5 U-M Alumni Founders Who Will Inspire You
The entrepreneurial ecosystem at the University of Michigan is plentiful and thriving, with more than 13 programs and organizations devoted to supporting, connecting, and providing opportunities between students, faculty, and staff.
With such a rich and supportive entrepreneurial infrastructure in place, it’s no surprise that many U-M graduates go on to start their own successful and world-changing companies.
With the CFE’s Entrepreneurship Hour course, students have the opportunity to hear from and connect with those alumni in an interactive session for class credit.
Entrepreneurship Hour, known affectionately as E-Hour, is a weekly seminar series that invites disruptive, influential, and respected entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and business leaders to speak to students about their personal experiences founding, financing, and managing a startup venture.
While speakers come from all backgrounds, many of the speakers are U-M alumni themselves. We’ve gathered a list of five alumni founders (in no particular order) who have given E-Hour talks that inspired students to take on their own venture. Read on to be inspired, and be sure to check out the recordings of their lectures!
1. Sara Spangelo – Co-Founder and CEO of Swarm Technologies
Sara Spangelo, who holds a PhD in aerospace engineering from the University of Michigan, has disrupted the data industry with affordable satellite technology.
Nearly 90% of the planet’s surface lacks internet access, and connecting via satellites has historically been cost-prohibitive. Spangelo and the Swarm team changed that by creating small, low-cost satellites (about the size of a grilled cheese sandwich) that transfer important amounts of information from one place to another. This technology has significant implications on activities like water monitoring, wildlife tracking, and even measuring the temperature of vaccines during transportation.
Last year, Swarm was acquired by SpaceX, where Spangelo continues to work on Swarm technology.
Watch Sara Spangelo’s latest E-Hour talk here.
2. Josh Tetrick – Founder and CEO of Eat JUST
Josh Tetrick, graduate from University of Michigan Law School, has taken the plant-based food industry by storm. His desire to create a plant-based alternative to eggs has resulted in a $1.2 billion startup, Eat JUST.
He found his answer in mung beans, which JUST describes as “one of the most sustainable beans on earth.”
“I thought we could figure out a way to eat animals without all the issues, and generally that was the premise of starting the company,” Tetrick explained to E-Hour students in a 2021 class.
JUST Egg uses 98% less water and 83% less land than it takes to produce chicken eggs, and produces 93% fewer carbon emissions.
In addition to JUST Egg, Eat JUST also produces GOOD Meat, which is the first and only company in the world to produce cultivated meat.
Hear Josh Tetrick talk about his journey with JUST Egg here.
3. Inder Singh – Founder and CEO of Kinsa
Inder Singh, founder and CEO of Kinsa, studied biomedical engineering at the University of Michigan before going on to change the health industry as we know it.
Singh, who is also the founder of Dance Marathon at U-M, is on a mission to use technology to empower society with the information to track and stop the spread of disease.
Kinsa’s mission is to predict, prepare for, and prevent the spread of infectious illness. To accomplish this, Kinsa invented a new category of products — smart thermometers and a medical guidance mobile app that enable communication with households early in their illness journey. Kinsa’s smartphone app acts as a nurse in your pocket, and the anonymized data captured provides individuals, schools, communities, businesses and public health officials with real-time knowledge of spreading illness. Brands, Retailers and Pharma also use Kinsa Insights’ solutions to prepare for spreading illness by leveraging forecasts to ensure products are on the shelves where and when they are needed.
Learn more about Singh’s journey with Kinsa in his E-Hour talk.
4. Greg Gage – Co-Founder and CEO of Backyard Brains
While studying neuroscience at the University of Michigan, Greg Gage and co-founder Tim Marzullo wanted to find a way to teach neuroscience to middle school children. There was one big problem, however – the equipment they used in their lab was far too big and too expensive to bring to students.
Using off-the-shelf electronics and readily available products, Greg and Tim created the Spikerbox, a hand-held device that demonstrates and records “spikes,” the messages of neurons in the brain, in a way that’s easy for middle schoolers to understand. Using this technology, they founded Backyard Brains.
This device has made neuroscience accessible for all and changed the way that children learn about the brain. In addition, Gage’s technology is inspiring children throughout the world to become curious about science.
Gage has given an astounding number of TED Talks using this technology, (9 to be exact!) and U-M Entrepreneurship students were lucky enough to speak with him in a 2020 E-Hour session. Listen to his talk here.
5. Lisa McLaughlin – Co-founder and former CEO of Workit Health
Lisa McLaughlin, who received her Master’s of Information Science from the University of Michigan, founded a company that flips the traditional script for addiction recovery.
Workit Health was born during a hacking session with McLaughlin and co-founder Robin McIntosh, two best friends who had undergone a sobriety program together.
“We were thinking, ‘substance use care has got to get better,'” McLaughlin told E-Hour students this fall. “In order to go to rehab, you still have to pay $30k, even though one in three Americans struggle with drinking over the course of their life.”
“We were seeing accelerating numbers of people dying from overdoses, so we decided to start a company.”
Workit Health differs from traditional sobriety care in multiple ways. Patients receive counseling and recovery care from the comfort of their own home via telehealth, and the program is much less cost-prohibitive than traditional recovery programs. This format makes recovery possible for many patients who could otherwise not receive the care they need.
Watch Lisa’s E-Hour Talk here.
Feeling inspired? Learn more about Entrepreneurship Hour and gain access to founders and CEOs from U-M.