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Posted on Tue, Aug 31, 2010 : 9:14 a.m.

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman: Student entrepreneurs need support for their 'crazy ideas'

By Nathan Bomey

Mary Sue Coleman answering questions.JPG

University of Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman, seen here answering reporters' questions after a press conference last month, wrote an article in Forbes arguing that universities need to do a better job of supporting student entrepreneurs.

Melanie Maxwell |

Lending a helping hand to student entrepreneurs is a vital part of resuscitating the economy, University of Michigan Mary Sue Coleman wrote in a column published Monday by Forbes.

Coleman, recently appointed to serve as a co-chair of President Barack Obama's National Advisory Council on Innovation and Entrepreneurship, emphasized the importance of promoting entrepreneurial activities among students and said U-M was setting an example for the higher education community.

Universities, she said, need to support students and "what some might call their 'crazy ideas.'"

"The challenge for higher education today is to support our students in this vital area of economic development. While that certainly means creating new courses and programs, there also may be times when we simply need to step out of the way," Coleman said.

"That's why U-M and other leading research institutions will be scaling up their entrepreneurial education efforts -- initiated here a decade ago -- by developing new programs designed to nurture the inventive spirit of our students and give them the knowledge and confidence they need to succeed. As a university, Michigan is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the next wave of entrepreneurism."

Coleman's comments come as the university is intensifying its focus on integrating entrepreneurial thinking throughout its activities.

U-M's Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at the Ross School of Business and the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering in 2009 jointly launched a business incubator for startup companies led by students. The incubator, called TechArb, took off, and U-M last fall signed a permanent lease to give students low-cost office space.

"TechArb, which is located just down the hall from the Google AdWords office in Ann Arbor, allows student startups to gain traction quickly, try out ideas, fail, pivot and try again," Coleman said. "At U-M we believe universities are uniquely suited to provide these startups with the essentials to learn quickly and grow as entrepreneurs."

The idea that student-led companies can generate meaningful economic activity is gaining traction.

“This is a really exciting program that you have here and one that we should think about trying to replicate all across the country,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke said in July while visiting U-M.

U-M's student-led companies include firms like, firm billing itself as the "Netflix for baby clothes." Allen Kim, one of the company's co-founders, is a finalist for Entrepreneur magazine's College Entrepreneur of the Year.

"Even though we have come a long way in a short period of time, I believe there are times when we underestimate our students' ability to be entrepreneurs. We're not always tuned in to their exuberance for innovation. But, like out students, we continue to learn and grow," Coleman said.

"Still, higher education has made great strides toward creating a culture of entrepreneurism on many university campuses nationwide. I firmly believe that the way to change the culture of an organization is to help people change. And we're changing the way people view entrepreneurism every day at Michigan.

Coleman said U-M plans to launch a new academic program in fall 2011 offering a master's degree in "high-tech entrepreneurship." It will be a "collaborative effort" between the engineering and business schools.

"We believe it is critical for our graduate students to learn the essentials of engaging customers early, testing ideas, rethinking those ideas and refining concepts so they are ultimately capable of creating the most effective and scalable business models possible," Coleman said.

Contact's Nathan Bomey at (734) 623-2587 or You can also follow him on Twitter or subscribe to's newsletters.


Somewhat Concerned

Wed, Sep 1, 2010 : 8:57 a.m.

She knows nothing about entrepreneurship. The fact that anyone, anywhere, pays attention to her ill-informed opinions on the topic is dumbfounding. If she were President of a university in a state that bred entrepreneurs, not unionized auto workers and professors, she would be laughed at. But not in Michigan and not in Washington. Heaven help us here, and heaven help the country.


Tue, Aug 31, 2010 : 1:06 p.m.

Multi-millionairess Coleman can personally support anyone she wants. Frankly, I'm tired of support her. Can she fly off on her broomstick when Granholm leaves?