UM to Offer New Graduate Program in Entrepreneurship

Students and venture capitalists seeking to bring more startups to Ann Arbor may find just the catalyst they’ve been looking for in a new University of Michigan graduate program in entrepreneurship. UM currently offers a nine-credit certificate in entrepreneurship for undergraduates, but the forthcoming master’s in entrepreneurship program—which will consist of 36 credits, according to a UM press release—represents the first full degree a student can earn in entrepreneurship.

The UM program will combine the resources and acumen of both the College of Engineering and the Ross School of Business and will commence in fall 2012. The program—awaiting a green light from the Presidents Council of the State Universities of Michigan next month—is designed to stand out from similar programs through its interdisciplinary approach and action-based curriculum.

“We spent a considerable amount of time thinking about what the archetypal entrepreneur needs, and we’re going to develop brand-new courses to fill their needs,” says Bill Lovejoy, the recently named co-director of the program and a professor in the Ross School of Business.

Lovejoy and his co-director, Aileen Y. Huang-Saad, a lecturer in the College of Engineering, say the graduate program is filling students’ desires for more entrepreneurial studies. Starting about two years ago, Huang-Saad and Lovejoy were part of teams that conducted research to gauge the level of student interest in such a program.

The program will include classes such as entrepreneurial finance and entrepreneurial operations, which Lovejoy says have “familiar” titles that overlap with MBA classes in name only.

“For example, in finance, these students will not need to know how to value derivatives, they need to know how to navigate the venture capital infrastructures,” Lovejoy said. “In operations, it won’t talk about what line-balancing and other things might do for an automotive firm. We’re going to talk about how do you get a prototype made, how your concepts will evolve, or networking opportunities.”

Huang-Saad, assistant director of academic programs for the Center for Entrepreneurship at UM’s College of Engineering, explains that students in the program will take both engineering and business classes, in addition to completing a capstone project, in which they will take a hands-on approach to what they’ve learned in their classes.

“What we try to do here is really have the engineering perspective as part of development at an early stage, so that the students actually are thinking about the design, while they’re also taking into account what the market opportunity is,” Huang-Saad says.

Though the university currently does not have plans to create an undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship, Huang-Saad said, several students involved in entrepreneurial programs at UM have expressed their desire for one.

Scott Christopher, a sophomore in the Ross School of Business and co-director of MPowered Entrepreneurship’s 1000 Pitches Project, is pursuing the certificate in entrepreneurship and said he’s optimistic that UM will offer a full undergraduate degree in entrepreneurship in upcoming years. But for now, Christopher said he’s interested in applying for the master’s program, which he thinks has a number of advantages for an aspiring entrepreneur. The most important advantage, Christopher says, is networking.

“I don’t know realistically how much could be taught in the classroom because [entrepreneurship] boils down to problem solving,” Christopher said. “But more importantly, it’s getting those networks established.”

Lovejoy and Huang-Saad also stress that the growing entrepreneurial community, both on campus and in Ann Arbor, will be a major asset of the master’s program. Additionally, they say, students in the program will have advantages other rising entrepreneurs won’t have. These benefits include getting the dual education in business and engineering, and having access to UM’s abundant entrepreneurial resources.

“Technology’s one part, but the entire staged process of vetting the technology—is it commercially viable, is there a market for it, how big is the market, how do we position it, what’s the competition, how do we raise funding for it, what level, what kind of contracts do we write, how do we build an organization? Those are all skills that we can impart to them much more efficiently than they could on their own by trial and error,” Lovejoy says.

Students in the program will also have the opportunity to work with UM’s business accelerators and incubators, TechArb and the Venture Accelerator, as well as the university’s Office of Technology Transfer, Huang-Saad says. Additionally, students will be able to interact with some of the many technologies developed at UM each year. The Office of Technology Transfer, which helps to bring university-developed products to market, saw close to 300 inventions in 2010, Lovejoy says. This resulted in 10 spinoff businesses and more than 150 applications for patents, according to a UM press release.

The new program—which will be accepting about 30 applicants—also boosts the prospect of new venture capitalists coming to Ann Arbor.

“If alumni come back to mentor these teams and get excited about this, you might see more than just a venture capital community,” Lovejoy says. “You might see other parts of the entire entrepreneurial ecosystem relocating here. That would be the ideal.”

Nicole Aber is a contributing writer for Xconomy. Follow @

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