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miLEAD Consulting Connects Grad Students and Startups to Benefit Ann Arbor’s Tech Ecosystem

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The University of Michigan-based nonprofit, miLEAD continues to shape the Ann Arbor tech ecosystem through its high-level consulting services. These services are led by U-M graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in STEM. Through close collaboration with the business community, graduates get to apply their research skills to an array of complex business problems. A recent collaboration with local startups Throdle and MyAutO2, sheds light on the meaningful impact the organization has on the region. 

The collaboration was fostered through Ann Arbor SPARK’s spring Boot Camp celebration. This capstone gives entrepreneurs of early-stage tech companies the opportunity to pitch their business ideas for a chance at prize money. As standout companies in the pitch competition, both Throdle and MyAutO2 were also awarded consulting services provided by miLEAD. The free consultations proved to be a key resource for the startups, especially during a pivotal time in their development. 

Nadine Lee, CEO of Throdle described miLEAD’s impact on her business, “miLEAD was an incredibly professional group of individuals to work with. Their process, research, and customer discovery were meticulously planned and reported on. The skills and insights various members of the team brought to the process were invaluable in understanding the competitive landscape and future development of our product.” 

Since its inception in 2013, miLEAD has served over 84 clients and completed over 79 projects. Consultants are University of Michigan graduate and postdoctoral fellows who specialize in science and tech-related fields, including biomedical engineering, and molecular and integrative physiology. miLEAD engages companies from emerging start-ups to established corporations and provides a wide array of deliverables to meet each project’s specific needs. Working with miLEAD, local companies receive professional development and a deeper understanding of their target markets, ultimately building a broader network. Likewise, students get firsthand experience applying knowledge in real-world settings, pouring back into the local tech ecosystem. 

Beyond the company benefits, consulting impacts the trajectory of many student careers. Drew Marquis, miLEAD project manager for MyAutO2 spoke on the significance of the project. “For many of our first-time consultants, this was one of their first opportunities to apply their scientific training to a real business problem. It’s an enjoyable process to see first-time consultants learn how to sort through which questions and research streams are interesting and which are relevant for the client’s needs. Working with MyAutO2 has given consultants a broader perspective of careers outside of academia that they may want to pursue after they graduate.” 

By working with local companies, students also see the wealth of opportunities in Ann Arbor. Charlie Childs, miLEAD director of public relations, described the impact the role has had on her professional journey. “As a third-year Ph.D. student I have always thought about going into industry. Working with a variety of local companies showed me the various ways that I could apply transferable skills. There are so many different avenues where I can use my expertise and it’s been truly eye-opening, meeting stakeholders and being exposed to a diversity of startups, especially in a city like Ann Arbor.” 

Beyond consulting, miLEAD provides additional resources for students and local professionals. Workshops, guest speakers, social events, and training modules provide an environment for networking and knowledge building. Ann Arbor SPARK’s director of entrepreneurial services, Margarita Hernandez discussed the value of the company’s work. “Organizations like miLEAD are integral in maintaining a pipeline of both successful professionals and companies. Knowing that Ann Arbor nurtures both students and startups highlights the abundant opportunity our region has to offer.”