The Business & Entrepreneurship Clinic invited five local business owners to a “Master Coaching” event where they received advice from CEOs on some of their business challenges. The event was made possible due to the generous donation of time from CEOs and was hosted at the Wisconsin School of Business on October 10.
The afternoon started with opening remarks from Dean Vallabh “Samba” Sambamurthy who warmly welcomed everyone to the event and thanked the CEO coaches for their passion for entrepreneurship and donation of their time. The afternoon continued with pitches from five area businesses and rounds of coaching. Each founder had five minutes to present their business to the group and ask for specific areas they would like to be coached on. Following the presentations, the founders had 15-minute coaching sessions with each of the participating CEOs.
The CEO coaches included Scott Cook, co-founder and chairman of Intuit Inc.; Signe Ostby, founder of Software Publishing Corporation; Kevin Conroy, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Exact Sciences; Jan Eddy, Board Chair at Kiio Inc.; Paul Shain, President and CEO of Singlewire; and Toni Sikes, Co-Founder and CEO of CODAworx and General Partner of the Calumet Venture Fund.
The business owners spanned diverse industries including healthcare, lifestyle, and technology. The companies included:
- Curate a document-reading technology that scans through public minutes and agendas and provides weekly digests of reliable information for its clients.
- Laquerus a waterless, non-toxic nail salon founded by two Wisconsin School of Business alumnus.
- ImBed BioSciences develops medical devices for burns, wounds, and soft tissue repair.
- LÜM is a music discovery and streaming platform built on a social network so users can discover, share, and circulate music.
- OnLume is a medical device company providing intuitive and ergonomic solutions for precise fluorescence image-guided surgery.
Founders asked for coaching around various parts of their business including branding efforts, talent recruitment, pitching strategies, and distribution models. Once the one-on-one coaching sessions were completed, Scott led a debrief and facilitated discussions around main takeaways from the afternoon.
The importance of sitting with your customers and gaining empathy for how they use your product or service was discussed by a few founders. This theme extended to testing messaging with current customers rather than making assumptions about what will resonate. On the subject of investing, one founder said he takes away the idea of putting himself in the investors’ shoes to understand what they are looking for to ensure that he can provide confidence in the returns and projections.
The coaches also took time to share their takeaways with the group. “Getting customers to switch is hard,” Toni said. Adding, “your biggest competition is the status quo; you need to fight the engrained way people do things currently.” Jan and Scott reinforced the importance of identifying and driving corporate culture as the CEO and reminded the group that their actions set the tone for the culture of the company. “It’s critical that you create and protect your company culture,” Jan said. Paul underscored the importance of understanding your customers “from concept to cash” including the roadblocks they face so that you can alleviate any barriers to accessing your product. Focusing on two or three priorities and communicating them to your team and stakeholders was Kevin’s advice. He suggested aligning incentives around these main priorities which allows people to build a framework and make decisions ensuring goals are met. Signe left the group with a challenge to gather feedback from consumers through quick, directional testing so that the founders can make decisions based on insights.
This dynamic group of coaches and founders learned a great deal from each other in just a few hours. While the challenges each business faced were diverse, the community created through sharing experiences is something the founders will take with them as they continue with their entrepreneurial journey. We thank the Business & Entrepreneurship Clinic and the CEOs for hosting this opportunity for the founders.
The Business and Entrepreneurship Clinic, is supported by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF) and the Wisconsin School of Business to provide free business advice and services for Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs.