ANN ARBOR—The University of Michigan's master's degree program in entrepreneurship awards its first 17 students degrees on Friday.
The program, offered jointly between U-M's Ross School of Business and College of Engineering, is a great fit for Michigan with its long history of innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.
"The University of Michigan is ideally positioned to deliver such a program," said Ross School Dean Alison Davis-Blake. "Our top-ranked business and engineering schools have a long history of successful collaborative ventures. This new joint degree program gives students access to real-time technology and resources to turn a business idea into a market-ready venture within 12 months."
David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, said it's exciting to see the program succeed.
"This partnership is equipping our students in engineering, technology, science and math with the skills to identify opportunities and bring those ideas from the lab to the real world to benefit society," he said.
Startups have played a big role in the country's economic recovery from the 2008 financial collapse.
Venture capital investment in Michigan jumped to $232.3 million, up from $84.7 million in 2011, according to research from the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Ross. That represents the third-best year for such investment in the state since 1995. And Michigan's University Research Corridor places at or near the top of seven university innovation clusters in the United States with a $15.5 billion economic impact statewide.
Bill Lovejoy, a professor at the Ross School and co-director of the program, said it grew from student interest in entrepreneurship.
"My read on that is what they are seeing is the old social contract, where you work for a company that takes care of you, is broken. They see their parents being laid off. And they decide that maybe it's time to make their own breaks," Lovejoy said. "I think it's all about taking command of their own economic destiny."
Many of the students have undergraduate degrees in science, technology or engineering and want to bring about positive social change. For example, one student wants to improve infant mortality rates through new uses of warming technology.
"The students themselves were instrumental in the success of this program in its first year," said Aileen Huang-Saad, program co-director and associate director of academic programs at the College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship. "They created their own opportunities and took a major role in shaping their future."
Throughout the program, students receive guidance from faculty and career advisers to help develop post-graduation plans.
"No matter where these students land, they will play a critical role in bringing new ideas to action," Huang-Saad said. "They are well versed in identifying opportunities and creating a path to execution. This is a valuable resource whether the students end up in a startup company, a consulting firm or a large organization."
Graduates are wrapping up the practical course work this summer. For example, Steven Sherman says his venture in energy systems called YouKnowWatt will keep him busy this summer and possibly beyond.
"This program was great and gave me a huge skill set to evaluate potential business ideas in the future," Sherman said. "It's not just startups either. I could easily market myself for technology commercialization at a large corporation like General Motors or as a business analyst at an investment group."
And Grace Hsia earned her materials science engineering degree from U-M, and turned toward entrepreneurial studies to gain the business acumen to start a company. She's CEO at Warmilu, a company that developed a warming blanket technology to help prevent infant deaths.
"The program provided a vehicle not just which to develop academically but to also advance the development of my startup," she said.
More than anything, the value of the program for Hsia is the relationships she built through the inaugural program that she couldn't have experienced anywhere else.
"Imagine what it was like having these world-class professors and staff devoting so much of their time and effort in and out of the classroom to help us," Hsia said. "This program is also unique in its ability to present students with entrepreneurship frameworks and a chance to take my startup to the next level."
- Master of Entrepreneurship program: http://entrepreneurship.umich.edu