The CFE is happy to announce we have a new member of our team: Kurt Skifstad.

Kurt joins the CFE as the new Dixon and Carol Doll Executive Director. While he came on board right at the end of the spring semester, we thought we’d wait until now to share the news and have you learn a little bit about him.

So I sat down with Kurt and asked him a few questions about his time at U-M, his professional journey, and what led him back to campus.

I would welcome you to the College of Engineering, but you’re not new here, right?

Yeah, I’m a product of Michigan Engineering from way back (BSE CompE ’86, MSE CSE ’87, Ph.D. CSE ’90) and my Ph.D. work was done in a lab maybe 100 yards from the CFE office, so it sometimes feels kind of surreal walking across The Grove (of course The Grove wasn’t The Grove back then, just a big empty, bell tower-less dusty field between the parking lot and EECS). 

Also, I’ve spent most of my career building companies in the local tech community which, of course, overlaps with the CoE and the University in many different ways. I also taught a senior-level Entrepreneurship course for several semesters here at the College of Engineering in the early 2010s, so, net: I’ve been looking for parking spots on North Campus for quite a while.

Photo of a photo of a younger Kurt Skifstad next to a computer with a rendering of a futuristic vehicle
(Kurt with his first company in 1996, via Crain’s Detroit)

After you left U-M you started and were involved in a few different startups. How has that shaped your career?

Startups are pretty much all I’ve ever known. Outside of a few gigs with much bigger companies that came about through acquisition, everything I’ve done professionally has been in the context of early- or growth-stage venture capital-backed startups. At the beginning of my career, I was founding companies, securing funding, and figuring out how to bring new products to market, while later I was the guy introduced by investors to help drive the next stage of growth or to turn around companies that had lost their way.

What is it about entrepreneurship that really gets you excited?

I love figuring out the win-win-win dynamic of simultaneously creating value for customers, shareholders, and team members in innovation-driven companies. Orchestrating the many moving parts in constantly changing markets and customer segments, mapping compelling new technologies to industry needs, and fostering an environment where super-talented, enthusiastic people can come together to achieve great things are what has really fueled my enthusiasm over the years.

So what drew you to the CFE?

Scale. Impact.

Executive Director Kurt Skifstad speaking with students in San Francisco on the WUST Trek in 2022

I firmly believe the “big problems” of our era – climate change, wealth disparity, food security at scale, universal access to healthcare, Elon Musk, … will be solved by people who embrace the entrepreneurial mindset — people who are compelled to make a difference, people who embrace the pursuit of value for stakeholders, people who are open to learn and evolve their perspectives based on market evidence. If through the work of the CFE, I can play a part in helping the Wolverine community be more entrepreneurial, I’m all in.

What would you say are your goals for the center? Why should students be excited to participate in the CFE’s courses and programs?

Entrepreneurship is about action and impact: the application of knowledge and resources to create value in the world. The CFE’s mission is to accelerate the trajectory of every student towards positive change – for themselves, their communities, and the world – by adopting an entrepreneurial mindset. Whether or not you ever create your own company or non-profit, you, absolutely, unequivocally, are going to be a central player in many, many, kinds of value creation throughout your life: from helping to support your family to leading a multinational corporation and everything in-between.  Simply put: the CFE will equip you to be more successful, faster.

Kurt Skifstad and Richard Liu laugh together on the sidewalk during the WUST Trek 2022 in San Francisco

How about the alumni and industry partners?

The Center for Entrepreneurship provides ideal ways for alumni and industry partners to engage with Michigan Entrepreneurs.  

Do you want to have a meaningful impact on the trajectories of thousands of students? On those who, as per above, will solve our biggest problems?

Before we let you go, can you tell us a little about what Kurt does for fun or is passionate about (besides entrepreneurship, obviously)?

Outside of Entrepreneurship, I enjoy travel and time with friends and family, relaxing Up North, reading, biking, playing guitar, and making things.

Have more questions for Kurt or any other member of the CFE staff? Stop by our offices on the 3rd floor of the Duderstadt Building on North Campus or schedule a virtual advising appointment online today.

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