SI's Own Entrepreneurs Featured in Ann Arbor News
by Tina Reed
Ann Arbor News
July 24, 2008
Apple's iPhone is much more than a cool gadget to Gaurav Bhatnagar, Hung Truong and Adam Torres.
This summer, the three graduate students at the University of Michigan School of Information have spent their time tinkering with computer code and mocking up sketches in an attempt to develop the next big geo-sensitive application for the iPhone.
Their business, Troubador Mobile Inc. - a rough configuration of their initials - is one of three student-launched business teams receiving venture capital help from Ann Arbor's RPM Ventures to launch business ideas this summer. The RPM-10 program, part of a partnership between the venture capital firm and the U-M engineering school's Center for Entreprenuership, gives students advice from the local business community, office space for 10 weeks and the money to get the idea off the ground.
The program is designed to get both undergraduate and graduate students thinking more about being entrepreneurs. It culminates in mid-August when the groups present their businesses to venture capitalists and the public.
"It's often entrepreneurs don't get good at this until the second, third, even fourth time they start a company,'' said Tony Grover, an RPM managing director. "It's only through people giving them the opportunity to try and figure this out that these guys get an opportunity to get better at this.''
The entrepreneurship program was modeled after similar ones around run around the country, said the center's director Thomas Zurbuchen. "For students, it is a continuation of the classroom,'' Zurbuchen said. And for RPM, "they get the first look at some potentially great companies.''
One of the other projects, Pacific Atlantic Entertainment Corp., is being built by undergrads in U-M's engineering and business schools as a campus Web service called Tradeversity to allow students to buy and sell books or find jobs.
Another project, CampusRoost Inc., is a group of three U-M engineering seniors who hope to create a one-stop Web shop for campus rentals.
They've helped about 25 incoming business students find leads on housing so far, said Jason Bornhorst, the group's chief executive officer.
"The biggest thing for all of us is, we go to work every day and we decide what we're going to do,'' Bornhorst sad. "And that's what determines our success.''
The hope from the businesses helping with the project - including Bank of Ann Arbor, Miller Canfield, McKinley real estate and Menlo Innovations software developing - is that the students will end up staying in Michigan and will build successful companies here in the future, Grover said.
"We take the long view,'' Grover said. "It might not help us today. But in five years, that's 15 student teams that might not otherwise have ever started their own business .... They're such talented people that we might've lost them to California, but this program could be the thing that keeps them here.''
For Troubador Mobile, the learn-by-doing process led its group members, who mostly have technology backgrounds, to figure out firsthand what customers want before they designed their product. They now regularly take their sketches out to passersby on the U-M Diag.
"Some of the things we thought were really cool were actually kind of creepy,'' Truong said. "But some of the things we though were kind of invasive, people were interested in.''
For example, Truong said, people weren't interested in an application that could tell users where their friends were at all times. They did like an application running in the background on the phone that could offer pop-up discounts from nearby restaurants.
The strength of the program is that it takes students without business backgrounds and teaches them the accounting, legal and market savvy elements that go into building a company, Torres said.
"For me, starting a company is such a mystifying process,'' Torres said. "I'm not the kind of person who thinks like an entrepreneur. I don't like to take financial risks. But this program seems to have brought out that entrepreneurial spirit in me."
Posted by kkowatch at July 25, 2008 12:36 PM