Blog Post by ELP Student Braden Shugarman (Business Administration | Class of 2022) 

There is no better way to learn than by getting involved first-hand. During my sophomore year at the University of Michigan I took this to heart and engaged in the two most competitive and rigorous entrepreneurship programs on campus. 

In November of 2019, I was admitted into the Entrepreneurship Leadership Program, which is a leadership program hosted by the College of Engineering that accepts 25 students each year. Moreover, I became the Vice President of the only student-run incubator in the Ross School of Business, StartUM Entrepreneurship, in December of 2019. 

Mentors in ELP and StartUM then introduced me to the Michigan Business Challenge. With the help of ZLI staff, Ross/Engineering Professors, and countless others, I was awarded the Daniel Sillman’s Best Team Award and placed second in the Invention Track of MBC with prize funds totalling to $12,750. 

How did I do it?

Despite winning the Daniel Sillman’s Best Team Award, I was the only student on my team. To put this in perspective, I came second to a team with more than three students of both undergraduate and graduate level. Although I was a one man show on paper, that was not the case in reality. I had a whole host of professors, students, and so many more to guide me along my six month journey in MBC. 

Through all my experiences in entrepreneurship at Michigan, MBC has had the largest impact. Not because it was my first monetary success, rather because it showed me the importance of reaching out for help. 

Early Thoughts on Mentorship

Entering into my first-year of college, my belief was that discipline was the key to success. After learning about business plans, product validation, and other concepts in my entrepreneurship courses, I then went door to door at the Kellogg Eye Institute pitching my co-founded venture Shugarman Surgical Innovations, LLC (SSInnovations) in an attempt to obtain testing of our medical device. 

I felt like a true entrepreneur, one that Mark Cuban would like in a Shark Tank Pitch. Although I had the proper drive to succeed, I had the misconception that I didn’t need anyone else involved and that I was going to take this all the way for the touchdown by myself. With no funding or testing achieved at the end of my first year, I was troubled with why I was failing yet working so hard. 

Sophomore Year Changed Everything

As I entered sophomore year, I decided to step backwards and consult with my two ELP professors, Nick Cucinelli and Grace Hsai, on how to successfully start and run a business. Not only have they successfully started businesses, they have done various pitch competitions at Michigan. It wasn’t until I met them that I realized that the best trait an entrepreneur can have is humility. I had to admit that what I did my first year was not the best way to run SSInnovations to take it to the next level. 

ELP Entrepreneurs Leadership Program LogoAfter class every Tuesday and Thursday I would stay back an hour to go through my pitch deck, business plan, and pro forma financial statements with Nick and Grace. Initially, I thought the value of having their advice would be due to their success in entrepreneurship. However, I quickly learned that I was getting the most value from being able to share my proprietary information with people I trust.

This was a two way street as well, because Nick and Grace gladly showed me their private documents from their ventures Endectra and Warmilu respectively. Therefore, establishing that relationship with them, where we were able to have in-depth conversations and I could see examples that have worked in the past, was invaluable. 

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, my time at Michigan has not only taught me the value of having mentors, but rather how important it is to have trustworthy individuals working with you and helping you along the way. Entrepreneurship is something that glorifies the founder and not the supporting cast. The supporting cast is what builds the business and nothing can be done alone. There will always be a need for a Steve Wozniak in your entrepreneurial endeavors. 


Are you interested in mentoring innovators from the U-M entrepreneurial ecosystem? The CFE recently launched a new U-M Entrepreneurs Mentoring Network for alumni and external partners. You can find out more about the program here.