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U-M business program seeks to create "renaissance in innovation" in Michigan

Jeff DeGraff of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business
Twitter @JeffDeGraff
Jeff DeGraff of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business

The NextIdea

“I would love to see a renaissance in innovation here in the state of Michigan”


Jeff DeGraff of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business
Credit Twitter @JeffDeGraff
Jeff DeGraff of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business

Those are the words of JeffDeGraff, a professor at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business.DeGraffknows very well that one of the biggest challenges in business is taking a great idea and bringing it to the marketplace and making it grow.

To help people do that, he is spearheading a project to help more Michiganders take that next step and create the state’s next batch of entrepreneurs.

The Certified Professional Innovator (CPI) program is being offered by the University of Michigan’s College of Engineering and the innovation consulting company Innovatrium.

DeGraff is the founder of Innovatrium and the motivation to launch CPI was born out of the time he spent as a consultant to several Fortune 500 companies. It was Apple’s approach that really laid the groundwork for this program.


“What Apple was brilliant at was picking out the handful of high-potential people who probably didn’t fit in with most organizations because they exhibited a lot of self-authorizing behavior,” said DeGraff. “[Those high-potential people] showed a lot of ownership for trying to make things new. And what Apple did was they made them what were called ‘apple fellows.’ So rather than trying to boil the ocean and extract gold by changing the whole firm, what they really did was they focused on this very small group of people who could actually shepherd a project all the way through the organization.”

DeGraff said this model works, and the idea is not to build something from scratch. The talent has to already be there.

“So the focus became, how do we create a forum for people who have high potential as innovation leaders to actually send them to finishing school,” said DeGraff. “It’s like going to The Juilliard [School in New York City]. You’re really not really teaching them how to play the piano. You’re teaching them how to get to Carnegie Hall.”

The program involves three steps.

1. Before you start the program, you have to watch 14 online videos, which are available for free on YouTube. (the first one is embedded below). In additional to the videos, there is a workbook available that DeGraff says you can get online for less than $10.  


2. The University of Michigan is offering a certificate program where applicants will have to already have a real project in place that has a real sponsor, and it has to be approved. Applicants who are approved will have the opportunity to work with some of the country’s top companies during a two-day on-campus boot camp called “Project Jumpstart” in an effort to get the project launched.    

3. Then, for the next 90 days, there’s a series of webinars where the student is coached through the process until it develops into the “thin version,” or version 1.0. When the project reaches that point, it is presented to DeGraff and his team, and gets critiqued in an effort to get version 1.0 to its endpoint.

There will be more dates in the future, but the next available certificate program will take place April 28-29. More details about the CPI can be found here.   

Listen to the full interview below to hear more about the program and all about other free resources that are available to help people develop their business ideas.Listen to the full interview with Jeff DeGraff

Join the conversation in the comments section below, on Twitter or Facebook, or let us know your Next Idea here. 

Copyright 2021 Michigan Radio. To see more, visit Michigan Radio.

Josh Hakala, a lifelong Michigander (East Lansing & Edwardsburg), comes to Michigan Radio after nearly two decades of working in a variety of fields within broadcasting and digital media. Most recently, he worked for Advance Digital where he managed newspaper websites from across the country, including MLive.com. While his resume is filled with sports broadcasting experience (Big Ten Network, 97.1FM The Ticket, 610AM WIP etc.), radio reporting (90.1FM WRTI) and odd jobs (Editor for the FIFA video game series for EA Sports), he brings a passion for news and storytelling to the Stateside staff.