Erin Donnelly, current Master’s in Mechanical Engineering student at U-M, is currently working toward the Graduate Certificate in Innovation & Entrepreneurship while participating as an Entrepreneurs Leadership Program (ELP) Fellow. Talk about a busy workload!

“I have always loved exploring, learning, and building everything from engineering projects to art to furniture to organizations,” said Erin.

After graduating from Ohio State University with a bachelor’s degree in Biomedical Engineering, Erin spent several years working for one of the largest medical device manufacturers in the world. While she enjoyed the technical aspects of her career, she found herself craving more room for innovation and creativity.

“After a few years, I grew frustrated with the slow pace of innovation, the need to spend more time maintaining old systems than creating new ones, and the lack of diversity in the engineering department and leadership that is inherent to many large engineering corporations,” said Erin.

Erin has always been creative, and hoped to find a way to innovate in the engineering industry. When she learned that a women’s associate resource group had been founded at her company, but sadly went dormant during the first year of COVID, she saw this as an opportunity to make a real impact on her work environment. With the help of an associate, she got to work to get the group up and running again.

Over the next year and a half, Erin slowly transformed the organization from a group of two to a team of nearly 30 people, putting on more than 20 events per year that reached hundreds of associates in the company.

“We created a space for women at the company who were often isolated and in the minority in engineering departments to form a community.”

For Erin, this experience was especially fulfilling, but it also led her to a larger realization that her current career path wasn’t exactly the right fit.

“At the end of this path, I started to realize I was more passionate and excited about my unpaid side work founding the women’s organization, than I was about my day to day engineering work. That was my final sign that it was time to take the leap and go back to school for my master’s with a focus on entrepreneurship.”

While researching master’s programs, Erin noticed that the Center for Entrepreneurship was frequently mentioned in tandem with successful startups from Michigan.

“After I was accepted into Michigan, the Graduate Program Coordinator, Adam Mael, was able to point me towards several entrepreneurship classes that immediately piqued my interest after I told him about my interest in going into a start-up after graduating.”

In her first entrepreneurship class, An Intro to Innovation: Tools for Career Success with John Hennessy, Erin learned about the option to complete the Graduate Certificate in Innovation and Entrepreneurship in addition to her Master’s in Mechanical Engineering.

“After loving the first few weeks of my Intro to Innovation class and learning more about the certificate after running into ENTR advisor Maizie Jones at a tabling event outside the Duderstadt, I decided to go all in on my entrepreneurship path and officially sign up for the grad certificate program.”

Around the same time, Erin received an email about ELP that piqued her interest. Wanting to learn more, she attended the CFE and MPowered’s Innovation Challenge.

“After attending an extremely fun and slightly chaotic event with MPowered building battery powered toy race cars where my team hilariously only managed to get our car to go about a foot past the start line, I felt sure ELP was the right fit for me. Luckily when I interviewed for ELP, they didn’t hold my team’s tragic race performance against us, as 3 of my team members from that event also ended up joining my ELP cohort.”

“My first semester in ELP has been a huge help in narrowing down what I wanted to pursue for my start-up venture. The mentor match activity in the class paired me with a wonderful industry mentor that has been able to help me narrow down or eliminate many of the side ventures I was considering.”

Her current project revolves around creating a low-cost infant incubator through the student organization M-HEAL‘s project team, The Initiative. At the same time, she’s also participating in work at the Biomedical Manufacturing and Design Lab. Erin hopes to launch at least one of these products into a successful start-up venture, or to find a promising medical device startup venture to join after graduation.

When asked if she has any advice for aspiring entrepreneurs at U-M, Erin gave the following words of wisdom:

“I would recommend that they explore all the programming and courses from the CFE that they are able to. Even if they can’t fit a whole CFE course into their schedule, CFE still offers so many amazing networking and learning events and programming options. I got into entrepreneurship much later in my career. I can only imagine how much I could have done had I had the entrepreneurship and socially engaged design course offerings that undergrads do here!”

Interested in getting involved with the Center for Entrepreneurship? Check out our student resources to see which programs and courses are a good fit for you!

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