Report Index

SERIAL ENTREPRENEUR HELPS START-UPS NAVIGATE THE VENTURE-CREATION PROCESS

Norm Rapino
Director of Mentoring, Center for Entrepreneurship U-M College of Engineering

“Venture creation is more than just classwork and contests, and mentors play an important role with student start-up teams,”says Norm Rapino, the director of mentoring at the U-M College of Engineering's Center for Entrepreneurship. “Mentors can help students navigate the venture-creation process, which is not intuitive, and guide them into the marketplace where they can turn their ideas into commercial ventures.” Start-ups that are mentored are shown to be more likely to succeed than those that are not, he notes. To help U-M student-led ventures end up in the success column, Rapino mentors teams one-on-one and also participates in the entrepreneurial-education curriculum at TechArb. The business incubator is supported by the Zell Lurie Institute and the Center for Entrepreneurship, where Rapino is also an I-Corps Network specialist. Based on lessons-learned from a long career as a serial entrepreneur and, previously, as a mentor-in-residence at the U-M Office of Technology Transfer, he says, “I bring students the eyes and ears of someone who has been down the path they are on. Having led start start-ups and raised angel money, I understand what entrepreneurs must do to obtain seed funding and grow their companies. As an angel investor myself, I have a different perspective and know what investors want from entrepreneurs seeking start-up funding. I've been on both sides of the fence.”At TechArb, Rapino engages in “a Socratic dialog”to help entrepreneurs themselves learn to strengthen their business capabilities, refine their technologies, products or services and develop their sales, marketing and growth strategies. “We don't tell students what to do,”he explains. “We help them discover the right path to take.”Once student start-ups leave TechArb, Rapino may stay connected with them as they continue to move their ventures forward. “As a mentor, I get satisfaction from helping students,”he says, “and I learn from them just as they learn from me.”