U-M Student Group, MPowered, Gears Up for 1,000 Pitches, Looks to Help Build Startup Ecosystem

A culture of entrepreneurial innovation might not be something one would expect to find in a rust belt state like Michigan, but one student group at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor is trying to change that.

MPowered Entrepreneurship aims to cultivate and support student entrepreneurs in hopes that they turn their ideas into successful startups, and ideally keep those businesses—and the talent that comes with them—in the state. The group is gearing up this week for its hallmark program, 1,000 Pitches, which asks students to pitch ideas for startup companies via video, and awards $1,000 to the winning ideas.

Two University of Michigan students founded the group in 2007 after a trip to Silicon Valley where they saw people “spinning off ideas and businesses left and right,” according to Ankit Mehta, a junior majoring in communications, and the president of MPowered. They came back to Michigan with the goal of creating a similar startup community in the state.

Mehta says the group is part of a “strategic move” to try to expand the budding startup culture in Ann Arbor so that it’s on par with other startup hubs like Silicon Valley, Boston, and New York. “How do we build the supportive community where somebody won’t want to go to the East or West Coast, but they want to stay in Ann Arbor?” Mehta says. That is one of the most important questions the group tries to answer.

And according to Mehta, it all starts by creating a “cultural movement” on campus that encourages students to think like self-starters instead of continuing on the educational path that’s expected of them. “During the job crisis for example, a lot of seniors I knew actually tried to continue with their masters degrees because they couldn’t find jobs,” he says. “Why not start your own company?”

Though starting a campus movement from scratch may seem like a daunting task, MPowered has already had some success. In 2009, the organizers received 2,165 entries for their flagship competition, 1,000 Pitches—about double the 1,018 entries in its previous, inaugural year.

The competition asks students to submit startup ideas via video that fall into one of 10 categories, ranging from consumer products to software development. A panel of judges chooses a winner from each category to receive $1,000 to move forward with their idea. The competition starts tomorrow, and students can submit pitches up until Nov. 19. The winners in each category will be announced on Dec. 4.

1,000 Pitches has already “created its own brand name” on campus, according to Rachel Barch, a sophomore in Michigan’s College of Engineering and MPowered’s program director for the competition. But this year, the group is trying to increase awareness of the contest through … Next Page »

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Jillian Berman is an intern for Xconomy Detroit. Follow @

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