Blog post by ELP Student Hayley Vassallo (Business Administration | Class of 2021) Interning at the University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute

Instead of working directly for a startup, I am helping the Economic Growth Institute decide which startups to invest in. A typical day consists of early stage startups coming in to pitch their ideas, and then we conduct our own market research and analysis to determine the potential for each startup.

These pitches have helped me see from a new perspective: the investors perspective. Additionally, I have learned how to conduct market research and how to find what information is pertinent. Analyzing the potential of a company has shown me what is important when creating a business.

Investor Perspective

This opportunity has allowed me to learn how investors judge a startup and what they are looking for. One key item I have noticed my colleagues discussing is the team. Are they strong? Do they have deep industry experience and knowledge? Another large focus during the discussions is whether or not their product can be made by anyone or requires specialized skills. The harder it is to create, the better it is for the company because it demonstrates that they are not easily replaceable. Additionally, having a solid plan for a revenue stream is important when pitching. It demonstrates that the startup has a strong understanding of their expected costs and how long it will take for them to become profitable.

Another important skill that a business owner needs is confidence in their company. Without confidence in the ability of their startup to become successful, no one will want to give a company money. To be confident, many owners have done extensive research to see if their product is one that will either help society or attract new users. Seeing companies through this perspective and reflecting on the businesses I know of that have been invested in has taught me how to look for potential in not only the ideas, but the people.

Market Research

The ability to confirm the need for a product is very important for a startup. This is possible due to market research. The market research I have been able to do includes competitive analysis, learning about industries that are new to me, and figuring out the total available market along with the target market for the company. When listening to a pitch, we look to see if they have a large enough target market to make profit without gaining business from every possibility within that market. I have been taught to underestimate this rather than overestimate. It is important to be realistic with potential revenue to gain the trust of investors.

Learning how to efficiently conduct market research is useful in any situation; whether it be for group projects analyzing businesses in my classes, or for my future job. Having this skill will allow me to be a more successful worker in any industry.

Analyzing Businesses

Being an unbiased analyst and examining startups has been extremely interesting. Pinpointing their weak and strong points and determining the effect that they can have is eye-opening. It has shown me what to look for when talking to a company and how this can affect the business. Having different opinions and industry experience are important when creating a company. Pivoting to meet customer expectations and desires shows that the company and executive team care about the success of their product and attracting consumers instead of being “right.”

Variety of Industries

One of my favorite parts about working at the Economic Growth Institute is being able to learn about and work with many industries. Every day is different, and I am learning about industries that I didn’t know I had an interest in until now. As a student attempting to figure out what I am interested in, this experience has been valuable in that aspect. I have been able to research the skincare industry, healthcare, consulting, and more.

Knowing how these industries work and where they are going has made me realize how much I enjoy learning. There is so much I have not been exposed to and this opportunity has allowed me to experience new concepts.

Although a startup is new and exciting, being able to see a variety of industries and learn what it takes to become a successful startup has been ideal for me. Each day I am exposed to a new idea that I would never have thought of. Additionally, being able to help companies and the economy in Michigan gives the job a strong purpose because every piece of work I do could change the course of a company.