By Nic Custer

After working closely with the Innovation Incubator to develop her business plan and refine her final presentation, UM-Flint student Ashley Knific won the 2015 School of Management Business Plan Competition and a $5,000 prize in March.

Ashley’s non-profit organization, Jobs 4 Moms1517493_678782812241098_6523167721083925809_n, will provide opportunities for parents and other caregivers to work flexible hours from home while raising their children. According to research, up to 43% of highly qualified women risk their careers when they take leaves of absence to raise their children. Jobs 4 Moms would like to change that statistic.

By using specifically designed software, the company will pair businesses with these skilled workers to generate personal income and reduce resume gaps. Businesses get qualified workers who can still take care of their children or loved ones.

Ashley will use the prize money to launch a viable website.  It will allow the company to develop its online platform to meet the needs of both its employers and parents. Full launch of the company and its services are expected later this year.

As the Incubator’s most recent qualifying not-for–profit client, Ashley also will begin receiving free office space in the Northbank Center this summer.

By Nic Custer

Imagine you are riding in an elevator with a venture capitalist. You have less than one minute before they reach their destination and one chance to convince them why they should invest $100,000 in your business concept. Do you think you could do it?

pitch-clinicThis is the central premise behind a so called “elevator pitch.” Flint residents will have two opportunities to pitch their big ideas in early 2015. First, UM-Flint’s School of Management is holding a Business Plan Competition to celebrate its 40th anniversary. The winning student or alum will receive a $5,000 grand prize. The second competition, sponsored by Michigan State University’s Spartan Innovations, is called Greenlight Flint. This competition is open to anyone in the community as long as their business is less than one year old. The grand prize will also be $5,000 but there will be an additional $5,000 in prizes for second place, third place and crowd favorite. First place will also receive automatic entry to the statewide Greenlight Michigan competition in East Lansing to compete for a $25,000 prize.

To prepare students and community members for the upcoming competitions, the Innovation Incubator partnered with the UM-Flint Entrepreneurs Society to hold a 3-hour business pitch clinic Nov. 20. The clinic coincided with Global Entrepreneurship Week and was one of only nine events in Michigan that celebrated innovators and start-up businesses.

More than 20 people attended the clinic, learning the basics and watching winning competition pitch videos.

Dr. Michael Witt, entrepreneur-in-residence and lecturer in the School of Management, told attendees that a pitch needs to have a hook, should ask for a specific amount and should be 150 – 300 words long. He said the presenters need to have a thick skin when trying to pitch to potential investors. They also need to show they are passionate, have energy and enthusiasm for their idea and how they will make a profit.

A good pitch covers six basics:

  1. What are the products or services offered?
  2. Who is your market?
  3. What is your revenue model
  4. Who are you?
  5. Who is your competition?
  6. What are your advantages and what makes you different?

Eight people pitched their ideas and received feedback from Dr. Witt and President Bryon Killin of the Entrepreneurs Society. Business ideas included a mobile sushi truck, a fire safety coloring book, a mesh internet network, a bib with attached pacifier and a housing redevelopment project. Audience members who didn’t pitch their concepts were able to benefit by hearing the critiques other people received on their pitches and applying it to their own ideas and approaches.

Want to give it a try? Apply these basic rules to your own concept to develop a great pitch and maybe you could be the next grand prize winner.


UM-Flint School of Management Business Plan Competition
Greenlight Flint
Innovation Incubator
Global Entrepreneurship Week

by Nic Custer

There are so many social and environmental problems affecting the world we live in today that sometimes things look pretty bleak. But instead of letting this be a stumbling block, a different kind of entrepreneur has been able to address these needs as opportunities to positively affect the community with radical, new solutions.

These social entrepreneurs are in business to provide a service or product that directly responds to a pressing social need. This can include providing a sense of self-sufficiency to at-risk individuals through offering job skills and work experience, bringing inexpensive water filtration and irrigation products to the developing world, or composting local food waste to create nutrient-rich soil and reduce the impact on landfills. Many social entrepreneurs follow a triple bottom line business model, where not only are profits important to the company but so is its environmental and social impact.

University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator, 432 N. Saginaw St., suite 207, is a co-working and business incubator space that works with community and students to establish start-up businesses and non-profits. Many of these businesses address a need in the larger community through social entrepreneurship.

For example, Charma’s Organic Kitchen is a business that sells locally-grown dehydrated kale and collard green chips. This business is tackling the issue of access to affordable, healthy snacks in “food deserts” or places where availability of healthy, fresh food is limited.

UM-Flint student business, Moses Music Productions, is specifically trying to address a large gender gap in the professional music industry. Part of owner Aleah Moses’ mission is to inspire girls, who are underrepresented in the music industry, to become producers and songwriters.

Stephan McBride is planning his business, Gamerz Den, to be a video gaming and social space. Another UM-Flint student, McBride would like his business to specifically cater towards creating a safe space for less social and autistic gamers, who may feel more comfortable socializing with other people around video games.

Lastly, Nick Looney, a UM-Flint student, is developing his own social entrepreneurship venture which will work with Habitat for Humanity to build and sell tiny houses, which are roughly defined as less than 200 square-foot houses. He plans to hire homeless and at-risk individuals to build the houses and will contribute a portion of his company’s equity to the local Habitat for Humanity to help fund construction of housing for people in need.

There are many ways someone can engage in social entrepreneurship. The Innovation Incubator provides start-ups with business plan development, workspace, referrals, mentoring and workshops including tax accounting, grant writing, business pitches, intellectual property and the triple bottom line business model. All services and programming are available at no charge.

Do you have a business idea that can benefit your community or environment? Fill out the Bright Idea form on the Innovation Incubator’s website at and start your own social venture today!

by Nic Custer

The University of Michigan-Flint campus is larger than just UCEN, French Hall and the Murchie Science Buildings. The campus stretches north of the Flint River including the William S. White building and the Northbank Center, which contains the dance studio, University Outreach and the Innovation Incubator, also known as [IN], located on the building’s second floor.

The following is a top ten list of opportunities and activities available Monday through Friday, nine a.m. to five p.m. for students:


Use the foam cubes to create a desk, fort, throne, tower, podium and any other cool configuration you can think of for maximum productivity or relaxation.


Lounge on the blue couch and watch cable television on the wall-mounted flat screen. The 54” smart television is also connected to the internet and can be used for Skype or just catching up on sports and world news.


[IN] has a large reference library of business- related books and magazines available for browsing.

Sections labeled “Sales and Marketing,” “Legal,” “Budget and finance,” “Start ups,” “Leadership and management” and many more cover the full spectrum of business development and document templates.

A selection of current and back issues from various Michigan and business magazines also fill the shelves including: Fast Company, Wired, dBusiness, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Yes!, FCW, Crain’s Detroit Business and Inc.


The co-working space, NBK 207, is open to both students and community members. It can hold meetings of between 4 and 24 people and is the perfect downtown location for start up businesses looking to meet with perspective clients in a professional setting. It is also a great place to work with other entrepreneurs and develop the next great idea!

Space may be reserved through the staff working in the incubator.


Bring your laptop! [IN] offers WiFi through the university’s MWireless and has plenty of Herman Miller ergonomic Caper chairs to help create a productive atmosphere for guests.


Have a drink! The space also provides a selection of Keurig coffees, hot chocolates and teas, soda pop and a water cooler. Guests are welcome to help themselves to a drink, although there is a suggested donation of .50 cents per item for additional drinks to allow the staff to purchase more items when the stock runs out.


Stay for a workshop, [IN] provides a free series of business- related workshops during the academic year to support students and the community.

Past workshops have included accounting skills, social innovation, women entrepreneurs and many more topics from speakers with years of experience. Registration is recommended as space is limited.


[IN] is able to provide a downtown mailing address to student businesses to give them a secure professional setting to receive letters and packages and send mail from.


One of the most important services the Innovation Incubator offers to start up organizations is business plan development assistance.

Utilizing the business model canvas (taken from the Business Model Generation book by A. Osterwalder and Y. Pigneur, which is available in the reference library) businesses work with [IN] staff to storyboard their target goals, audiences and products allowing them to better realize how to make their business ventures financially successful.


Of course, the best thing for students to do in the incubator is to sign up for free office space and begin their journey towards realizing their business aspirations!

[IN] offers office space on the Northbank Center’s second floor and a huge number of resources and networks to draw from.

All prospective businesses should first fill out the Tell Us Your Bright Idea form, which is sent to the program coordinator, Sara McDonnell. Sara will contact applicants for a one-on-one meeting so the business’s space and technical support needs can be identified.

All students and recent graduates are invited to bring their ideas for a start up and let the Innovation Incubator help them develop the next great product or service.

by Nic Custer

Shop Floor Theatre Company, an ensemble-based theatre company and Innovation Incubator tenant, is preparing to open their initial production, State of Emergency, at the end of February.

The writing team recorded interviews to craft an original script about the effects of Public Act 4, the Emergency Manager law, on the city of Flint.  The verbatim play focuses on the one-year period between PA 4’s enactment in the city (November 2011) and its repeal during the recent elections (November 2012). Writers interviewed street-level activists, residents, a councilperson, professors, Mayor Dayne Walling, former-Emergency Manager Michael Brown, a state of Michigan treasury department official and others.

Director and Co-Founder Andrew Morton said Public Act 4 is an urgent issue affecting Flint and the state but he doesn’t feel there have been enough of the necessary dialogues necessary to understand this issue.

Morton said that while the work is directly relevant to the Flint community, it also contributes to a larger, national conversation, especially relating to verbatim and ensemble-based techniques. He mentioned attending a recent Network of Ensemble Theatres conference in New Orleans where he overheard Michael Rohd, a nationally renowned playwright, casually speaking to someone over dinner about the interesting work being done in Flint.

Early on in the process, Shop Floor held unrecorded story circle sessions with community members to gauge their level of knowledge and identify voices that the script writing team wanted to interview in depth. One of these sessions was held in the Innovation Incubator co-working space. University Outreach at UM-Flint coordinates the Innovation Incubator located at the Northbank Center. Learn more about the Incubator at

Kendrick Jones, Producer and Co-Founder said that their individual office, located in Northbank 238 next to the co-working space, provides a lot of positives. It is centrally located downtown, so it offers access to the university campus, governmental buildings and the business community. He also appreciated the aesthetics of the Northbank Center. Jones said that the historic and appealing exterior of the building gives other businesses a positive sense of the theatre company because of their professional setting.

The main incubator co-working space has also been utilized by the company for conferences, large meetings, auditions, and for important business meetings with vendors and other theater companies, according to Jones.

“It’s great having a space to work from and have meetings in. It helps us feel that this is a serious business or has the potential to be, not just a hobby done in our spare time,” Morton commented.

Shop Floor is growing and both Morton and Jones said that the space and infrastructure (internet, tables, chairs, use of conference rooms), which University Outreach provides through the Incubator space, is vital to the group’s success. Jones mentioned that several other theatre projects are in the works and the company is already booked through 2015.

Rehearsals began in January, shortly after the completion of the script. The ten-member cast, made up of students, alumni and community members, has used the Vault space in the Northbank Center basement for evening rehearsals.

Shop Floor will present a mid-afternoon preview performance for students and residents at Beecher Community School’s ninth grade academy Randall Coates Auditorium, 1020 W. Coldwater Rd., February 22.

The show officially opens February 23 with a 7 p.m. performance at the UM-Flint Theatre, 303 E. Kearsley St. Shop Floor will have two shows at Flint Community Players, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy., (March 2, 7 p.m. and March 3, 3 p.m.) and two final performances downtown at the Masonic Temple, 755 S. Saginaw St. (March 8 and March 9, both at 7 p.m.)

All performances are free and followed by talk back sessions and refreshments.

The February 23 performance will be simulcast online through Newplay TV, an online livestreaming channel, specifically created to show new theatre works. Audiences from all over the world have the ability to watch the production live. There is at least one viewing party scheduled to occur in Saginaw and Morton said there may be another set up in Detroit. Check out for details.

Jones and Morton gave a live “webinar” tele-conference about the production on February 8 in a joint venture with Michigan State University EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation. These lectures generally focus on new ideas being used in Michigan, such as urban food systems, microenterprise development and promoting youth entrepreneurship.

Shop Floor will present at the MSU EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation annual summit this fall. They will show video of the performance, give a final report and discuss their process. MSU EDA University Center for Regional Economic Innovation also funded a portion of the production.

This June, Shop Floor has been invited to present at the 2013 Americans for the Arts annual conference in Pittsburgh. Members of the production team will speak about the play and ways to evaluate its larger social impacts.

Jones said he wanted to particularly thank the University Outreach staff: Jonathan Jarosz, Barb Urlaub, Sherry Hayden, Sara McDonnell and Lindsay Stoddard. He said without their patience and support, Shop Floor wouldn’t be where it is today.

Most of Shop Floor’s production costs were paid for by an initial Ruth Mott Foundation grant. The foundation approached Morton and Jones to create a verbatim theatre company after the success of last year’s production, Embers: the Flint Fires Verbatim Theatre Project, which through similar techniques examined the glut of Flint arsons in 2010.

Visit for more information.

value-added-2012In September, twenty-seven of the University of Michigan-Flint’s brightest and most dynamic students gathered at the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio in Midland, Michigan to explore and develop techniques for collaboration, critical thinking, and conflict management.  University of Michigan-Flint faculty, University Outreach staff, and past camp participants served as facilitators and mentors for the group, inspiring participants to take the next steps in their personal and professional lives.

The Value Added Leadership Development Camp was developed by University Outreach, in partnership with the Alden B. Dow Home and Studio, to provide students with an opportunity to develop and hone their leadership and collaboration skills to prepare them to become effective leaders in their communities and throughout their professional careers.

What the students are saying about the experience:

“The Value Added Leadership Camp was fun, exciting, and very beneficial. One will never be bored and needs to come with an open mind. I thought the camp was very motivational and friendships were formed.”

“Amazing opportunity to gain knowledge that will open your eyes to issues of life, not just as a student but also as a member of your community. I believe that this camp will encourage some who’ve never taken a leadership role in their communities, to gain the courage to do so.”

“Like the best movie that you have ever seen! If I tell you a whole lot about it, it might ruin it for you, just know that when you go with an open mind, you will enjoy it like an all-inclusive day at the spa for your mind! It touches parts of your mind that you didn’t even know you had.”

Save the Date:

2013 Value Added Leadership Development Camp
September 26-28, 2013


On a sunny, crisp October Friday, 177 people gathered to discuss social change, innovation and creativity at the 2012 INspire Conference at the University of Michigan-Flint.

Truly, creative people have found a home in Flint. We saw the effects of their creativity in the businesses and non-profits they have started and sustained.

For instance, Jessica Sloan talked about PT HEART, the free physical therapy clinic run by UM-Flint physical therapy students, which serves hundreds of low-income people at the North End Soup Kitchen. Carrie Miller presented Our Home Transitional, which helps returning women veterans transition into civilian life. Eric Knific talked about Epic Technology Solutions, LLC, which creates software for social causes. His company designed the software for the Double Up Food Program at the Flint Farmers Market, that provides an incentive for low-income people to eat more locally grown fresh produce.

They are all students associated with the Innovation Incubator [IN]. At the conference they were able to rub elbows with social entrepreneurs and innovators from the region and across the country.

Dr. Bruce Barringer of Oklahoma State University, who authored the bible of entrepreneurship, spoke about “the nuts and bolts of starting a business” to a packed session. He generously provided an online link to his upcoming book The First 100 Days of Your Business at

After hearing him speak, one student said, “Thank you for putting these conferences on. Nowhere else that I have been has an organization like [IN].”

Glen Fayolle wowed the participants of the Design Innovation session with his mapping method of exploring creative problem-solving. One participant said, “Very interesting and creative presentation! I will use it when analyzing issues, increasing free-thinking and escaping conformity.” Another wrote, “Unexpected and great!” Another, simply, Love, love, love.” Several have requested that we bring Glen back for a longer session.

Another speaker we hope will return is Tom Root, who said to the packed Kiva, “it doesn’t have to be people at the expense of profit!” He presented the model for Maker Works in Ann Arbor, which he created to be like a lending library for people who make things. It matches tools and equipment with creators, students, and unemployed people. The model values individuals’ time, expertise and other resources. You can learn more about this pioneering business at

That was just a few of the social innovators who shared their expertise with our community of learners. Watch for more opportunities and big ideas at the Innovation Incubator in fall 2012 and winter 2013!

Working on your own business at home sounds great, doesn’t it? Work in your PJs if you like, play your favorite tunes, set your own hours, do exactly what you want when you want to!

But after a few months distractions conspire to undermine your good intentions. You start noticing that a certain neighbor drops in unannounced “because you’re not working anyway!” Your dog has increased his frequency of showing up at your side, with leash-in-mouth, lobbying you for a walk. That weird noise coming from the clothes dryer — you should probably have that looked at – and you really should fold that load before it gets all wrinkly. And it might be nice to get away from the blank screen document that has been plaguing you for the last half-hour. Except you need to get this done by Thursday.

Think it might be time to consider a change of scenery?

University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator [IN] offers a co-working space for anyone in the community who is getting weary of working alone at home, or needs to escape an office, or just needs a professional place to meet a client. Located in Flint’s Northbank Center Room 207, [IN] offers a comfortable, professional environment for visitors to escape distractions and work in peace. [IN] is open to students and the community from 9 am- 5 pm Monday through Friday. Best of all, the space is available at no charge, including free Wi-Fi access!

[IN] is a great environment for collaboration where natural networking arises. The co-working space is a good “neutral ground” to meet with perspective clients or business partners. Freelancers can have face-to-face meetings with clients in an environment that makes a good, professional impression. [IN] also has meeting space for up to 24 people that can be reserved, with some restrictions.  There are many business and non-profit resources available for your use as well.

Whether you’re trying to keep a deadline, write a novel, or meet a client, [IN] gives you a place to work free of needy dogs, laundry and that one pesky neighbor. Bring your laptop, and stop by sometime to take advantage of this free service!

University Outreach’s innovation Incubator is leading the way for innovation and creativity with the INspire Conference on Social Entrepreneurship on Friday, October 12, 2012.

And what a great line-up we are planning!

The speakers and topics of sessions were chosen to foster creativity, sustain positive technological and social innovation, and celebrate student and community successes.  For example:

  • Tunde Wey of Detroit will speak on Crowdfunding
  • Glen Foyelle will hold a workshop on Design Innovation
  • Phillip Jacks will speak about the Peace Mob Garden social movement and Urban Homesteading
  • Flint’s BEST Project will help participants determine if they should start a not-for-profit
  • Jason Kosnoski will lead a panel discussion: Social Change through Innovation and Organization
  • Amy Gresock will moderate a panel discussion: Ask the Entrepreneurs – in various stages of start-up
  • Traci Currie will lead a panel to discuss How to Creatively Take Your Art to the Masses
  • Up to 10 local social entrepreneurs will give short presentations, or poster sessions, about how their work has impacted the community

The conference is being coordinated through the University Outreach Innovation Incubator [IN], with support provided by the CS Mott Foundation.  University Outreach hosts programs that connect people to place, instill civic engagement, and help students think critically to discover how to participate in transforming their world.

The Innovation Incubator supports creativity and innovation to affect social progress. A good example of our constituency is PT HEART, a student-run pro-bono physical therapy clinic. UM-Flint physical therapy students volunteer their services to educate clients of the North End Soup Kitchen. The students have benefitted from the free workshops, networking opportunities, and co-working spaces of the Innovation Incubator that are also available to community members.

In the Innovation Incubator environment, learning and creativity can flourish, and expand into collaboration. Our participants are invited to enhance critical thinking skills; learn to manage conflict; experiment with design thinking; and collaborate to solve problems.  More information about University Outreach and the incubator can be found on our website at

A print version of this article will appear in an upcoming issue of Bridges – The School of Management’s Alumni Magazine

By Dale Tuttle, Manager of University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator and the Director of Michigan Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership

Over the past eight months the School of Management’s (SOM) Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership (MCEL) has dedicated its staff and integrated its operations with University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator [IN]. MCEL’s mission is to enhance the experiential learning opportunities for students throughout campus while promoting the growth and success of businesses and not-for-profit organizations.

The opportunity to take the lead in program management of the [IN] was an excellent fit for my interests, for the mission of MCEL, and provides solid evidence of the SOM and University Outreach taking positive steps toward integrating entrepreneurial scholarship and practice across campus and into the community.

It’s important to acknowledge all the good being done by faculty, staff and students across the many colleges and departments of the university. Aside from the valuable contributions of SOM faculty, Assistant Professor of Marketing – Sy Banerjee; Assistant Professor of Organizational Behavior & Human Resources – Brian Bloom; Assistant Professor of Management – Amy Gresock; and Professor of Accounting – Keith Moreland, the [IN] has had the good fortune of being the beneficiary of creative, high quality academic contributions from other faculty across campus including Rebecca Hayes – Assistant Professor of Communications and Visual Arts; and Traci Currie – Lecturer of Communication and Visual Arts. Our [IN] workshops, free and open to students and the community, have also featured staff, as well as current students and alumni. This year we were fortunate to have Danny Bledsoe, former Army Black Hawk Helicopter Pilot, owner of CenterMark Coaching and current Social Work student in the College of Arts and Sciences as well as Jeff Sabolish an SOM MBA alumnus and partner at Lewis & Knopf, present workshops on “Goal Setting and Follow Through” and “Small Business Accounting” respectively.

Our understanding is that innovation that leads to profit is not the exclusive domain of the SOM, just as creativity and innovative expressions of imagination are not the exclusive domains of the Arts and Sciences.

When we began working with the [IN] it had established a solid infrastructure and programmatic mission. In an early discussion with Jonathan Jarosz, Director of University Outreach, he explained how the [IN], funded through a grant awarded by C.S. Mott, supported a creative suite of student owned businesses as well as a technology suite. He went on to share his vision of creating a third suite which has become known as the Social Entrepreneurship Suite. At the time of that discussion the space envisioned to house the Social Entrepreneurship Suite was packed with stacked chairs and old desks. In just a few months the once cluttered space has become home to the School of Health Professions and Studies’ PT/Health Clinic’s administrative office, as well as to Wade Steelman, CIS student in the Computer Science Department of the College of Arts and Sciences, and owner of Businesses by Veterans.

The PT/Health Clinic, UM-Flint’s first “student sponsored” organization, is a wonderful innovation with a mission to provide physical therapy (PT) and health education services to Flint’s underserved populations. Its student leadership has established a field presence in Flint’s North-End Soup Kitchen with a “soft” opening this past January in which they have begun to offer health education services to the community and are planning to offer PT services as soon as adequate insurance coverage is obtained.

Businesses by Veterans is a web-based business focusing on enhancing the linkages and visibility of veteran owned businesses throughout Michigan and eventually the nation. Steelman’s efforts and the [IN]’s support of it are consistent with the notion that veterans are an important and deserving segment of our population that has earned our support in whatever ways we can manage it.

In the bigger picture, MCEL and [IN] represent student-centered shared activities across campus aligned with achieving UM-Flint’s strategic priorities associated with enhancing the quality and breadth of academic programs as well as expanding participation in civic engagement and experiential learning.