15 Innovative Female Students to Watch in 2015

It’s a good time to be a female entrepreneur. According to a study by American Express OPEN, the number of female-owned businesses in the U.S. has increased more than 54% in the last 15 years. The same study ranks Michigan among the top states in the nation for women-owned business, but only 33rd in the number of women-owned firms from 1997-2014. So while entrepreneurship among women is growing, we clearly have a long way to go.

In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s day we’re recognizing “15 for ‘15” female U-M student innovators to keep an eye on this year. The list includes both undergraduate and graduate students from a broad swath of schools and colleges, including the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, School of Information, School of Public Health, Ross School of Business, Stamps School of Art + Design, the Medical School, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and more.

So what will the next 15 years bring? If these University of Michigan students are any indication, it will be full of bold, innovative women entrepreneurs. Just remember where you heard about them first.

Heidi Terpstra

Undergraduate Student in Literature, Science, and the Arts

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Helping Students Be the Change They Want to See in the World

Heidi Terpstra wants students to stop waiting for someone else to change the world and ask, “Why not me?” As president of optiMize, an organization that brings together students who are passionate about making an impact, she’s building a community to provide students with the space to bring their socially innovative ideas to life. And the optiMize reach is impressive. So far, more than 600 students have been involved from 17 of the 19 schools and colleges at U-M.

“I would never have seen myself in my position today when I first joined the organization a year and a half ago,” says Terpstra. “optiMize has not only shown me the innovative paths to making a positive impact, but has also introduced me to a community of people who are doing great things.”

The flagship optiMize program is the Social Innovation Challenge. Over the course of the winter semester, multidisciplinary student teams develop ideas to make the world better into real, implementable projects. This year’s final showcase takes place on April 16th where the top 5 teams will present their project and ideas for a chance to win up to $6,000 per team.

Jordana Schrager

Undergraduate Student at STAMPS Art + Design, business minor at Ross School of Business


Photo courtesy of Crain’s Detroit.

Designing School Spirit You Can Wear

Art and design major Jordana Schrager started designing sneakers when she was a sophomore in high school. She first doodled on a pair of old white Vans for herself and wore them around town. Her peers took notice, and not long after her venture SNICKS was born.

Jordana wants SKICKS to become the top school spirit collegiate sneaker in the country. “Once I arrived at the University of Michigan, my business grew dramatically…the design skills I’ve learned have enabled me to improve my designs,” says Schrager. In addition to boosting design skills through Stamps, Jordana says her classes at Ross Business School really helped to grow her company. She was particularly inspired by an entrepreneurship course with Professor Len Middleton – ES 250.

As a result, Jordana has expanded her customer base, and has made sneakers for celebrities like Nick Cannon, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, and Pink.

“My involvement in the entrepreneurship programs at U-M has been an incredible experience for me in many ways. On one hand, I am learning business and entrepreneurial lessons from world-class faculty businessmen and women that have themselves been incredible entrepreneurs. At the same time, I have the opportunity to apply many of these lessons I am learning in my classes with my own businesses, making for an unbelievable learning experience,” says Jordana.

Lily Samimi & Kruthi Sabnis Krishna

Graduate Students at the School of Information

Photo by Jay Jackson

Transforming the Design Education Experience

Lily and Kruthi have teamed up with the School of Information’s Entrepreneurship Program to give students real-world design practice, while helping entrepreneurs and community members create the perfect product. They’re piloting The Design Clinic, a consulting service that allows students studying user experience to flex their design muscles and put everything they are learning into practice.

“Our hope for the future of The Design Clinic is to have a scalable and sustainable model that integrates into the School of Information,” says Lily. “We want this to be part of every student’s education in design.”

Kruthi shares that vision, and imagines the design clinic as a kind of consultancy inside the university, which leverages skills from various schools such as engineering, business, information and art to provide design services and spread design thinking to entrepreneurial ventures within and outside of U-M.

“So far The Design Clinic has been highly successful,” says Kruthi. “We have worked with 11 students and taken on around 20 client projects.” And the university is taking notice. Recently, The Design Clinic received a grant from the Provost’s office to evolve the clinic moving their vision one step closer to reality.

Lily and Kruthi credit UMSI’s Entrepreneurship Program for helping to get The Design Clinic up and running. “I would say the most impactful aspect for me is having mentors and support from the U-M community to pursue my passion. Having a supportive, inspiring and empowering community goes a long way,” says Lily.

Read more about Lily, Kruthi, and UMSI’s Design Clinic.

Lamees Mekkaoui & Sushmitha Diraviam

Undergraduate Students at Literature, Science, and the Arts
Lamees_Change of MindSushmitha_Change of Mind

Decidedly Stressed? Here’s How to Change your Mind

Lamees Mekkaoui and Sushmitha Diraviam are hoping to make the world a less stressful place. Through their mobile/web application, Change of Mind, they aim to change the anxiety treatment experience with reminders and on-the-go exercises. The tool aims to address the gap between treatments and emphasizes social support. The team is currently talking with clinicians at U-M’s Depression Center, and expects to launch trials of the app soon.

“U-M provides so many resources for students interested in pursuing a venture. This is a great community to advance an idea where many people want you to succeed,” says Mekkaoui.

The Change of Mind team has certainly made the most of these resources, joining treks to New York City with the School of Information and San Francisco with the Center for Entrepreneurship at the College of Engineering. They’re also a part of TechArb, U-M’s student startup accelerator, and were a finalist in the Innovation in Action competition.

The Change of Mind team also includes Sean Ma, Evan Gennrich, and Aaron Schippert.

Anna Sadovnikova

Graduate Student at the School of Public Health

Anna S. SXSW

Creating a Better Breastfeeding Experience

Anna Sadovnikova is applying an idea she learned abroad and honed here at U-M to empower mothers to take control of their breastfeeding experience. After spending a month in Brazil learning therapeutic massage for breastfeeding women, she and her U-M team came up with a lactation simulation model to improve the breastfeeding experience which led to her venture Liquid Gold Concept, LLC.

“We intend to sell it to nursing, medical schools, and lactation programs to train future health professionals in various lactation procedures–from breast abscess ultrasound to manual expression of breast milk,” says Anna.

Anna and her team developed the idea while participating in U-M’s Innovation in Action, a six-month program through the School of Public Health in partnership with the College of Engineering’s Center for Entrepreneurship. Liquid Gold Concept also includes Samantha Koehler (MPH), Jeff Plott (Engineering PhD), and Ileisha Sanders (MPH).

U-M’s resources have helped Anna and her team propel Liquid Gold Concept forward. In addition to Innovation in Action, they’ve received advice from the Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Clinic at the Law School, grants from the Center for Entrepreneurship, help from Stamps in designing their prototype, and consulting from both nursing and medical schools.

Recently, Anna and her team were at SXSW telling their story at the U-M exhibit, where they received a lot of attention. Check out some of the coverage here.

Alexandra Pulst-Korenberg & Heather Ray

Medical Student and MBA Student at Ross School of Business &
MBA Student at Ross School of Business
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Untangling the IV

Not long ago, Alex and Heather teamed up to make life easier and safer for hospital patients and healthcare providers. Their venture, EasyIV, organizes what is usually a tangled mess of medical lines and cords. It allows patients to move around easier after surgery, enables providers to quickly identify different medications in an emergency, and decreases the chances of tripping over lines that drag on the floor. Alex and Heather are currently working to make these devices available and affordable for all hospital providers.

Alex has been a member of the Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund since fall 2013, pitched at the Michigan Business Challenge, and received two Dare to Dream grants. She also co-founded Women Who Launch, an initiative to promote women in entrepreneurship.

“I’ve learned a great deal about venture capital and evaluating early stage startups through ZLCF. And I hope Women Who Launch will empower other women who are interested in entrepreneurship to pursue their dreams in spite of the barriers that women face in the entrepreneurial and venture capital communities,” says Pulst-Korenberg. 

Kiri Chapman

Undergraduate Student at the School of Music, Theatre and Dance

Revolutionizing the High Heel

Dance major Kiri Chapman may just revolutionize the way women wear shoes. Her venture, HeelSecret, is a small insert for high heels that can make these often unstable shoes easier to walk in.

Chapman is a dancer who came to U-M after spending time with a professional ballet troupe. She often had trouble keeping her heels in pointe shoes and created a makeshift solution to keep them snug, yet flexible. She thought, why not try this with heels?

Her entrepreneurship journey began with the Center for Entrepreneurship (CFE) in the College of Engineering when she enrolled in the 9-credit program in entrepreneurship and began taking action on her idea.

“I learned a lot in that class, but perhaps most importantly I gained the personal contacts, and through them the confidence to pursue an idea,” she says.

She took her idea from the practicum to a provisional patent application with the help of a Jump Start Grant funded by the CFE. Chapman also came in second at the Accelerate Michigan competition this year, gaining $5,000 to help create more prototypes. She also plans to launch a Kickstarter campaign soon.

“My life and work has been enriched by the community of entrepreneurs that I have encountered here at Michigan, and I encourage anyone who has an idea, a creative spark, or a dream, to join in this movement and call yourself an entrepreneur,” says Kiri.

Camille Merritt

MBA Student at Ross School of Business

Helping High School Students Succeed

Camille Merritt is helping high school students stay on track to get into college, and perhaps some day call themselves Wolverines. Her venture, Graduate, is an online platform and mobile application that helps students and parents know which courses and requirements are completed, and what they still need to accomplish in order to graduate from high school in four years.

Camille teamed up with business and computer science sophomore Eric Katz to get Graduate going. Their vision is to transform the way educators, students, and parents think about success in school. “I want every student and parent to understand their expectations every step of the way in their education, and use that information to make forward looking decisions,” says Camille. “I’m starting in high school because I believe there is a huge opportunity to connect high school expectations with college admissions. I hope to one day apply this to higher education to ensure college level students have the information they need to graduate on time, which I hope will improve overall college completion rates,” says Camille.

Graduate was recently accepted into the School of Information Design Clinic at Tech Arb where they will work with a group of students to develop prototypes for their platform. Camille is also director of fund development for the Ross School’s Social Venture Fund, And along with being a semi-finalist in the Michigan Business Challenge and a Dare to Dream grant recipient, she is involved in Women Who Launch and the Entrepreneur and Venture Club at Ross.

Maria Gosur

Graduate Student at the School of Information

Photo by Jay Jackson

Bringing Positivity to People Living with HIV

When Maria Gosur first came to U-M, she was full of ideas. As a master’s student in the School of Information, Maria first sought advice from UMSI’s entrepreneurship program, where she was encouraged her to pick a project and go for it. Not long after, her entrepreneurial journey began.

With her mobile application, LivWel, Maria aims to help people living with HIV manage their healthcare as well as their self-care. She and her team, which includes a diverse group of students from the College of Engineering, School of Public Health, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Ross School of Business, recently took home the top prize at the Innovation in Action competition and are planning to launch the app this summer.

“If there is one thing I’ve learned in all this it’s that a person can do far more than they think they can,” says Maria. “When there is a passion, there is an inner drive that takes over, and somehow when you chip away at a project it starts coming together and you can manage each obstacle as they come. There is always someone out there willing to help.”

Maria credits much of her success to her experience at the School of Information. “It’s changed my life at U-M greatly, vastly improved my real-world experience, and I am so energized by its activity,” she says. Read more about Maria here.

Karen Doh & Alexis Wilson

Undergraduate Students at Literature, Science, and the Arts
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Walking the Runway with Purpose

With NOiR, Alexis Wilson and Karen Doh are making more than a fashion statement. Not only does this U-M student group celebrate fashion and diversity in its runway shows, it donates its proceeds to community nonprofits.

NOiR president Karen Doh says focusing on their community service mission by volunteering at least twice a month at the Ypsilanti Boys & Girls club and following the motto “Be Kind. Be Bold. Be You.” is most important. NOiR is also well known for an annual fashion show that celebrates innovation, creativity, and diversity at U-M. This year’s fashion show proceeds go to children’s literacy.

Alexis Wilson, who handles marketing for NOiR, says she’s motivated by the organization’s entrepreneurship connection. She also credits her involvement with U-M’s entrepreneurial community as a key driver. “Becoming involved with the Center of Entrepreneurship was one of the best choices I could have made for my academic career,” she says. “By pursing a minor in entrepreneurship I am able to take classes that will benefit and build my future. There is nothing more exciting than being around driven people who are seeking to obtain the same entrepreneurial aspects as myself.”

Read more about NOiR.

Marianna Kerppola

Erb Institute Graduate Student pursuing master’s degrees at the Ross School of Business and the School of Natural Resources and Environment

Delivering Dignity with Every Purchase

Want to feel good about the next product you buy? You might want to check out BetterHope, Marianna Kerppola’s online marketplace. She started the social enterprise on the premise that products made with dignity create prosperity in communities, thereby transforming livelihoods from one generation to the next. BetterHope carefully curates products that create safe and sustainable jobs and shares the stories about the producers who make them, so you can be sure you’re making a positive difference with every dollar spent.

Marianna operates at the nexus of human rights, business, and innovation. She co-founded of Women Who Launch with Alex Pulst-Korenberg, an initiative working to create gender equal entrepreneurial ecosystems at U-M. In Fall 2013, she won a Mayleben Venture Shaping grant through the Zell Lurie Institute (ZLI) at the Ross School, competed in the 2014 Michigan Business Challenge, took part in ZLI’s Marcel Gani internship program, and participated in U-M’s student accelerator, TechArb. She also competed in the inaugural Startup competition through CFE. In 2015, she was awarded the Dow Sustainability Fellowship for her interdisciplinary focus on sustainability.

“It’s been helpful to have wonderful mentors to point me in the right direction and provide emotional support,” she says. Read more about Marianna’s story here.


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