Kinnear: Big Ideas Define U-M’s Current Entrepreneurial Climate

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areas, won a $7,500 award for sustainability. Other winners were PhasiQ, a biotech startup that makes biomarker tests ($2,000); Password Patterns, which uses innovative designs to help people remember passwords ($2,500); and Torch Hybrid, a software service for the manufacturers of marine hybrid-electric powertrains ($4,500).

Kinnear says the fact that a startup like Universal Vaccine—which has a novel technology platform that produces vaccine candidates against mutable viruses like HIV, Hepatitis C, and Influenza—didn’t make it to the final round speaks to the quality of the contestants and the range of ideas in the competition. “Some years, you go, `Well, wait a minute, that’s not all that exciting,'” he notes. “That was not the case this year.”

Kinnear, who is approaching his 70th birthday, plans to retire in June. He’s seen the business school change from a place, a generation ago, where students primarily came with the goal of working for a big firm to one where more and more students want to learn how to be an entrepreneur. Though he cautions that there’s no data to back up that notion, he’s observed a generational dynamic at play that increasingly values entrepreneurship.

“A significant group in the business school today looks at the big companies and wonders, where are the future jobs?” he says. “The big companies aren’t hiring. The future is now based on an ability to create something for yourself, and that’s been exacerbated by the recession.”

Give millennials a computer, he says, and they won’t turn to the manual to learn how to use it. Instead, they’ll play around with it until they figure it out. “Here, the faculty is the manual, but then we let them play,” he adds. “That’s why we have three [student-run] investment funds. Every class probably has a field component now, and that’s a dramatic change.”

Kinnear says he’s proud of U-M’s hands-on approach to teaching the art of entrepreneurship, and has seen the university’s graduate program rise from semi-obscurity to being ranked second in the nation. He thinks the sharp increase in collaboration across U-M’s schools and departments has also been key to the program’s success.

“The University of Michigan was a vast wasteland of entrepreneurship 15 years ago,” he adds. “People like David Brophy were carrying the water in a very lonely environment. Now, the diversity of students we see involved in entrepreneurship stretches way beyond the business school. That’s part of why it’s such an exciting environment here, and such a big change.”

As Kinnear searches for a replacement—though he says he’ll remain actively involved in Ann Arbor’s entrepreneurial scene—he believes a solid entrepreneurial core is in place at the university.

“I’d rather leave when things are in really good shape,” he says. “It’s just time.”

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One response to “Kinnear: Big Ideas Define U-M’s Current Entrepreneurial Climate”

  1. ALF says:

    If we could make an environmental theme for a think tank initiative we could find some real practical solutions, and evaluate from suggestions etc,,, the preparedness of participants to accept and incorporate new eco-concepts.