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Posted on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 : 5:55 a.m.

University of Michigan's 1,000 Pitches competition taps entrepreneurial movement

By Nathan Bomey

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For Lauren Leland, president of the University of Michigan’s MPowered Entrepreneurship club, entrepreneurialism needs to be more than just a core focus for the university. It needs to be a cultural value.

That’s why the group is sponsoring the second annual 1,000 Pitches competition - a campus-wide solicitation for entrepreneurial ideas of all sorts.

In 2008, the competition grew far beyond the university’s expectations - so much so that U-M President Mary Sue Coleman has promoted the event at least nine times in public appearances.

Leland said the competition underscores the importance of entrepreneurialism in rescuing Michigan’s economy.

“Entrepreneurship is really just a state of mind, and it’s a way to apply that mindset to everyday life,” she said. “Entrepreneurship is more than just starting a business. To be able to have that tool to think innovatively when you encounter a problem, to solve it, to have the confidence to know that you were able to pitch an idea - that’s an important part of being a student.”

The 1,000 Pitches competition last year drew 1,044 submissions - short, informal videotaped pitches of students’ ideas in categories ranging from environmental technology to global business strategies.

MPowered this year is priming the event for a potential statewide expansion in 2010, involving other universities and high schools. To prepare for the expanded version, the group conducted seminars this summer where high school students contributed more than 100 videotaped ideas.

“This is basically our outreach to the entire state,” said Austin Kronig, project manager for MPowered. “We can harness the talent and ingenuity of students and use it to benefit the state. A lot of these people have great ideas that aren’t being heard.”

The competition begins Sept. 18, and submissions will be accepted until Nov. 20. An awards ceremony will take place Dec. 5. Members of MPowered, which has some 600 regular participants, will whittle the submissions to a manageable sum - after which a committee of university staff, faculty and Ann Arbor business leaders will choose the winners. Winners get $1,000.

Many, if not most, of the entrepreneurial pitches will lead nowhere. Economic development isn’t the primary objective, but MPowered is establishing a startup outreach program designed to provide serious student entrepreneurs with business development advice.

“You don’t have to be an engineer, you don’t have to be a business student - all you have to do is have an idea,” said Leland, a U-M junior. “For a lot of people the initial barrier is just getting the idea out there. (The competition) just breaks down all those barriers and says, ‘What’s your idea? What do you want to change?’”

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs at U-M’s College of Engineering, said 1,000 Pitches is a “crucial” piece of U-M’s increasing emphasis on entrepreneurialism.

Pitching business ideas is “the beginning of entrepreneurship,” he said. “The reason we’re so passionate about this is to get people to think this way and say, ‘Yes, we want your ideas.’”

(Photo by Nathan Bomey: Lauren Leland and Austin Kronig of the MPowered Entrepreneurship group.)

Contact’s Nathan Bomey at or (734) 623-2587 or follow him on Twitter.