Record Number of Student-Run Ventures Moves into TechArb


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — A record 19 new companies founded by young University of Michigan entrepreneurs will share space in the TechArb student business incubator for the next six months.

Students are commercializing low-cost medical tools that could save lives in developing nations. They’re creating apps that inspire dieters to lose weight, or help you organize to-do lists and other quick notes. They’re opening a prep school in China. And more.

Organizers received more applications than ever this session. Thanks to an expanded space down the street from TechArb’s previous location, they were able to accommodate more companies.

“Today we have more student entrepreneurs than ever in TechArb pursuing their dreams to impact our world,” said Moses Lee, the new assistant director of student ventures at the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship.

Now in its seventh session, TechArb has nurtured more than 80 fledgling firms since it began in 2008 with a little Ikea furniture and some big ideas. A group of students launched it. The university adopted it in fall 2009.

Today it continues to educate entrepreneurs, graduate successful ventures, and even attract other tech companies to Ann Arbor. California-based software firm Cataphora recently opened an office next door. In 2010, best-selling travel app company Mobiata located within the incubator and ended up hiring some of its other residents. 

“TechArb has helped put the entrepreneurship spotlight on Ann Arbor,” Lee said.

The newest cohort of companies includes:

•    DIIME, a venture spun out of a global health design mechanical engineering class that took students to Africa. The company is building a better blood transfusion device to replace the current “soup ladle” method used during childbirth in Ghana.

•    CentriCycle, which began as a student club project. With old bicycle parts, the company has created a low-cost blood centrifuge for use as a diagnostic tool in clinics in rural India.

•    Fantasy Fitness League, a web and mobile platform that leverages the global fantasy sports phenomenon. It is designed to help dieters stay motivated to lose weight by making it a friendly competition for “leagues” of up to six players.

•    Fetchnotes, a quick note-taking app for smart phones. Already featured in a Wall Street Journal blog post, its aim is to replace pen and paper or self-texting for items you need to remember on-the-go. The team has released a prototype version.

•    Educatrium, which is founding a prep school in China. The company focuses on teaching English, preparing students to take standardized tests, and assisting with college applications.

Students are looking forward to taking their ventures to the next level. In the coming months, DIIME will test its Hemafuse blood transfusion device with U-M Health System pathologists. Fantasy Fitness League will build a beta product. Centricyle will identify sustainable funding sources.

“TechArb’s connections to venture capitalists, industry leadership and grant competitions will be invaluable,” said CentriCycle cofounder and chemical engineering student Alexander Thinath.

But the most important thing the incubator does is educate.

“TechArb’s job is to empower our students with an entrepreneurial skill set and mindset,” Lee said. “So much of entrepreneurship can only be learned by doing.”

TechArb is sponsored by the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship and the Ross School of Business’s Zell-Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.


Center for Entrepreneurship:

Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies:

Whitney Dye contributed to this story.