BTN LiveBIG: Detroit students feeling MPowered

Born out of passion and fueled by desire or necessity, entrepreneurship lives at the intersection of innovation and ownership. And, from small clubs across the country to the television show “Shark Tank,” entrepreneurship is all the rage right now.

A group of University of Michigan undergraduates is taking their love for the entrepreneurial spirit and spreading that love to high school students in Detroit, through their on-campus organization called MPowered.

In an ambitious program called Startup High School, the MPowered team built a competition for Detroit high schoolers to pitch their own innovative business ideas. The MPowered team wanted to show the high school students that they have the ability and opportunity to go beyond the confines of the standard academic path.

Startup High School is currently taking student submissions at pitch.startuphighschool.org. They are actively recruiting Detroit high schools to participate. The MPowered team is aiming for 500 participants. The winners get scholarships between $1,000 to $2,000.

LiveBIG talked to University of Michigan undergrads and team leads Jerry Xu and Peter Su about Startup High School.

Most of the team working on MPowered’s Startup High School are underclassmen at the University of Michigan.  Can you tell us how you got involved?

Entrepreneurship is something we are passionate about and every person on our team believes that this is not something we should keep to ourselves. The things we learned through entrepreneurship – team building, leadership, partnership, coping with uncertainty – translate to success wherever we go… whether it is in school, at work, or in our personal lives.

We remember our crazy ideas back in high school where there weren’t that many available resources where we could explore those ideas. Startup High School strives to expose and excite students to entrepreneurship as well as to provoke them to think entrepreneurially. Through the workshops and competition, we want to be a contributor to high school student’s success and growth.

In our freshmen year, we discovered MPowered, the entrepreneurship-focused student organization at the University of Michigan. At MPowered, students from all disciplines come together to develop amazing projects, such as the world’s largest student-led pitch competition, called “1,000 Pitches,” as well as MHacks and Startup Career Fair.

What has been the hardest part of putting this initiative together?

The hardest part is the fact that our team is not from Detroit. So we are working very hard to develop relationships in Detroit. Each of our team members is connected with a few students who are interested in Startup High School, at every school we visit. We team up with these students to plan events as well as explore the best ways to interact with their peers at their schools.

The relationships we build do not stop with Startup High School’s competition. Our goal is to get to know the students at a personal level and encourage them to further explore entrepreneurship through mentoring and coaching.

What has been the best “pitch” you have seen from a student team?

The best pitch was one about utilizing an abandoned lot and converting it into a place for restaurants. The group took advantage of the resources around them and converted it into something that would attract people to come. Their solution addressed the problem of empty lots in Detroit and used it to their advantage. In addition, their idea was scalable and could be grown over time.

What makes a pitch a “winning” pitch?

Good pitches will clearly identify a problem that needs to be solved and then thoroughly explain how their idea solves that problem. Great pitches go a step further and show how the idea is viable and sustainable. This could be through presenting customer or market research to prove that people actually want the idea; or it could be through explaining the business model and how the idea will actually generate enough money to sustain it; or it could be through presenting a prototype or trial run of the idea.

The four values of your team are Partnership, Unconventional Thinking, Development, and Commitment. Can you explain why these are the foundational values for your MPowered team?

Entrepreneurship is not just about an idea, but also about networking and building relationships with all those around us: our schools, our peers, our communities. We want everyone involved in Startup High School to challenge and be challenged by a multitude of ideas.

We highly value our partnerships because Startup High School couldn’t be done alone. Without the support of the administrators, teachers, students, and other people and organizations, Startup High School would have never even taken root.

Wherever it may come from, our friends, those older, those younger, our mistakes, development keeps us on the right track and allows us to ensure that we have direction. Commitment teaches us to not be afraid of uncertainty and of discouragement. It brings us closer to understanding ourselves, our peers, and our community.

Startup High School encourages everyone to think outside of the box. Whether it is team members coming up with ways to make our events more exciting or high school students coming up with solutions to the problems that they encounter.

MPowered

For more information on Startup High School, check out their website mpowered.umich.edu/startuphighschool/

You can also use the site to register a student to participate.

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2 Comments

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Jay Lapdog on 2/26/2014 @ 6:26pm EDT Said:

Go for yours … and GO BLUE!

Carol Summerfield on 2/27/2014 @ 4:29pm EDT Said:

It’s a great program and one the U of M should be proud of. We were glad to give them a little press.