Graduates of Three Michigan Universities Lead Business Start-ups


Graduates of Michigan’s University Research Corridor — made up of the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, and Wayne State University —  start or acquire businesses at double the national average rate among college graduates. They were also 1.5 times as successful as the average U.S. business owner at keeping those start-ups and acquisitions operating in the past five years.

One of those success stories is Julie Aigner Clark, a graduate of Michigan State. On Tuesday, Aigner Clark released Happy Appy — an app that sends users a daily video featuring funny animals, inoffensive pranks, or laughing babies. She says she created the app in response to being inundated by unpleasant news and “wanted to create something simple that could incite a smile and would appeal to people of all ages.”

Clark is also the creator behind Baby Einstein, a line of toys that specialize in interactive activities for preschool children. She is among the 19 percent of URC alumni who have started at least one compan and credits MSU with helping her to develop and launch her businesses by teaching her how to be self-reliant.

“Being in classes as large as those at MSU actually had advantages — one being that no one was babysitting you as a student,” Clark says. “This sort of forced independence meant that you had to put demands on yourself that are similar to what you go through as an entrepreneur. When you work toward creating a start-up business, you often do so on your own.”

Jeff Mason, executive director of URC, says the three universities are doing more every year to promote an entrepreneurial spirit among faculty, students, and alumni, “both because they see the demand from students, but also believe that it’s the right thing to do,” he says.

Noting that entrepreneurs are starting companies at a younger age, he says “one of the thing we think is contributing to that is that these universities have a variety of programs like degree granting initiatives and business incubators.” These include Blackstone LaunchPad at WSU and TechArb at U-M.

“The more this kind of activity start and grows, it’s going to be a snowball effect,” Mason says. “It’s just going to build on itself.”

In related news, a Nobel Prize in physics has been awarded to Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for their work developing the theory of what is known as the Higgs field, which gives elementary particles mass. A team of Wayne State University researchers played a significant role in the experimental aspects of the discovery.