During the First Innovation Residency, Michigan Ross Online MBA Students Transform Business Ideas into Functioning Prototypes and Product Pitches
It can take years to go from product ideation to a functional prototype ready to pitch to investors, but dozens of students in the Online MBA Program at the Ross School of Business successfully navigated the process in a matter of days.
As part of the Michigan Ross Online MBA Program’s first Innovation Residency, the students were divided into small teams and challenged to transform ideas into impactful products. Prior to the residency, students were immersed in coursework on design thinking and creating customer value, and entered the design phase by developing their team’s idea for an app.
Once the residency began, teams entered the build phase and used a tool called Balsamiq to generate clickable prototypes of their ideas. They then moved to the test phase by testing their prototypes with their fellow students and once again refining their product based on testing input.
At the end of the three-day residency, one team from each class section was declared the winner based on its prototypes and pitches to a judging panel of four venture capitalists, including several Michigan Ross alumni. Along the way, the teams received guidance from faculty members from the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Ross as well as invited guest speakers.
“The Online MBA students did an incredible job absorbing the information we presented to them and working effectively as teams to develop their ideas and create their prototypes,” said Rashmi Menon, residency instructor and lecturer of entrepreneurial studies at Michigan Ross. “We were incredibly impressed with how they addressed their problems and the amount of progress they made toward creating solutions in such a short period of time.”
The winning teams were EventGen, an app that would enable employees to easily organize social events with co-workers; and TidySite, an app that leverages existing infrastructure in airports, like cameras, and machine learning to forecast and track restroom maintenance. Members of EventGen were Marissa Bialecki, MBA ’22; Brahmananda Reddy Boggula, MBA ‘22; William Foote, MBA ‘22; Sri Gulukota, MBA ‘21; Madeline Nykaza, MBA ’21; and Ben Swiderski, MBA ‘22. TidySite teammates were Chad Teven, MBA ’23; Liza Kameen, MBA ’22; Nicole Saucedo, MBA ’23; Mike Mayberger, MBA ’22; Zachary Batcho, MBA ’23.
“I think we were chosen as the winners because we really capitalized on a concern that is resonating without a lot of people these days – cleanliness,” explained Saucedo, a paralegal at Kirkland & Ellis LLP. “I also think we provided a strong pitch which engaged our audience, addressed key concerns and questions, and that really put into perspective the possibilities of our innovation long-term.”
New learnings for both innovation newcomers and veteran entrepreneurs
The Innovation Residency proved to be a valuable learning experience for MBA students with a background in entrepreneurship and those who did not realize their abilities as innovators.
“The Innovation Residency was an incredibly valuable learning experience. We were able to glean many insights about design thinking and learn so much about innovation in such a short amount of time,” said Nykaza, assistant director of federal relations at the University of Michigan. “For me, the residency was eye-opening to learn that anyone can be creative and that we can all add creativity into our daily lives.”
Likewise, Bialecki thought the residency’s teaching of design thinking helped complement other skills she’s learned in the Online MBA Program and will be applicable to her work as a marketing manager at AARP.
“Going into the Innovation Residency, I knew very little about design thinking. But I was pleasantly surprised at how the various exercises allowed me to leverage skills from my marketing and communications experience, as well as my undergraduate psychology background,” she explained.
Although she launched her own e-commerce site called Paintru in 2019, Kameen also left with important takeaways from the Innovation Residency.
“Being an entrepreneur with Paintru, the material really resonated with me and I found it to be extremely helpful and applicable in my day-to-day,” said Kameen, who also works in human capital analytics at Fannie Mae. “My biggest takeaway from the residency was capturing feedback through prototyping. Having been through many other parts of the process building my own company, it was interesting to experience the power of a prototype. We have primarily leaned on integrating changes to our website, and then testing, but through prototyping, we can test these things without the overhead of actually building it out.”
Engaging with classmates, Michigan Ross faculty, and special guest speakers
Not only did the Innovation Residency provide the Michigan Ross students an opportunity to enhance their entrepreneurial skills, it also gave the Online MBAs an opportunity to connect with each other, faculty, and invited guest speakers. Speakers included two of Zell Lurie Institute’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, Josh Botkin, MBA ‘06, and Mike Johnson, MBA/MD ‘11, and Ramses Alcaide, founder and CEO of Neurable.
Batcho, a program manager at Convergint Technologies, said he thought the most enjoyable part of the residency was the time spent working with his classmates as a team to solve a complex and unfamiliar problem.
“The design of the residency was phenomenal, even though it was in a hybrid format this year because of COVID,” he explained. “The ability to collaborate with peers on a project and work through an iterative process to understand innovation was invaluable to our learning experience. The professors also brought in guest lecturers that enhanced the overall experience by sharing their unique perspective on innovation.”
In addition to participating in the business idea competition, the Online MBA students who traveled to Ann Arbor for the residency were able to engage with each other while exploring the town and over meals at local restaurants. Many students also joined events surrounding the Online MBA Program’s MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Projects) kickoff.