Student Innovation & Social Entrepreneurship

Student innovators and entrepreneurs at the School of Public Health have a number of resources to help them pursue their ideas--because today's students will solve tomorrow's public health problems.

Innovation in Action

IIA LogoThe Innovation in Action competition harnesses the talents of Michigan students to address real-world problems. The program equips students with an innovator's toolkit in a supportive environment where they combine new, marketable skills in innovation and social entrepreneurship with their creativity and passion to make an impact.

The 2018-19 competition will start with team formation in September 2018 at the University of Michigan, one of the world's most interdisciplinary universities. Through the course of this competitive 5-month, trans-disciplinary experience, student teams will:

  • Invent, design, and steward your innovation.
  • Meet new people from across the university and beyond, encounter new concepts, and develop a greater understanding of real-world problems.
  • Hone your innovation and entrepreneurial skills through modules--the program's experiential learning framework.
  • Gain new skills in innovation, social entrepreneurship, and public presentations.
  • Fully develop your idea and be prepared to pitch it to a panel of experts in innovation and social entrepreneurship.
  • Compete for cash prizes up to $10,000.

PUBHLTH622: Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Public Health

What does it take to launch a startup? 

The Entrepreneurship and Innovation in Public Health course brings experts from across the region and the U.S. to share a primer on developing an idea into a startup. This course is based on the premise that in order to improve the public's health, we need to create a new economy— a public health economy. To develop new business models for improving public health we need to understand the role innovation plays in business generally and startup culture specifically. From financing, law and developing minimal viable products to sales and lead generation, this course features weekly guest instructors who will provide their expertise on that class' focus area.

The course is open to any undergraduate or graduate U-M student who is interested in entrepreneurship, social entrepreneurship, and public health. Learn more.


Innovator Profiles

Members of three IIA teams were named to Innovate Blue's "Wolverine Women to Watch 2016," a list of innovative female students from across the University of Michigan. See their stories below, and read about all of these innovators on the Innovate Blue blog.

CARt

 CARt

 CARt team members Ali Jensen, Stacey Matlen, Christine Priori, and Mikaela Rodkin

  • Ali Jensen, School of Public Health MPH
  • Stacey Matlen, School of Public Health MPH
  • Christine Priori, Ross School of Business and School of Public Health MBA/MPH
  • Mikaela Rodkin, School of Natural Resources and the Environment and the Ross School of Business MS/MBA

CARt was formed when an all-female team came together a year and a half ago because of a passion for solving food insecurity. "We were sick of our neighbors eating canned beans for dinner. We were sick of kids only getting two meals a day. We were sick of reading about malnutrition and its impact on obesity and health," says the team.

Ali Jensen, Christine Priori, Mikaela Rodkin, and Stacey Matlen then channeled that anger and despair to fuel an innovative approach to increase access to healthy, affordable food.

Through the School of Public Health's Innovation in Action program the team formed CARt, a transportation and ridesharing service subsidized by supermarkets that provides more shoppers access to healthy, affordable foods at grocery stores often out of reach for those without access to reliable transportation. By getting people to the supermarket, says the team, CARt gives people the choice to purchase healthier foods and aren't burdened by the premium price.

Grocery stores subsidize the rides, and in return can expand their customer base, allow for more frequent grocery trips from current consumers, have an alternative creative method to market their store, and positively impact their community.

A transportation-limited individual had a few options of getting to the grocery store, such as busing and walking, but no method afforded them the freedom or convenience a personal vehicle would. We decided to tap into rideshare companies, such as Uber, who were not reaching our target population. With CARt, we coordinate rideshare rides to get people out of food-insecure neighborhoods and into fully-stocked supermarkets, with the intent of getting them to healthier, more affordable food.

In March 2015, CART formed an LLC and last summer completed a month-long pilot with a major Midwest regional grocery store chain. And the team recently returned from SXSW in Austin, Texas, where they were pitching the company as part of the University of Michigan's presence there.

The CARt team has been active in several entrepreneurship programs at U-M, including CFE Jump Start grants and advising, the Michigan Business Challenge – Social Impact Track, Women Who Launch activities, and more.

Village

  •  Village App

     Village App team members Michelle Jackson, Betty Ku, and Nishan Bose

    Michelle Jackson, School of Information Masters Student 

For working parents, making it to a job on time and coordinating childcare pick-up and drop-off can present more than a few challenges. Thanks to UMSI student Michelle Jackson's idea for the Village App, parents with small support networks may not have to go it alone.

Michelle, along with fellow School of Information masters student Betty Ku and alumnus Nishan Bose, began by assessing current mobile ridesharing applications that offer transportation services for a fee. They then incorporated their findings into a prototype design that they shared with experienced entrepreneurs in early December 2015. The result was the Village App, an affordable mobile application that allows moms to expand their support network while streamlining transportation coordination.

"My vision for the project is for this to become a tool that moms can use to lean on each other and reduce burden of child transportation and time on the road, so that they can have more time to pursue professional and personal interests and needs," says Jackson.

The international, multilingual team developed the application through an entrepreneurship course taught at the School of Information (SI 663: Entrepreneurship in the Information Industry). Jackson credits instructor Nancy Benovich Gilby for providing mentorship that helped guide her and her team through customer discovery interviews, market analysis and other start-up must haves as they developed a final demo to showcase to seasoned entrepreneurs.

Jackson also participated in the School of Public Health's Innovation in Action competition, where students get the chance to get feedback from entrepreneurs in the community. Jackson says the professional development and mentorship aspects of her experiences have been extremely rewarding. "I've enjoyed learning from professionals at Menlo Innovations about product development best practices, and speaking with Monte Montgomery about storytelling techniques."

The Village App team is currently developing a minimum viable prototype to test with potential users. After that, they plan to seek venture capital funding in support of Village App.

Skillet 

  •  Skillet

     Skillet team members Abigail Schachter, Margaret Dowling, and Lily Hamburger

    Abigail Schachter, School of Public Health MPH
  • Margaret Dowling, School of Public Health MPH
  • Lily Hamburger, Ross School of Business MBA

We're passionate about Skillet because we all love to eat, says this all-female team. "Busy people need access to convenient, high-quality, healthy food without the burdens of meal planning and shopping," says School of Public Health student Abigail Schachter.

Their venture Skillet aims to bring unique recipes and local ingredients right to daily commutes, taking planning and shopping out of the equation to let customers enjoy preparing and eating healthy, delicious food. Skillet creates and sells grab-and-go dinner kits that contain a recipe and all the fresh ingredients needed to cook dinner.

While working for a non-governmental organization in India, MBA candidate Lily Hamburger got up close and personal with the consequences of malnutrition. "The kinds of foods available to rich communities are not necessarily the same foods available to poor communities," she says. "Essentially, I see nutrition as a human right."

Last year, Lily and her current partners, Margaret Dowling and Abigail Schachter, came together through the School of Public Health's Innovation in Action program over a common interest in addressing food insecurity and making healthy eating more accessible for all income levels. "We were all motivated by this social mission for a variety of reasons," says Abigail. "For me, it was the interest in using nutrition as a disease prevention and wellness tool. We considered several solutions during Innovation in Action, and Skillet was the most viable idea to come out of that process."

Initially the Skillet team focused on providing low-income areas with proper nutrition. They say that while their venture has been modified in order to become financially viable, the social mission to advocate for healthy nutrition and making healthy foods more accessible has remained the same.

The team says running Skillet and being full-time students is no easy task. "We feel like we could be spending all of our time on this, but we're honest with each other, we prioritize and try to get as much done as we can," says Lily.

After their experience with Innovation in Action, the Skillet team was keyed in to U-M's entrepreneurial offerings across campus, including the Startup at the Center for Entrepreneurship, Zell Entrepreneurship and Law Clinic and TechArb Student Incubator.

The idea is that one day Skillet kits will be sold in smart self-service kiosks in convenient locations that customers pass by everyday, like workplaces, gyms, schools, and apartment buildings.


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