During his seven years as a U.S. Army officer, Michael Thompson, MBA ’17, gained combat experience in Afghanistan, led a 130-person infantry company for two years and earned the rank of captain. Now, as a graduate student at the University of Michigan, Thompson is earning his MBA at the Ross School, gaining entrepreneurship experience through the Zell Lurie Institute and leading business development at Neurable, a highly promising University of Michigan spinout commercializing advanced technology developed at the University of Michigan Direct Brain Interface Laboratory.
"The militarty taught me valuable lessons in organizational leadership and creative problem solving; in the future, I hope to capitalize on these skills as an entrepreneur in private business," Thompson states. "Ross was the best business school for me because the Zell Lurie Institute offers phenomenal opportunities to aspiring entreprenetus, and the quality of ZLI's faculty is second to none."
Neurable, co-founded by Thompson and Ramses Alcaide, a University of Michigan neuroscience Ph.D. candidate, has developed a brain wave interpretation system that allows a user to have precise real-time control of devices, such as toys, cars, wheelchairs, TVs and video games. The user wears a headset embedded with specialized sensors that interfaces directly with leading virtual-reality platforms. Neurable’s brain-computer interface, or BCI, analyzes brain waves and then translates the user’s intent into action.
Over the past year, the startup earned top kudos at several leading business plan competitions and took home prize money that will help to advance the development of its prototype and management team. Neurable was a finalist in the 2016 Michigan Business Challenge and placed second in the 2016 Rice Business Plan Competition in Houston, winning over $300,000. The team has since raised a $2 million seed round. Zell Lurie Institute resources and mentors, including entrepreneur-in-residence Dr. Michael Johnson, helped Neurable accelerate its business development and refine its business plan. The Institute’s close ties with other campus collaborators, such as University of Michigan Tech Transfer, the Center for Entrepreneurship, the School of Information and the Medical School, also created a rich matrix of expertise, funding and support that Neurable was able to leverage at critical junctures along its startup journey. Michael Thompson credits the mentors at the Zell Lurie Institute and the University of Michigan Venture Center for helping Neurable grow and develop as a business.
"All of the mentors there are successful entrepreneurs, [and] they are all familiar with the venture community," he stated. "Most of the students are first-time entrepreneurs. One of the things they've done is help us think about this technology in relation to other technologies and industries."