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University of Michigan School of Information


UMSI students receive OPCE awards and grants for innovation and entrepreneurship

Wednesday, 06/20/2018

The University of Michigan School of Information’s Office of Professional and Community Engagement (OPCE) has selected three students to receive the 2017-2018 Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awards and Grants. 

Ann Duong (MHI ’18), Florence Noel (MSI/MBA student), and Huyen Phan (MSI student) are entrepreneurs creating work that showcases innovative, reflective student engagement and demonstrates a commitment to the field of information. In their applications, these students discussed the feasibility and challenges of their work, how their projects build upon work already being done, and the purpose of their endeavors.

The UMSI Innovation and Entrepreneurship Awards and Grants support U-M School of Information students who wish to participate in activities associated with innovation and entrepreneurship and require funding. These awards are funded in part by the Weiser iEntrepreneur Fund and the Field Entrepreneurship & Innovation Grant.

"Aligned with the School's history of being on the cutting edge of technology and its impact on people, we want to provide support for students who are pursuing novel and innovative endeavors,” said Kelly Kowatch, OPCE director, in announcing the awards.  “We are proud to be able to jumpstart these students' work on these entrepreneurial endeavors, especially those that we anticipate will have high social impact." 

Alongside teammates Brandon Keelean and Elisabeth Michel, Ann Duong created Canopy, a web based application that helps people make end-of-life healthcare decisions and share those decisions with their loved ones and medical providers. The app is comprised of technical and non-technical questions ranging from whether or not someone wants CPR and where they want to spend their last days, to asking about their favorite song. “Canopy helps families better prepare today for tomorrow. The hope is that people will have these conversations earlier rather than later, so they can make the best decisions for themselves,” said Ann.

A few of Canopy’s recent accolades include winning the Graduate Grand Prize in the 2017 Accelerate Michigan Innovation Competition (awarded $6,000) and first place in the 2018 Ann Arbor SPARK Bootcamp competition ($25,000). 

Brandon Keelean, Stamps School of Art & Design student and cofounder of Canopy, suggests, “As you look for people to join you on your journey into entrepreneurship, find people who complement your strengths and see the world differently than you. It’s common that all three of us will experience the same thing and walk away with completely different experiences. The diversity in our team has been one of our biggest strengths.”

At the intersection of race and gender, black women face singular challenges in political participation, employment, earnings, health, and safety. Florence Noel won a grant for her start up, Dear Black Women (DBW), an affirmation movement and social network, offline and online, that grows the community and social capital of Black women.

“Black women were so hungry for affirming spaces that fortified them and equipped them with the insights and tools they needed to better navigate their lives,” said Florence, “It is necessary work. And we are worth it!”

DBW has received support from the Founders Fund, Commercialization Fund, Dare to Dream and Marcel Gani Grants, TechArb Student Venture Accelerator, won the School of Information Field Award and The Weiser Family MBA Entrepreneur of the Year Award. 

Lastly, with the help of an interdisciplinary team, Huyen Phan is building an educational start up called Peerstachio. Peerstachio is a peer-to-peer learning and social networking website connecting undergraduate college students and high school seniors.

Peerstachio aims to ease the transition from high school to college. "Students face many academic and life challenges in college,” said Scarlett Ong Rui Chern, cofounder of Peerstachio, such changes can cause overwhelming stress “resulting in students eventually dropping-out or failing." With Peerstachio, students are able to ask questions and have discussions in a safe, anonymous environment, while building peer-mentor relationships with other college students. 

So far, Peerstachio has competed in the Michigan Business Challenge, been awarded Dare to Dream Grants, participated in the Marcel Gani Internships Program, Michigan Law Entrepreneurship Clinic, and more. Cofounder Huyen says the UMSI Entrepreneurship grant "will support Peerstachio with the in-depth customer discovery process… It also covers the expenses for our prototyping and product development resources, and supports the efforts and costs of the startup."

To learn more about these projects, visit Made at Michigan to read feature articles on CanopyDear Black Women, and Peerstachio.


- Brooke White, Editorial Assistant