Fresh off spring break, the 2019 Fellowship students took a trip to Milwaukee to visit some of the top startup companies in the country. Our trip included meeting with a wide variety of groups involved with entrepreneurship in Wisconsin including a co-working space, startup incubator, and numerous entrepreneurs.
Arriving early in the morning, we were greeted by Steve Mech, co-founder of Ward 4 co-working space. An alternative to traditional commercial office space, Ward4 provides companies a powerful operating platform combining the best tech connectivity with corporate spaces that are industrial, collaborative and full of community. Steve also introduced us to Ray Seaver, a “serial” entrepreneur. Ray has founded and sold multiple businesses in the past, and operates his latest venture, Zizzl, out of Ward 4. Both men were able to share their entrepreneurial journeys with the Fellowship students who greatly appreciated the lessons and advice.
Our next meeting of the day was with Maria Santacaterina, Director of Member Experience at Bright Cellars. Bright Cellars is the monthly wine subscription startup designed to help new wine drinkers discover and define their taste in wine. Members take a short quiz to share their taste preferences and the Bright Cellars machine learning algorithm match wine to each member’s taste. What was most exciting about meeting Maria is that she was the first employee that the two Bright Cellars co-founders hired. She was able to enlighten us on some considerations one may want to make as an early employee of a startup or when hiring for a startup of your own. Maria has graciously accepted our invitation to participate in our Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch Program on September 11, 2019 to share her expertise with our students.
For our next visit, Clare da Silva explained the gener8tor model of running a highly successful startup incubator. gener8tor operates multiple programs to guide and help entrepreneurs at any stage of their startup lifecycle and makes investments in many of the startups they work with and supports the growth of these startups through their network of experienced mentors, technologists, corporate partners, angel investors and venture capitalists. Clare has a background in art and is very passionate about the local art community so it is no surprise that she heads up Fellowship.art, a 12-week accelerator program for visual artists.
Following our meeting with gener8tor, we had the pleasure of meeting with the two founders of PAXAFE, Ilya Preston and Ashok Seetharam. PAXAFE protects the shipment of high-value products via its IoT-enabled, reusable, traceable and secure packaging solution. It was fascinating to learn how the team pivoted from their original idea, changed the team dynamic some, found their niche, and are now really taking off. It goes to show that you must have passion for your idea and a strong vision, but ultimately have to listen to the market and act on the feedback and lessons you learn throughout the process.
Our last stop of the day was to MobCraft Beer and a meeting with co-founder Henry Schwartz. Each month MobCraft leverages the power of the crowd to generate ideas for unique craft beers. Votes are cast by placing a pre-order for the beer consumers would like to see brewed and the beer with the most pre-orders wins and is brewed, packaged and available for pickup at the brewery. Henry and his co-founder, Andrew Gierczak, started MobCraft while finishing their undergraduate degrees at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Henry gave us great insight into some of the challenges that come with starting a capital-intensive business with a short business track record. Their creative solutions to other challenges, such as national and state liquor laws, also serve as inspiration. Never let challenges stand in your way.
We would like to thank our hosts for making the time to meet with us. It is very valuable for us to see, in action, many of the lessons we learned in the classroom.