Q&A with Executive Director Stewart Thornhill in Crain’s Detroit

Shannon Beeman
May 30, 2014

The academic year has come to a close and in this Q&A with Executive Director Stewart Thornhill that was published in Crain’s Detroit this morning, Thornhill discusses the new Desai accelerator program and his plans to hold more active entrepreneurs at U-M for week long programs with students. Below is an excerpt of the interview and here is a link to the full article: Q&A with Stewart Thornhill: New head of UM entrepreneur institute puts foot on accelerator.

“Now settled into his new role in a new country, Thornhill is working on a few new initiatives to further the institute’s entrepreneurial mission, including one to launch a Silicon Valley-style business accelerator. The accelerator would complement the institute’s TechArb incubator, managed in league with the Center for Entrepreneurship at UM’s College of Engineering.

The launch and early operation of the as-yet unnamed accelerator will be funded by a $1 million gift from the family of Bharat Desai, founder of Troy-based Syntel Inc. Thornhill filled in the early details of the plans in a conversation with Gary Anglebrandt.

Let’s hear more about the accelerator.

The accelerator will be modeled on Y Combinator, Techstars, Launchpad LA. The perfect company to enter an accelerator is the one that is quarter-baked. You want it to be half-baked before it’s really in a position to get that early, seed or angel investor money. But if companies try to go for that early investor too early, they’re going to fail or they’re going to have to give up so much of their company because of the wildly risky nature of it that it’s often not worth doing.

We often find that students who incubate ideas, whether in a formal incubator or just in their dorm room, often get to the point where they finish their degree, they’d love to be able to take it to that next stage, but they have to go get a job. They’ve got student loans, they have to pay rent, buy groceries.

So if we can fill in a gap where those companies have a place to go for another three or four months, we can put some funding behind them, put some intense mentorship behind them, put some very rigorous milestones in place to really keep them on track. And then when they graduate from that three- or four-month acceleration period, we put them in a position where they pitch to local VCs, local angels and student investment funds.”