These Students Love Startups Like the Animal House Guys Loved Beer


These are kids who probably first heard Start Me Up on a Microsoft commercial.


The second I started to mill around TechArb, the University of Michigan's student start-up accelerator, I was approached by three students who were the very picture of youthful energy. Nancy Xiao, Shiva Kilaru, and Mitch Adler are all involved with various start-up promotion schemes on campus, from Startup Weekend Ann Arbor to MPowered, a student entrepreneurship organization; to a career fair they created for local startups to find talent at the university. They talk in lock-step. They know the successful University of Michigan grads (Dick Costolo*, Larry Page). And they say things like, "We're not the next Silicon Valley. We're Detroit. We're Ann Arbor. We've got something special." (That was Xiao talking, but all three agreed on the basic principle.

Xiao's even gotten former University of Michigan and NFL football player Dhani Jones to help her buy a house on campus for student entrepreneurs. "It's going to be like General Assembly gone crazy," Xiao says.

Ideas and entrepreneurs from Chicago to Pittsburgh
Check out the whole road trip

What I couldn't help thinking, while talking to these brilliant students, was how deeply start-up culture has penetrated general culture. The idea that building a business is something exciting and rewarding rather than a way to pay the bills is startling. "You ever been to a U of M football game?" Kilaru asks me. "That's the energy we bring to entrepreneurship." 

I mean, I'm not even in Generation X and I find it easy to be cynical about this kind of excitement for putting one's shoulder to the capitalist wheel. At the same time, their excitement is infectious. I spent the rest of my time at TechArb excitedly talking with students about the companies they're trying to build and before I knew it, two hours had gone by and I was still not quite ready to leave. These are kids who probably first heard "Start Me Up" on a Microsoft commercial. You say you want a revolution? Well, you know, we all want to change the world.


Meet Ricardo Rodriguez and Shamik Ganguly, the co-founders of YouTrivia, a game now in alpha testing that uses YouTube videos as fodder for a trivia game. Apparently there's a market, as a music-only Facebook trivia game called Songpop has already reached 24 million unique users. Stay tuned for more from these two.


This is Omeid Seirafi-Pour, founder of MyFab5, which is trying to solve some of the problems with local restaurant reviews that Yelp introduced through its success. Yelp, Seirafi-Pour contends (and I agree) has become "a platform for complaining." So, his company lets users rank their five favorite things in any given restaurant category. So, five favorite dessert places for ice cream, five favorite pizza places for deep dish pizza, five favorite Mexican places for tacos al pastor, etc. It's faster, he says, and provides more structured data to reveal interesting things about local restaurant scenes. MyFab5 is about to launch locally in Ann Arbor and begin looking for investment.

I also spoke with Grace Hsia, CEO of Warmilu, which is attempting to commercialize heating blankets for infants who are born preterm. Infant hypothermia, she told me, kills thousands of infants each year, particularly in places within the developing world that lack access to electricity. Hsia herself was born preterm and is passionate about her cause and business. She's a student in a new one-year master's degree in entrepreneurship that's a collaboration between University of Michigan's engineering and business schools.

* In a previous version of this story written quite late at night, perhaps while listening to Elvis Costello, I typo'd Twitter CEO Dick Costolo's name as Dick Costello. Sorry, Mr. Costolo, though I'd still like to hear you sing, "Welcome to the Working Week."

Jump to comments
Presented by

Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Why Do People Love Times Square?

A filmmaker asks New Yorkers and tourists about the allure of Broadway's iconic plaza


A Time-Lapse of Alaska's Northern Lights

The beauty of aurora borealis, as seen from America's last frontier


What Do You Wish You Learned in College?

Ivy League academics reveal their undergrad regrets


Famous Movies, Reimagined

From Apocalypse Now to The Lord of the Rings, this clever video puts a new spin on Hollywood's greatest hits.


What Is a City?

Cities are like nothing else on Earth.



More in Technology

Just In