Student Spotlight: Ellen Tsao
Entrepreneurship is the intersection between determination and passion, and provides hands-on, highly involved opportunities for any interested student-regardless of major. Whether you’re interested in design, engineering, marketing, or sales, there is a place for you in the innovation community.
However, sometimes there is a gap between interest and opportunity, which is why people like Ellen Tsao work to bridge these two essential components. In addition to her impressive computer science major, Ellen has spent her time on campus working to connect thousands of Michigan students with local startups and other opportunities. As president of MPowered Entrepreneurship, she spent her college years connecting big thinkers with outlets to grow into industry leaders and titans.
Ellen found her place in the entrepreneurial ecosystem her freshman year while scouting for new ways to meet people on campus. When she arrived at college, she didn’t have any prior experience with entrepreneurship, but that changed when she began to explore opportunities to get involved at U-M. This is how she discovered an organization that would change the course of her college experience – MPowered Entrepreneurship.
“As a freshman, I went to festifall and grabbed flyers from every student organization that I could, this is where I found MPowered,” she said. “I hadn’t sought out entrepreneurship, it essentially found me.”
MPowered Entrepreneurship is Michigan’s oldest and largest entrepreneurship organization, and has touched the lives of more than 15,000 students since its inception. In recent years, it has hosted a wide variety of fairs and events, ranging from a prototype building competition to pro bono strategic consulting for local businesses.
The Center for Entrepreneurship is a flagship partner of the organization, and just like CFE, MPowered was born from student demand for entrepreneurial opportunities on campus. As the sponsoring unit, CFE provides mentorship, and significant financial and staff support to the MPowered E-board and Directors.
“It’s one of the most impactful student organizations on campus,” Ellen said. “Our events every year encourage entrepreneurship in many different ways, and impact thousands of students from all sorts of disciplines.”
As the president of MPowered, Ellen manages the six subdivisions of her organization, and executes several of the busiest student organized events on campus. Their prototype competition, Make-A-Thon, receives hundreds of submissions each year, with ideas spanning dozens of functional areas.
“I’ve seen everything from an automatic bottle opener to a computer vision refrigerator,” she said.
Make-A-Thon is not limited to just technology and computer projects, all ideas are welcome and accepted. In more recent years, with her time on the organization’s executive board, Ellen has partnered with Amazon to bring MPowered’s popular competition to a new level.
“Amazon came to Ann Arbor to teach us how to use their technology, and see what MPowered participants can make for them,” she said.
Since the competition, Amazon has decided to adopt one of the Prototypes debuted at Make-A-Thon, and is currently developing an Amazon Alexa Bluebus integration.
One of her other impressive initiatives is a student organized career fair where MPowered has attracted dozens of Ann Arbor small businesses and startups eager to recruit from the leaders and best.
“It’s the only career fair centered around startup recruitment,” she said. “We bring 40 to 45 local startups and we help facilitate that connection between interested students and Ann Arbor startups.”
Over the years, MPowered has brought around 500 companies to meet thousands of students looking to pioneer the next generation of technology, programs, products and services. The startup career fair increases the accessibility of startups, providing internships and jobs to highly qualified students, and providing world class talent to budding, young companies.
When she’s not connecting Michigan students with entrepreneurship opportunities, Ellen is busy with other presidential responsibilities, which she describes as advisory.
“I oversee logistics, projects, and direction. I see myself as an advisor, really,” she said. ““My job is to help teams and events run more smoothly. I mitigate any bottlenecks that the VP’s and Project Directors encounter,”
Currently, her goals for MPowered include laser focusing on the student organization’s culture, and how to continually portray innovation as inclusive, accessible, and fun. To Ellen, the most fun and rewarding part of her involvement is seeing her hard work pay off when students flood the halls of the Duderstadt Center, eager to participate.
“I love watching these events come to life,” she said. “When the event comes together, and I get to see students flooding in to register, meeting the sponsors, speaking with local startups, it’s so rewarding. Best feeling ever!”
After the conclusion of her senior year, Ellen plans to hold entrepreneurship close to her heart and use her leadership skills to one day start a company of her own. Whether she’s breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship, leading in her community, or playing the piano in Carnegie Hall, Ellen Tsao listens to her passions and pursues them fiercely. She would advise any freshman coming to the University of Michigan or anyone looking to add a new facet to their life to do the same.
“Do whatever makes you feel happy. You just need to follow what you’re passionate about.”