TechArb honors work at end-of-year event

Austen Hufford/Daily
Students present their ideas at the Techarb Spring showcase on Friday. Buy this photo

By Austen Hufford, Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 15, 2012

In a cavernous room with dusty floors and exposed light fixtures on East Liberty Street, members of Ann Arbor’s startup community gathered on Friday to celebrate their business successes.

At the TechArb spring showcase, about 150 people came together for a variety of startup and entrepreneurship related affairs in honor of the University’s startup incubator. Some came to showcase their companies and ideas to investors, fans and peers, and graduating seniors were applauded for receiving the Program of Entrepreneurship certificate on their diplomas. TechArb also announced its next round of members for the second half of 2012.

Engineering Dean David Munson said the University and Ann Arbor are becoming entrepreneurial hubs that might one day rival those of the Silicon Valley and New York. He referred to Ann Arbor as “this nation’s next great entrepreneurial ecosystem and creative community.”

Munson also reiterated the need for entrepreneurial University graduates to stay connected with the campus even after leaving Ann Arbor. He said alumni should keep in touch with their classmates and remain aware of startup news.

Doug Neal, executive director of the Center for Entrepreneurship, praised graduating seniors who have completed the Program in Entrepreneurship — a nine-credit program that teaches entrepreneurial skills. Neal said the program is available to 90 percent of undergraduates at the University.

In an interview after the speech, Neal said the program is growing rapidly.

“Things are growing across the board,” Neal said. “We have 35 startups in TechArb, 375 (students) in the program of entrepreneurship (and) we have 1,200 student in classes in entrepreneurship and 5,000, this year alone, engaged in entrepreneurship programs.”

Neal noted that each TechArb class lasts only six months in order to inspire entrepreneurs to work hard for a shorter period of time. After the six months are up they can either continue expanding their idea after the program, or learn from their mistakes and completely re-imagine their plan.

The spring showcase marked the end of TechArb 7 — the seventh TechArb generation — and introduced the TechArb 8 team, which will begin in May. Most startups that were a part of team 7 will not be a member of 8, but a few will stay for continuity.

Moses Lee, an adjunct assistant professor at the Center for Entrepreneurship, gave accolades to the members of TechArb 7.

“Students have been launching new technologies and innovations that have really been impacting communities all around the world,” Lee said.

Lee said TechArb 8 is the biggest class to date, noting the class included members who had already worked on their startups as well as those who only had an idea.

During the event, students presented a wide variety of ideas at the showcase ranging from note-taking apps to medical devices.

Business graduate student Josh Smith — founder of YourCall.FM, a business founded within TechArb — said he aims to make a website where people can create and listen to alternative broadcasters during a variety of sporting events.

“We’re bringing aspiring broadcasters and hardcore fans to the microphone to provide their own innovative commentary and post-game analysis,” Smith said.

Smith said he used resources like the Center for Entrepreneurship and TechArb to start working on his idea and that he found the community and mentorship offered by TechArb extremely valuable.

Engineering junior Keith Porter, cofounder of A2B and TechArb 7 member, said his company is working to create a bike share program in Ann Arbor that will be cheap and reliable. A2B uses retail electronics to create bikes that have GPS, Internet connectivity, navigation and solar power capabilities.

Porter said attending the showcase allowed A2B to show off its idea to the local community.

“We need to get to know everyone we can and make sure that everyone knows about us and that we are the first thing that comes to mind when they think bike sharing,” Porter said.

Neal said the showcase was beneficial for the entrepreneurs and the community.

“We’re very big on using the network, which is both the local network and the alumni network, to help take all these students to the next level,” Neal said.