Action in Ann Arbor, MI

Late last year, my partner Jason Mendelson and I took a trip to Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan. Jason is an alum, I was merely an interloper. We each had an awesome time and wrote two posts about it – Entrepreneurship in Ann Arbor, Michigan and College Is Like A Sandbox.

Yesterday, our good friend Roger Ehrenberg, also a Michigan alum wrote a post titled Thoughts from Ann Arbor. He covered a bunch of stuff we saw, but also found a few new interesting things.

Regardless, it’s pretty clear that Ann Arbor is working hard at building out a robust startup community around the base of the University of Michigan. I’ve always had a mental model that Ann Arbor is a cool college town that had a lot of similarities to Boulder. It’s fun to see it really come alive on the startup front. And I loved the punch line from Roger’s post:

“While I’ll deal with my view of the next generation of data scientists in a subsequent post, I am incredibly interested in helping to build a dedicated program towards this end at Michigan. All the pieces are there. It just requires some cross-departmental cooperation in order to bring it to life. This is one of my missions for my alma mater: help to pull together a data science program that empowers student/practitioners to solve tomorrow’s problems today. It can be done. It must be done. It will be done.”

Can you name a few famous University of Michigan entrepreneurial alumni? I can. Some might surprise you.

11 Comments on “Action in Ann Arbor, MI”

  1. Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter and
    Larry Page, CEO of Google

    are both umich grads.

  2. Ajay Kapoor says:

    Hi Brad — thanks for taking the time to speak the Startup Michigan today. As we rattled off a handful of names on that call of UofM alums, there are a ton of amazing entrepreneurs/individuals with Michigan ties.

    Check out the list we ( have been aggregating:

    We’d love to figure out a great way to engage them as they visit their home state. Would love any suggestions!

    • bfeld says:

      Invite them to come visit. Pay for their flight and travel – make it really easy for them to come. Arrange a two day type “tour of the local startup community” – put some pomp and circumstance around it (meet the governor, mayor, whatever) along with some real substantive show and tell of the entrepreneurial stuff going on. If the person still has family, make it -1 or +1 day around a holiday weekend.

    • Michael Gaiss says:

      Key is to focus on creating an overly compelling reason for them to come back – great content around how the entrepreneurial ecosystem is advancing that involves a who’s who of leaders making this happen from across state (including rising star entrepreneurs, celebs). Play to the opportunity to give back to further help revitalize Michigan angle and think about creative ways you can enable this. I’d worry less about covering expenses (most of these folks have plenty of $), and nail the compelling reason and anchor around 1-2 really big entrepreneurial names that will help draw the rest.

      If UMich oriented, go for a fall Friday before a game, have a Thursday evening dinner followed by Friday content/meetings, with optional stay through weekend with tickets to game provided. If Detroit focused, perhaps do same for June or Sep Tigers game (everyone from the state has them in their hearts).

      • bfeld says:

        Agree with everything except “covering expenses.” It’s a weird friction point – if you offer it, many turn it down, but just by offering you eliminate a tiny bit of friction that stalls a lot of people for no good reason.

      • Michael Gaiss says:

        Maybe and perhaps more around the logistical friction vs. expense (i.e., arrange hotel blocks, make it easy/seamless to get around, etc). I think back to an event Mark Weiser of RPM Ventures did in September 2005 to bring U Michigan alums in the VC community back to Ann Arbor for a one day conference. He pulled like 50 of the 90 alums out there to come in, all on their own dime, and that vast majority from the coasts. Pulled together a great agenda of participants that highlighted all the great stuff happening at the university and played to the opportunity to get more involved with what was happening there. Like many universities, strong sense of pride/loyalty in alumni base, with perhaps even a little remorse playing in here for also leaving a struggling state economically. Giveback can be a powerful drawing card.

      • Brad Feld says:

        Yup – right on the money. And yes – it’s all about (a) reducing friction while (b) creating a compelling experience.

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