By Nic Custer

Many students graduate college hoping to find a job in their desired field.

But some strategic thinkers, such as Charles Herzog, use their time on campus to position themselves for success the minute they earn their degrees.

Adil Mohammed (left) and Charles Herzog (right) discuss website content and design.

Charles, 24, graduated from the University of Michigan-Flint Computer Science department in May, knowing he made the most of his education. He transferred to campus from Mott Community College two years ago, graduated with his Bachelors degree and began a job with General Motors in Warren a week after graduation. He will be working as a software developer focusing on vehicle cyber security and vehicle-to-vehicle communication software.

While a student at Mott, Charles was approached by his Calculus professor. Vasu Iyengar asked if he wanted to work on building websites and mobile apps for Med+IT Systems LLC. It is a medical software and consulting company owned by Vasu and his business partner, Adil Mohammed.

Adil Mohammed runs the business in addition to a non-profit, American Muslim Community Services, out of the Innovation Incubator on the UM-Flint campus. He hired Charles, who worked in the co-work space of the Innovation Incubator in the Northbank Center when he wasn’t in class. Charles said, “I tend to get distracted at home” where he lived with his parents. He also found the breezeways on campus, where he used to study, made it hard to focus. He appreciated the quiet professional space of the Incubator, where he could spread out his work and focus. He said his experience in a co-work space helped him towards his goals.

By Nic Custer

UM-Flint Social Work professor Todd Womack has been creating important multi-semester partnerships through his SWK 304- The Urban Context course at Joy Tabernacle Church in Flint’s Civic Park neighborhood. The goal of the course is to provide social work students with a real world, understanding of historical, economic, political and demographic issues that affect urban populations in the U.S., with a focus on Flint in particular.


Professor Todd Womack leading his students in a discussion about how to best address community needs

This semester the class has partnered with Civic Park residents who are trying to create neighborhood-scale food and beautification businesses. University Outreach’s Innovation Incubator has been working with the social work students, not only to explain some of the necessary components of a successful business but also to teach them how to help residents build their own business model and create a start-up cost analysis that will help community members prepare to launch their ventures.


Innovation Incubator staff member Nic Custer explaining a start-up cost analysis to Social Work students

The class culminated in a presentation for community members at the end of the semester, where students were able to dialogue with stakeholders and present their final projects. Community partners will continue to develop their neighborhood businesses in the Winter semester through an ongoing teaching partnership with the Innovation Incubator.

GVSUSproutLab-1159Charma Dompreh of Charma’s Green Chips has been selected as a SPARK Award recipient by the Genesee eTEAM, a regional collaboration of entrepreneurial service providers.

The SPARK award recognizes local businesspeople, in business for two years or less, for their “entrepreneurial spark,” as demonstrated by their determination, vision, identified market, growth potential, and setting and achieving business goals.

Charma Dompreh is a retired school teacher who earned a license as a raw food chef. She was motivated by the dual urban problem of food deserts and childhood obesity to find a way to teach Flint kids about healthy nutrition. She created an alternative snack product with organically grown and locally sourced dehydrated collard greens and kale. They are tasty!

Charma has been a client of the Innovation Incubator for a couple years, moving slowly and surely, taking advantage of all the resources available to make her vision a reality. She has created partnerships with food labs, and participates in workshops and competitions. She is absolutely, and quietly, determined to be a success. Charma also is a recent winner of the Co.Starters Food Lab competition in Grand Rapids, winning second place. She will use that $2000 prize to purchase a commercial mixer.

The SPARK award will be presented to Charma at the 2016 Annual JumpStart Entrepreneurship Conference on Thursday, February 25, 2016.  The conference is designed for all current or aspiring entrepreneurs and is held at the Holiday Inn Gateway Centre from 8 am-1:30 pm. Information is at

immigrant u

Photo courtesy of Brandon Malevich

By Sherry Hayden

Did you know international students comprise about one-eighth of the student body at UM-Flint? It turns out you can have a truly international experience right here in Flint, Michigan. It’s exciting to travel to other countries and cities to learn about our differences and our similarities. That’s what is happening right here, right now.

Some of these international students have been working for a couple years on a documentary about their experiences coming to the UM-Flint from their native countries. The new documentary, Immigrant U: Our Story, Our Way, was conceived by students of Kendrick Jones, who lectures in the Theatre Department. Kendrick also is the director and founder of Shop Floor Theatre Company (SFTC), a non-profit housed in the UM-Flint University Outreach Innovation Incubator. SFTC is funded by a grant from the Ruth Mott Foundation, which funded the documentary and all the work leading up to it.

The students premiered the documentary at UM-Flint November 18, 2015 to a full house in the KIVA. It was followed by live, theatrical performances from some of the students.

I sat with my new friend Abeer, who immigrated from Sudan. She works across the hall from the Incubator at the Northbank Center. It is interesting to hear her perspectives; I am always impressed with how brave it is for anyone to move to a new country and start over. I’ve only visited other countries for a few months, and can only imagine being apart from my family and friends, and the land that I love so much, for an extended period of time.

We listened to the students talk about the difficulties of coming to a new country, being accepted by others, and even dealing with Michigan’s climate.  When one of the performers pleaded with the audience, “I don’t know anything about American football – will you still love me?” Abeer spontaneously cried out, “I will!”  The whole audience laughed. I was delighted – gentle humor is the common language here. Love and friendship are our common languages as well.

What this production revealed is that we are much more alike than we are different. Most of the problems presented by the students from India, Saudi Arabia, France, Nigeria and Jamaica really are no different from new students who grew up locally. Everyone has difficulty, especially the first semester of college. It’s new, different, and that requires adjustment. Every student wonders if she will make friends, fit in, and find her way around in the world.

A key message of the international students is that they want to be your friends and they want to learn and grow with you. That’s really what most people want, regardless of where they were born. UM-Flint is a great place to do that.

costart picBy Nic Custer

Mark Baldwin’s filter that turns rain into drinking water, Stephan McBride’s safe space for gamers to congregate, Porcha Clemons’ Christian dance studio, and Glennis Holcomb’s urban farm business producing pickles and kilts are just some of the interesting and exciting business ideas that participants hope will win them start-up funding at a Grand Rapids pitch competition Nov. 30.

At the final session of Co.Starters, a 9-week business boot camp at UM-Flint’s Innovation Incubator, the cohort of entrepreneurs practiced pitching their big ideas and shared feedback.

Eleven participants gave brief pitches about their new or pre-existing businesses. Several entrepreneurs already sell products out of the Flint Farmers’ Market including Alyson Caverson’s Happy Girl Granola, Franklin Pleasant’s The Local Grocer and Cindy Eckert’s Whimsicality, which sells old fashioned toys. Others are looking to launch or expand their community businesses in the next year including Qareena Clemons’ massage therapy business, Isaih Dawson’s Dawson’s Kitchen and Catering, and Francine Houston’s Writers Inc., a publishing business.

steffan picThe program was brought to campus through a partnership with Grand Valley State University’s Sprout Lab, which subsidized some of the costs of the Flint boot camp to make it affordable for local entrepreneurs. The Innovation Incubator was an ideal location because of its convenient free public co-working space downtown and free parking adjacent to the building.

Co.Starters participants across the state are automatically eligible for a pitch competition in Grand Rapids on November 30. One of the Flint pitches will receive a special AKT Peerless sponsored prize of $1,000 and could potentially win the competition’s grand prize of $5,000.

AKT Peerless, an environmental remediation and economic development firm, also sponsored the program and provided Garrett Geer, vice president of business development and government relations, to teach the course in Flint.

porsha picParticipants enjoyed Geer’s teaching style and appreciated the cohort model, in which participants share feedback and together gain a more complete understanding of the concepts. By the end of the program, the more than 20 students and community members who participated were more confident in themselves and the direction of their ventures.

The Innovation Incubator will hold a free pitch clinic in January to prepare entrepreneurs for two other local competitions in early 2016. For more information, visit the Innovation Incubator webpage.

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

A group of seven students, led by Lecturer Andrew Morton, are completing a new play to be performed this Fall as part of the UM-Flint Theatre and Dance Department’s main stage season.

The new work fictionalizes the re-opening of the Flint Local 432, an all-ages music venue in downtown Flint.

The students has been meeting regularly in the Innovation Incubator co-working  space, NBC 207, during the Spring term to rework the script which was drafted during a Collective Playwrights Workshop class taught by Morton in Winter 2013.

A first draft of “The Local” was completed for the Winter course and established the basic framework, plot and characters of the play. The show will follow a group of young people forming a band and explores their lives ten years later as the venue reopens.

Nick Hale, a recent graduate working on the project, said collaborative work is interesting because there are parts of the script that everyone agrees need more work but all of the writers have different ideas about what elements need to be changed.

He said that when the group came together after the semester ended, they agreed the second act needed to be completely rewritten.

Morton, who will be directing the completed play, said he hopes to send an updated draft of the script to his costume and scenic designers at the end of June. He said the script will at least be able to answer who the characters are and where it takes place. While the main work will be completed, there will be minor script editing through the first week of rehearsals for the production.

A local band will be selected as the house band for the run of the production.

The Local play will run in repertory with Little Shop of Horrors during the Fall semester. Performances are scheduled for November 8, 10, 16, 22, 23 and 24.

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

Aleah Moses, songwriter and producer, has been building her portfolio writing and producing more than 50 songs with independent musicians. She creates both full songs and instrumentals depending on the job.

Moses Music, her start-up company in NBC suite 206, has mostly worked with out of state musicians in a variety of different genres. Moses said clients primarily want pop songs but she is proficient in creating hip hop, rap, R&B, and alternative pop (similar to the sound of Taylor Swift). She said working with smaller artists is a good way to advertise her work.

A junior majoring in Business Administration, Moses would like to expand her company to work with major label artists and do larger commercial work. While she didn’t write or produce a song until after she was 18 years old, Moses has been playing piano by ear since she was 8 and played the clarinet in middle school.

She said that as a female producer, she is also an activist for other women. Women get looked over in music for a lot of things, she said. Part of her mission is to let other people, specifically girls, know that they can make it as producers and songwriters too.

Her Northbank Center office recently had soundproofing installed and she uses the space as her primary recording studio.

She said it was definitely a blessing to have her own office in the Student Innovation Incubator where she can meet clients, that isn’t her home or other less conveinent spaces.

The beauty of being a musician in the 21st century, she said, is that you don’t have to fly in to another city just to record with other musicians. It can be done from anywhere.

Moses charges a standard overall product cost for the music and a percentage of the ownership rights.

She said she would be a good person for artists to work with because she is very open to different music styles and not boxed in by one specific genre. She also does music for advertising commercials.

“I like being the medium, I can do what I want to do without the attention or the limelight. I like my privacy,” Moses mused.

Moses created her website herself. Visit for more information.