1. Remarks at 1,000 Pitches Welcome Ceremony

    December 1, 2014

    Note: As prepared for delivery

    First of all, I congratulate all of the student entrepreneurs who submitted pitches this year.

    Making a difference always begins with an individual
    or group of individuals having an idea, and I applaud your initiative.

    You are showing that innovation and creativity are not just alive and well, but thriving at the University of Michigan.

    I also want to thank:
    • The students at M Powered for developing and growing this event into the success it has become. 4,300 pitches this year from U-M is truly remarkable.
    • Today’s sponsors for their support of our students. From what I have seen, you are investing very well.

    It has been a pleasure getting to know the U-M community over the last four and a half months and meeting so many students who are willing to apply their talents and dedicate their time to something they believe in—defining a need, a problem, or an opportunity then applying their creativity to developing a response.

    This entrepreneurial spirit is one of the reasons I was so attracted to this campus.

    I know that we have more efforts in the works to foster entrepreneurship and ignite the imaginations of our community – and I look forward to seeing them come to fruition soon.

    I am thrilled that this type of exploration and growth is part of the Michigan educational experience.

    I was reminded of the potential of this kind of risk-taking a couple weeks ago, when Dick Costolo, the CEO of Twitter, was on campus.

    Dick C., as he his known, is a U-M graduate, and was one of our commencement speakers in 2013.

    He told a great story about his career path.

    After graduating from Michigan, he pursued his passion of becoming an improv comic in Chicago.

    He says he made a big bet on himself, and it was a struggle to make ends meet.

    But one of his improv instructors gave him a piece of advice that would inform his way of thinking — even after he entered the business world.

    And that advice was to “make bigger choices and take courageous risks.”

    He went on to start companies of his own and joined Twitter in 2009.

    Now Twitter has 284 million monthly users – and I happen to be one of them.

    I’m “@Dr. Mark Schlissel” in case you are wondering.

    There is also the story of Tony Fadell,
    another U-M graduate and entrepreneur.

    He spoke a little over a year ago at our inaugural M-Cubed symposium.

    Tony has started several companies in his life, and the first two were during his time as a student on our campus.

    He describes each of these as failures – but says that they also taught him important lessons.

    Tony ended up helping create the first iPod for Apple,
    building the initial model out of Styrofoam so Steve Jobs could hold it in his hand.

    Tony gives a lot of credit for his success to his Michigan education, but he says the seeds of curiosity were planted by his grandfather, who taught him how to use saws and hammers and screwdrivers to put things together and take them apart.

    His grandfather told him that “if humans can make it, humans can also make it better.”

    I hope all of us can take these messages to heart here at U-M.

    I want U-M to be a place where people aren’t afraid to take chances.

    U-M should be unmatched as a home for big, bold ideas,
    with no limits on creativity and plenty of support to help deploy those ideas in ways that benefit society.

    Our campus is an ideal place for this to happen.

    We have all right ingredients to make U-M
    a working lab of entrepreneurship.

    We have a breadth of excellence that stretches across 19 schools and colleges and includes several institutes and program centers.

    We have a tradition of discovery for the public good, with an impressive and growing record of creating inventions and startups that deliver benefits to the community.

    Just recently, in fact, we signed a royalty agreement for a new drug to treat Gaucher disease that was invented by U-M researchers and recently approved by the FDA.

    We also have world-class faculty, talented students, and teamwork that is getting positive results like we see today.

    I appreciate that M-Powered is taking an inclusive,
    cross-disciplinary approach to fostering entrepreneurship.

    That’s an approach I am taking at the strategic level as president, as well.

    I want us to find ways to make U-M’s strength greater than the sum of its many excellent parts.
    There are very few big problems in this world that can be solved by single disciplines, and when our faculty and students aspire to take them on, I want them to have the freedom and the support necessary to achieve those ambitions.

    Thank you for helping us make Michigan a launching pad for entrepreneurship and big new ideas. And thanks to everyone for participating in the “1000 Pitches” contest.