U-M aims to offer entrepreneurial education to all undergrads


In an effort to offer formal entrepreneurship education to all U-M undergraduates within the next two years, Provost Martha Pollack has appointed an engineering professor with a proven entrepreneurial track record as a senior adviser.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate dean for entrepreneurial programs at the College of Engineering and a professor of atmospheric, oceanic and space sciences as well as aerospace engineering, will serve as senior counselor for entrepreneurial education for a two-year term beginning immediately.

Thomas Zurbuchen will serve as senior counselor for entrepreneurial education. Photo by Doug Coombe.

“We see this role as one that not only knits together the university’s existing resources in entrepreneurship education, but also expands them, to offer as many students as possible an chance to develop entrepreneurial skills,” Pollack said. “This is a step we’re taking for the education of our students, but I see tremendous potential for its effects to ripple through our state and nation.”

Zurbuchen’s main charge is to lead the design of a program in entrepreneurship that will be open to all majors, and to put it in place as early as fall 2014. One form the program could take would be an academic minor. Zurbuchen will work with all 19 U-M schools and colleges to set the curriculum and the parameters.

He’s also tasked with coordinating and growing the university’s already broad array of entrepreneurial co-curricular activities, such as the TechArb student business incubator, the startup career fair, various business plan and idea competitions, and some 16 innovation-related student clubs across campus. He will aim to enhance opportunities for all students, especially those in smaller schools, and find ways to mesh the co-curricular and academic programs.

“Our goal is to create the best creativity toolset in the world for students who want to learn how to ‘be the difference’ anywhere in the world,” Zurbuchen said. “A lot of this, we won’t have to build. We just need to bundle. Entrepreneurial activities have grown tremendously here over the past decade. This isn’t a top-down effort. This energy is coming mostly from the bottom up, and that’s how revolutions happen.”

Anchored in the Stephen M. Ross School of Business and more recently in the College of Engineering, a culture of entrepreneurship has become more and more embedded in recent years.

Today, U-M offers close to 40 undergraduate entrepreneurship classes taught by professors from 17 different departments including business, engineering, education, law, psychology, art and design, and English language and literature. An estimated 600 undergrads are enrolled in these classes or university-sponsored offerings such as the nine-credit-hour Program in Entrepreneurship, TechArb, the Michigan Business Challenge competition and the Dare to Dream grant program. In addition, thousands more each year take part in extracurricular and student-led endeavors. The annual 1,000 Pitches idea competition organized by student organization MPowered Entrepreneurship has gathered more than 4,000 submissions this year, for example.

“Entrepreneurship is one of the fastest growing segments of business education today,” said Alison Davis-Blake, the Edward J. Frey Dean of the Ross School of Business. “It is a hallmark of the Ross education and culture. Students benefit from innovative programs, hands-on experiences, and cross-campus collaborations that make our school and the university synonymous with entrepreneurship education. Expanding offerings to reach even more undergraduates will further bolster the university’s reputation as the best place to develop successful entrepreneurs.”

Zurbuchen, who joined U-M in 1996, launched the Center for Entrepreneurship in the College of Engineering in 2008 and has shepherded the growth of its influence over the past five years.

“One of the ways CFE has been incredibly successful is in its massive collaboration,” said James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education. “It started as an engineering initiative, but Thomas insisted on reaching out to other schools and colleges from the get-go. He has demonstrated that you can launch this kind of program and give students the kind of educational experience they need in a way that reaches across campus.”

The CFE’s Program in Entrepreneurship was originally geared toward engineering students, but over the years has been modified and approved by academic administrators in most of the university’s units. The program is now available to nearly 90 percent of undergrads. These efforts can go both broader and deeper.

“Every student can benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset, where smart risk-taking, a can-do attitude and learning from failures are the norm,” said David Munson, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. “Our programs at U-M are about a lot more than traditional startup companies. Some of our faculty and students are passionate about other areas of entrepreneurial endeavor, such as social transformation or success in the arts.”

The new academic program that Zurbuchen will implement grew out of a provost-led committee that included representatives from across campus. It will strive to graduate leaders who are comfortable working in mixed teams and who know how to listen, Holloway said.

“Entrepreneurship is really about how you look at the world, understand where you bring value and then how you actually achieve that. That’s not a capacity limited to any one discipline,” Holloway said. “We want to connect students around this change-maker role so those studying art, science and humanities can understand how each of them brings unique capabilities to the table.”

As a central partner in planning the campuswide entrepreneurship program, LSA is excited to see the effort come to fruition, said Interim Dean Susan Gelman, the Heinz Werner Distinguished University Professor of Psychology.

“The combination of broad knowledge, deep thinking and creative problem-solving that lies at the heart of a liberal arts education aligns exceptionally well with an entrepreneurship focus, as evidenced by the central involvement of LSA students in entrepreneurship activities across campus,” Gelman said.

The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine ranked U-M the top university in the nation in 2013 for graduate-level entrepreneurship programs — largely in recognition of the programs and courses offered through the Ross School of Business’ Samuel Zell & Robert H. Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies.

Since its inception, Zell Lurie has provided scholarships, grants, competition awards and internship funding totaling more than $3 million to help advance new venture development and the entrepreneurial skill set of more than 5,000 students. In 2012, Ross and CoE launched a unique new Master of Entrepreneurship degree program.

Zurbuchen is the founder of the U-M Solar and Heliospheric Research Group, which is funded at approximately $1.5 million per year. The group currently operates and analyzes data from instruments on spacecraft studying the planet Mercury and the solar wind — a stream of energetic particles emanating from the sun.



  1. Nkanu Effime
    on January 21, 2014 at 4:49 pm

    I want 2 be an entreprenurial member 2 achieve my goal.

  2. Colby Moore
    on October 3, 2014 at 2:08 pm


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