Everything I Need to Know About Entrepreneurship I Learned at the University of Michigan

Last week I was back in Ann Arbor, Michigan for the first time in something like 12 years. It was at the request of Thomas Zurbuchen and Doug Neal who lead the University of Michigan College of Engineering Center for Entrepreneurship.  I was asked to give a talk on entrepreneurship.  The audience for my talk was mostly undergraduate engineering students but the topic was entrepreneurship and I decided to talk about my time at Michigan and how that trained me for a career as an entrepreneur.

Here’s a link to a recording of my talk, complete with a simulcast of the slides.

There were six lessons that I talked about during the talk:

  • Defining a mission
  • Evolving an organization
  • Knowing your customer
  • Working hard, but not too hard
  • Managing risk versus reward
  • Having a can-do attitude

I used the context of my experience on the U of M solar car team almost 20 years ago to share some advice on how to address these topics.  But I suppose the biggest, most important piece of advice I have for aspiring entrepreneurs is to go out and building things (and sell them).  It’s impossible in my view to learn to be an entrepreneur in a classroom (or reading a blog).  The best way to learn is by doing.

The other funny bit of the story is that after I came back from Ann Arbor, I got requests from fellow solar car team members to share some of the photos I used in the presentation (it was mostly a slide show).  In preparing to share them, I downloaded Picasa, a Google product.  Picasa is a picture management tool and as it was searching my hard drives for photos I noticed a new “face recognition” feature.  Well, long story short, this feature allowed me to find this photo below of the solar car team from about 1991 which includes a young Larry Page, co-founder of Google (I’m in the bottom right in case you care!).  Somehow it’s ironic that Google allowed me to find its co-founder in a picture that I’ve had for 18 years and I’ve looked at many times before.