Nicola Hefti: One visitor’s week-long immersion in U-M’s entrepreneurship culture

A young professional working at a startup in Switzerland recently spent one week at the University of Michigan with one goal: soak up as much as he could about innovation and entrepreneurship. His guest blog details a jam-packed week of courses, competitions and camaraderie.

My name is Nicola, I’m a 21-year-old programmer at a small Swiss startup. In the fall of 2015, I came to Ann Arbor for just one week and sampled as many programs as I could through the university’s Innovate Blue network. I did not target a particular week, I just showed up and tried it. Here is what happened.

After looking at the calendar, I made up a program consisting of co-curricular programs and also sat in on some classes here and there. In fact, my schedule ended up being quite intense: It contained medicine, technical and design classes, most of them related to the Center of Entrepreneurship, ArtsEngine, various student organizations, and Ann Arbor tech community events.

What I Participated In

During one single week, I basically saw every key step of a startup, from ideation, finding market match, tech issues, social entrepreneurship issues and also financing and team building. I met cool people from optiMize, MPowered, TechArb and different accelerators, as well as leaders of the local tech scene at meetups where the companies can pitch new ideas.

I visited a class about estimating the cost to launch a new technical product and a class about how the health system works in the US and what you have to follow if you want to produce a health device.

A highlight for me was the Arts for Innovators program set up by community members, where people discussed or presented their idea of design. I was so excited about this that I also participated at the 42 Hours of Re-Creativity sponsored by ArtsEngine. This was a makeathon where the goal was to create something new out of recycled material, in a team of people I had never met before.

What did I learn?

A big part of my week was spent orienting myself in a different environment and entrepreneurial culture. It turns out Americans communicate quite differently than most Swiss. What would be considered over enthusiastic in Switzerland is common language here. Also, everything is bigger and where you could walk in Switzerland, you have to take a cab here, and we were also encouraged to work on bigger ideas as well.

During one single week, I learned a lot about how to start a company. I learned how to use a business model canvas and how to pitch for funding as well as how to do surveys of potential customers, and how to improve upon my initial ideas.

Advice for U-M students 

I would recommend to every U-M student with ideas to explore the many programs the university offers; you can learn a ton in a short time. Of course, you don’t have to squeeze it into a single week – go slower and learn more. And, use Uber, it is faster than the bus to get around town!

Most importantly, find and connect with great people like the ones who helped me find my way, like Jeni Olney who knows more about classes than anybody else I met. Jeff Sorenson is inspiring and has a great network, and Matt Gibson and Brandon McNaughton are unusual teachers because they have done what they talk about! Laurie Baefsky and Mark Jones allowed me to join the 42 hour Makeathon and know all about entrepreneurship programs in and around the arts, a fascinating space!

Go Blue! I will be back!

Written by Nicola Hefti.

Comments (1)
  • Successful Entrepreneuring

    July 5, 2016

    Hey Nicola,

    That’s awesome that you just showed up in Michigan to try Innovate Blue. It sounds like you got a lot out of your week there. I like how the grandness of U.M. opened your eyes to bigger business ideas. Great analogy and great story.

    Thanks for the great insight,

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