – just the kind of top-performing student and high-potential entrepreneur Mitch Mondry, BA ’82, MBA/JD ’86, had in mind when he established the Mitchell A. Mondry Scholars award as part of the Zell Lurie Institute scholarship program in 2004. Last fall, Cooke was selected to receive a $5,000 Mitchell A. Mondry Scholarship, which she applied toward her 2011-2012 tuition at the Ross School of Business.

“The scholarship was a huge affirmation by others of the entrepreneurial spirit inside me,” says Cooke, who also received a 2012 MBA Entrepreneur of the Year award and $1,000 prize. “I’ve been fascinated by social entrepreneurship and how it can be used to solve social problems. To know that my work in this area is considered to be within the realm of entrepreneurship is very symbolic and has opened up a lot of doors.”

Cooke’s entrepreneurial achievements during her two years at the Ross School are off-the-chart in terms of new-venture creation and optimization. In 2010, she received a $1,500 Dare to Dream grant to launch a Chinese American Institute that provides underserved Chinese youth with opportunities to study at American colleges and universities. The following summer, Cooke received both Marcel Gani and Domestic Corps internships that placed her at the Detroit-based nonprofit organization Focus: HOPE, where she conducted a feasibility study for a proposed health center.

Over the past year, Cooke was part of an MBA team that created and launched Lunchbox, an online start-up venture which connects office workers who want order-in lunches with local restaurants that deliver the goods. Through the Ross School’s Entrepreneur and Venture Club, she and fellow club members provided entrepreneurial consulting services to Brio Device, a medical-device company and spin-out of the U-M Medical Innovation Center. From December 2011 until graduation in April, Cooke was a Fellow at Innovatrium − an innovation-focused consulting firm led by Ross School faculty members Jeff DeGraff, Kim Cameron, and Robert Quinn – where she worked on a social-impact project with the Kellogg Foundation in Battle Creek. While Cooke was still attending MBA classes this past spring, she took a consulting job with Excellent Schools Detroit, a nonprofit seeking to improve the city’s education system.

“I have a lot of energy and creative juices to apply a for-profit mindset to solving social problems, but I haven’t honed in on any particular area,” says Cooke, who is married to Mike Cooke, MBA/MSE ’12. “I want to develop my skills, so I can launch a thriving business within the next five to 10 years.”

Mondry, who is the president and founder of M Group in Birmingham, Mich., says his decision to create a named scholarship for students pursuing entrepreneurial activities arose from his own career experiences. He launched M Group in 1994 as a private-equity investment company. At the height of the technology boom in the late 1990s, the firm transitioned to venture-capital investment and then into real-estate investment and development, where it is today.

“I started my own business and have spent much of my career providing funding and assistance to early-stage companies,” Mondry says. “As a VC, I recognized that the same skills are required in all new ventures, regardless of differences in their products, markets, or industries. I enjoy working with the Zell Lurie Institute, because it helps students with entrepreneurial vision and fire acquire the strong, fundamental skill set they need to form new companies in whatever industry they choose.” He also is a long-standing member of the Institute’s Advisory Board.

Mondry makes a point of meeting periodically with all scholarship recipients and discussing their entrepreneurial plans while they are in school. After graduation, he stays in touch and follows their career progression. “For me, it’s rewarding to help these students get their degrees and then see what they do with them,” Mondry says.

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