There are many events for students offered on the UW campus. They are enriching, most of the time fun, and expose students to some very important insights that they can’t get elsewhere.
While we may be a bit bias, the Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch program is the best event on campus—and it’s not just because we serve free Ian’s Pizza.
Every week different entrepreneurs from a variety of industries come and speak to our students on Wednesdays during their lunch break (12:15 – 1:00 p.m). This is a casual event with speakers often times sitting with our students and answering their questions regarding entrepreneurship.
This semester, we were extremely fortunate to have another strong group of entrepreneurs from a diverse array of industries who told their unique stories as well as provided valuable advice and lifelong lessons.
Vanessa McDowell, CEO of YWCA, kicked off the semester. As the first black woman CEO of the organization, Vanessa is deeply committed to offering programs and services that support women and social justice, help families, and strengthen communities. In 2016 BRAVA magazine selected she as one of the 22 Women to Watch. She graduated from UW with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sociology.
Birk Cooper, our second speaker, joined Fetch in 2014 and leads their marketing efforts with a heavy focus on user insights, product planning and execution, promotion, and both shopper and partner communications. During Birk’s tenure, the Fetch app has grown to 17 million monthly active users and has consistently ranked among the top shopping apps on both iOS and Android, even reaching No. 1 overall free app.
In memory of her mother, Judy McNeal created QB’s Magnetic Creations to provide an alternative to pins and broaches which damage clothing. She incorporates care, quality, and remembrance into every aspect of her business as she provides clothing-protective modern and vintage brooches to the public.
Sarah Smith was certainly a unique speaker who started her career working as an elementary school music teacher and has since founded her own venture fund, Sarah Smith Fund. She found herself in the Bay Area in the early 2000s and gained experience in companies such as Meta/Facebook, Quora, Bain Capital Ventures, and Stanford Graduate School of Business. She is a board member of Lime, Mathison, and Archive Resale.
If you love healthy food, our fifth speaker of the semester talked about his fresh line of products while students ate pizza! Brian Durst is the Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Tribe 9 Foods. Tribe 9 is a manufacturer of fresh traditional, gluten-free, and grain-free pasta, organic and natural nut butters, bars, and cookies. The company markets its own products under the Taste Republic, RP’s Pasta, and Yumbutter brands, as well as making food for other brands, retailers, and food service applications.
Amy Jo Pedone, from Valenza Chocolatier, was our chocolatier of the semester—and even brought some of her own creations for students to try. Amy Jo graduated from the Wisconsin School of Business with a BBA degree in finance but after the loss of her cousin to ovarian cancer, assessed what she would choose to do if she could “start all over.” Soon after, Amy Jo jumped headfirst into Italian chocolate culture; training with Godiva’s R&D team, becoming a Certified Master Chocolatier entrepreneur, and winning numerous national awards in chocolatiering.
Katy Jinkins, an alumnus of the Morgridge Entrepreneurial Bootcamp and Ph.D. graduate from UW in Materials Science, and recent winner of the grand prize at the Wisconsin Governor’s Business Plan Contest, was our seventh speaker of the semester. Katy is CEO and Co-Founder of SixLine Semiconductor Inc. After spending postdoc time at Northwestern University, Katy dedicated herself to her company that integrates aligned carbon nanotubes into high-performance electronics.
Rachel Neill, CEO of Carex Consulting Group, became one of In Business magazine’s 40 under 40, gained executive level experience in healthcare, organized the 1 Million Cups Madison Group supporting local startups, and built up the Nordic Consulting group’s culture to be named one of the “Best Places to Work’ by Modern Healthcare in 2014. Students loved learning about the curation of finding top-notch candidates for industry-leading companies to create a more efficient and satisfied workforce all while reveling in Rachel’s success from a single mom at the age of 16.
Our ninth speakers, husband and wife duo Nicole and Carson Cook, came to speak to our students together. Nicole Cook is a health tech innovator and entrepreneur with a passion for using data and technology to drive impact. She is the founder of Alvee Health, a Techstars portfolio company which uses AI/ML to address social needs and promote health equity. Carson Cook is an accomplished serial entrepreneur in the blockchain/crypto space having founded Fractal Wealth, DeFi protocol Tokemak, and digital asset clearing company Membrane. Previously, he was a management consultant at McKinsey. Carson holds his Ph.D. in physics, a master’s degree in electrical engineering and a bachelor of science degree all from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Our final speaker, Trevor Stowe, was for our student foodies. As co-founder of Goldbelly, an online marketplace for food products, Trevor gave students some excellent career and personal advice. He discussed his own battles with rejection and failure from when he first graduated college until today. Customers of Goldbelly can order products from restaurants, bakeries and deli’s and have them shipped across the US. Goldbelly also helps small businesses, new chefs, and shops to get their products out in the market. In 1993 he co-founded a business in Southeast Asia and returned to the US in 1997 and started three more companies.
Thank you to all of the entrepreneurs who participated in the Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch for the spring semester. We appreciate you sharing your time, talent and expertise with our students.
A very special thank you goes to Neider & Boucher, S.C. for sponsoring the Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch program since its inception in Fall of 2013. We thank you for your unwavering and dedicated support of this luncheon series.