U-M Student Accelerator TechArb Churns Out Success Stories
The University of Michigan’s entrepreneurship efforts have been steadily gaining attention and acclaim—U-M’s graduate program in entrepreneurship was recently named the second in the nation by the Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine—and its student startup accelerator, TechArb, is no exception.
Since its inception in 2009, TechArb has produced a host of successful companies, including Mobiata, which was acquired by Expedia, and Fetchnotes, which won a spot in the very competitive TechStars national business incubator in August. Menlo Innovations, the Ann Arbor company responsible for all the software behind Accuri Cytometers, recently relocated its office to the basement of Tally Hall, which also houses TechArb, to gain proximity to the students working there. Even The Atlantic magazine stopped by in September as part of its “Startup Nation” series.
“TechArb has become more ubiquitous,” says Amy Klinke, assistant director for small business initiatives at the university’s Center for Entrepreneurship. “But it’s also changed over time. We like to say we provide [participants] with space, wi-fi, and caffeine.”
TechArb’s biggest recent change is an adjustment to the program. This school year, instead of accepting student startups on both the Idea Track, meaning the startup needs more customer development, and the Venture Track, TechArb will now accept only 15 teams each semester on the Venture Track.
TechArb is open to all U-M students. Each spring and fall, startups are selected to participate in TechArb for a six-month term. Klinke says that if a startup is making good progress but still needs a bit of work, it can apply to stay for a second term. Startups can also apply for a grant of up to $10,000 to spend the summer working full-time to develop their companies.
“It’s becoming more selective,” Klinke says. “We’re looking for tenacity and passion. The idea is important, but not as important as the team. The goal is to launch viable businesses.”
Each semester, TechArb hosts a Demo Day, where all of that session’s teams set up tables and the university invites the local entrepreneurial community in to meet the startups. Immediately before the event, seven of the teams are selected to formally pitch a panel of local VCs.
Besides Mobiata and Fetchnotes, alums who have gone on to viability include Are You a Human, Own Point of Sale, Shepherd Intelligent Systems, and Lecture Tools. Three TechArb startups have been acquired, and 58 are still active.
Klinke says a major part of the TechArb experience is engagement: with other students, with well-established mentors, and with 500,000 U-M alumni, more than any other school. TechArb startups also get plenty of practice pitching. Klinke says the students will even travel to meet with the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem of a city; in a few weeks, for instance, they’ll head to Chicago.
“There’s the worry that we’ll lose some of these students to these places, but the hope is that they’ll build their network,” Klinke adds, noting that it’s part of the larger mission the university has to ensure each student’s success. “It also lets people know what’s going on in Michigan.”