Student CEOs: Tech Start-ups on the University of Michigan Campus

The film The Social Network (2010) is the critically acclaimed "fictional" (arguably, not so much) story of the creation of Facebook by students at Harvard University in 2004. In one very telling scene, the Winklevii twins (Armie Hammer) set-up a meeting with then-President of Harvard University, Larry Summers (Douglas Urbanski), making complaints that Mark Zuckerberg (Jesse Eisenberg), Facebook's infamous founder, "stole" their idea. Claiming that this idea "could be potentially worth millions of dollars", Summers chuckles at the boys' frustration, stating, "Millions of dollars? I think you might just be letting your imaginations run away with you."
Tyler Winklevoss (Armie Hammer) nearly jumps out of his chair, firing back at the president, "Sir, with all due respect, I don't think you're in any position to make that call."

To this, Summer's responds firmly, "I was the Secretary of Treasury for the United States. I'm in some position to make that call."

And we all know the way this story ends: Facebook now has a total net-worth of over 17.5 billion dollars, as reported in March of 2012 by Forbes, making founder Mark Zuckerberg the youngest multi-billionaire on the planet. Summers, completely wrong on his aforementioned argument, was certainly right about something else he said to the angry twins during their heated conversation, "So find another idea!" he says, "Today, students at Harvard University believe that creating a job is better than finding a job."

That sentiment is not exclusive to the Harvard campus nor is it to the epic tale of Facebook's origins. In fact, nationwide, students today are working together at college universities to create technologically-based companies. Truly, a college campus is the ideal environment for this sort of business building and many motivated students are recognizing that front and taking advantage of it. Where else can you find the brains, energy, and understanding for web creations better than a place populated entirely by web-creations? In turn, why wait to graduate to find a job when you could potentially start your own billion-dollar company right where you are? (Yes, Mr. Secretary of the U.S. Treasury, I said billion).

For research, I had to look not much further than my front door. Right where we are, at the University of Michigan -- Ann Arbor, considerably one of the most prestigious research-oriented public universities in the country, these student-run "tech-start-ups" seem to be exploding all around me.

One of these companies, already taking momentum and gaining credible recognition from notable sources like the TechCrunch, is called Splash.FM. "Splash," a site created by a friend of mine, Alex Gatof, who is presently a standing junior at the Ross School of Business, is a place where people can essentially share music with one another through an engaging and entertaining game-like way. (Splash is currently in private beta; to join the site, use the access code "RIPPLE").

Gatof explains:

In the simplest of terms, Splash.FM is the Twitter of music. Across college campuses, friends need an easier way to share music with one another. To often do people post YouTube links on a friend's Facebook wall in order to share a great track. Through a dedicated social network for music discovery, users can Splash, or send, tracks at one another, and download the songs they love the most.

When I asked how the University campus harbored his innovation, Gatof describes:

The University of Michigan has been incredible in assisting Splash to grow our business. The Entrepreneurship School within Ross, and most notably Professor Len Middleton, has been an incredible resource. More than anything, though, the campus has been a great environment to get the momentum for Splash going. No one can share a website with other users faster than college students.

And there are more spirited entrepreneurs just like him. Seniors at the university, Chad Stark and David Spiro, previously co-founded the company ThruIM when they were just sophomores at school. Inspired by their fellow students and friends' inherent laziness, they were able to come up with an idea that caters to web-users' behaviors. ThruIM enables users to order delivery, schedule doctor's appointments, or make dinner reservations through text messaging and Facebook chat. "When you are a hectic student, or even just someone that is used to now doing everything online, this sort of company becomes instantly appealing", says Spiro. Already up and running in the Ann Arbor area, ThruIM currently has over a hundred users and three companies installed. Their plans for future projects?

"To get people to use our programs like they do Facebook", said both of the boys simultaneously.

And it would come at no shock-value to me if either of these relatively brilliant and relevant start-up companies, Splash or ThruIM, did. With the potential, stamina, and youthful essence of these young businesses, students like Gatof, Spiro, and Stark, among many others, have the ability to go long and far. Understanding our generation, and the speed at which we move, can be analyzed through the behavior of bright and budding university students. For making use of the resources around them, and the knowledge they acquire merely by thinking about how we, as students, act everyday, these guys may one day soon be passing out the same business cards that Mark Zuckerberg's character did in The Social Network, reading: "I'm CEO, bitch."