U-M’s Perot Jain TechLab program enables entrepreneurial experience for technical students

August 21, 2023

Newly renamed and boosted with new funding, Perot Jain TechLab connects students with startups to explore new technology applications

One woman stands just inside an open car door, manipulating something on a frame mounted to the roof of a white car labeled with Perot Jain TechLab, Ford, Mcity and the University of Michigan. Another woman stands behind her, appearing to help, while a man sits in the passenger seat, looking down and toward the driver's side.
Neha Tiwari (BSE Comp. Eng. ‘23) and Swetha Subbiah (MSE EE ‘23) mount a LiDAR system on an Mcity vehicle while Broderick Riopelle (BSE Comp. Eng. ‘24) ensures that the sensor is being read by the vehicle. Image credit:: Crista Deneau, U-M Center for Entrepreneurship

Enrollment opens today for the Perot Jain TechLab program at the University of Michigan, which is supported with $2 million total over the next two years from the venture capital firm Perot Jain, Ford Motor Co. and the Michigan Economic Development Corp.

The course, which has been running as TechLab at Mcity since 2016, pairs undergraduate and master’s students studying engineering, computer science and data analytics with emerging transportation startups. Perot Jain, Ford and the state of Michigan share an interest in growing the talent pipeline for developing these technologies and bringing them to market.

A man with a marker smiles at the whiteboard while a woman points to something, also smiling. Behind them, a woman and a man look at something hidden behind the woman at the whiteboard. In the background is a white car with Mcity on the side. The building has white corrugated metal walls, tall garage doors and bright strip lights.
From the left, Broderick Riopelle (BSE Comp. Eng. ‘24) and Anna Nickel (BSE EE ‘24) work at the white board while Swetha Subbiah (MSE EE ‘23) and Daniel Jiang (BSE Comp. Eng. ‘24) discuss the next steps of their project. Image credit:: Crista Deneau, U-M Center for Entrepreneurship

“We’re incredibly proud of the partnerships with Perot Jain, Ford and the Office of Future Mobility to enhance and expand our programming,” said Nick Moroz, director of entrepreneurial practice at U-M’s Center for Entrepreneurship. “This will enable a richer experience for more students, providing them with cutting-edge resources for their projects and more career opportunities postgraduation.”

At its inception, Perot Jain TechLab connected students with mobility startups through a partnership with U-M’s Mcity, which runs the world’s first purpose-built testing environment for connected and automated vehicles. The students work with future mobility startups that are past the earliest stages, with a set of investors who hold equity in the company. Their projects explore how existing technologies might be applied to solve different problems in advanced mobility.

“The classes taught me the intricacies of starting a business and gave a fresh perspective on the autonomous vehicle industry,” said Niyanta Mehra, an alumnus of the U-M College of Engineering who worked with Adastec, which develops software for automated buses.

The program has been equally satisfying for industry partners.

“Our partnership with TechLab at Mcity was one of Carmera’s most enduring and productive research collaborations,” said Ro Gupta, co-founder and CEO of Carmera, an HD mapping startup acquired by Woven by Toyota in 2021. “Having worked with two cohorts of U-M students over four semesters, I can point to the direct, tangible impact the students had on some of the most important components of the Carmera tech stack.

About 30 people surround a white car with Mcity on the hood, in a brightly lit building of steel and glass.
The 2019 Perot Jain TechLab cohort kickoff featuring students, company mentors, instructors, and staff at the Honda R&D center in Ann Arbor, MI.

“The support we and the students received from TechLab and Mcity was critical in making our work together successful, and the advantages of working onsite in Michigan—both for proximity to important industry constituents and for key environmental/weather exposure—were indispensable.”

The new sponsors will not only financially support the program, but will also help identify startups and technologies that are right for Perot Jain Techlab. For instance, the expanded program will include emerging companies focused on vehicle electrification and carbon sequestration in addition to connected and automated vehicles. The sponsors will also provide experts as guest speakers to help students understand industry’s cutting edge and the opportunities and challenges there.

wo women and a man stand in front a building sided in gray corrugated metal, with the man pointing at the "PEROTJAIN TECHLAB at Mcity" logo on the white sectional garage door.
From the left, Daphne Tsai (BSE CS ’23); Mahzad Khoshlessan, a doctoral student in robotics; and Anurag Jain stand in front of the new building at Mcity that will house a workspace for the Perot Jain TechLab program. Image credit: Crista Deneau, U-M Center for Entrepreneurship

“Investing in the future of entrepreneurship is investing in the future of innovation, and we are proud to support the University of Michigan’s Center for Entrepreneurship in their efforts to foster the next generation of industry-transforming companies,” said Anurag Jain, founding partner of Perot Jain and alumnus of U-M’s Ross School of Business.

“Our commitment to partnering with entrepreneurs is rooted in our belief that disruptive ideas can change the world, and the Perot Jain TechLab series will provide a platform for the next generation of game-changers to cultivate and realize their vision.”

Beyond future mobility, the Perot Jain TechLab program is seeking more partners to help build emerging technologies in health care, space and cybersecurity. The program aims to add these offerings over the next three years.