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MPowered 1000 Pitches summit showcases semi-finalist projects

Katherine Pekala/Daily
Jake Cohen, Vice President of Detroit Venture Partners, discusses entrepreneurship and funding for startups at the M-Powered 1000 Pitches Summit on Saturday. Buy this photo

By Alicia Adamczyk, Daily Staff Reporter
Published December 1, 2012

Vending machines in the Shapiro Undergraduate Library and a campus-wide talent show were just two of more than 100 ideas discussed at a University entrepreneurial conference and workshop event Saturday.

MPowered, a student-run non-profit organization that fosters student entrepreneurship, held a 1,000 Pitches Summit in anticipation of next Sunday’s second annual 1000 Pitches awards ceremony. This year the competition received 4,537 pitches, according to Business sophomore Ridhisha Rughani, a member of MPowered. About 150 of the 180 semi-finalists for the competition attended the summit, which included speakers, workshops and networking opportunities.

The 1,000 Pitches competition provides University students with the opportunity to pitch original solutions to a perceived community problem. Students create video pitches related to any of the program’s 10 categories, ranging from Environment to Web & Software to MProvements, a category specifically for University infrastructure improvement ideas. The winner of each category is awarded $1,000.

The event began with opening remarks from University alum Rishi Narayan, the co-founder of Underground Printing, a custom apparel provider that originated in Narayan’s freshman dorm room and has now expanded to markets around the country.

“We always wanted to be entrepreneurs,” Narayan said of himself and Ryan Gregg, his co-founder. “(But) we were a little bit lucky and we’re hoping to help other people get to that level.”

After a 150-person game of rock, paper, scissors, the student entrepreneurs broke into smaller groups to attend workshops. University alum Erik Torenberg — an MPowered alum, former Daily columnist and co-founder of Rapt.fm, a Chat Roulette-style rapping website — instructed a workshop entitled “Selling Yourself,” where students learned about networking and freestyle rapping.

Other workshops included “Bootstrapping and Fundraising,” where students learned about effective fundraising techniques from Jake Cohen, the vice president at Detroit Venture Partners. Another was “Getting Started in the D,” where the aspiring entrepreneurs discussed potential business opportunities available in Detroit with Maria LaLonde, the recruiting and development leader at Bizdom, a tech-based entrepreneurship accelerator.

LSA junior Sarah Oleinick, co-director of the summit, said MPowered’s goal is to spread the entrepreneurial spirit across campus as much as possible.

“Today we’re hoping that they will learn a little bit in the workshops, that they’ll meet as many people as possible, pitch their ideas and just really get inspired to take that next step,” Oleinick said of the semi-finalists.

LSA junior Rachel Hampton’s environment-related pitch earned her a spot in the semi-finals. She said she came to the summit to hear stories and learn from successful entrepreneurs.

“I was really excited to see what MPowered had to offer,” Hampton said. “U of M has so many opportunities, it’s like why not take advantage of them?”

Engineering sophomore Joshua Rosefelt said he attended to learn about earning grants to get his business idea up and running, among other things.

“We’re really here just to figure out more of what we can do next,” Rosefelt said.