On Thursday, September 28, after the UW Marching Band welcomed the crowd of over 500 people into the Gordon Dining and Event Center, we learned about what being an “entrepreneur” really means at the fifth Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase event. The crowd was upbeat and excited to hear from the all-star lineup of entrepreneurs with ties to the Wisconsin startup ecosystem. The speakers consisted of serial entrepreneurs like Brian Wiegand, who is on his sixth startup, Gravy – a livestreaming company, to first-time entrepreneurs like Zach Halmstad, founder of JAMF – a mobile device management solution.
One of the highlights and key takeaways was from Alex Kubicek, CEO of Understory, who explained that hearing “no” from investors does not mean you have a bad idea. Alex had heard “no” from venture capitalists upwards of 100 times and had even made a map with every location where he was rejected. He expressed that maybe the idea just needed some refining. After hitting the drawing board and talking with his customers, Alex realized that the product he originally built was filling his own needs, but not necessarily those of the market. To make a successful product and company, Alex told the audience, is as simple as truly understanding what your customer wants. Ever since, Understory has altered their product offering to fit the market needs and have been extremely successful as a result.
JAMF founder Zach Halmstad started his business while he was a student at UW-Eau Claire. Since its inception in 2002, the company has seen a lot of success, growing to over 700 employees. Halmstad offered plenty of worthwhile advice, but one of the pieces that really hit home for the students in the audience was to find where your passions lie. He made it clear that entrepreneurs will spend “thousands of hours” working on their projects, so it is extremely important to spend those hours working on something that you are passionate about.
Students were excited to hear from Kristen Berman, who started her first business while an undergrad at UW-Madison. After a few years working in Product Management for Intuit and Lytro, she began working in behavioral sciences. She co-founded Irrational Labs with Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of many books including Predictably Irrational. Now she is the co-founder and principle for Common Cents Lab, a nonprofit that is part of the Center for Advanced Hindsight at Duke University. Like Halmstad, she encouraged students to find what they are passionate about, and to define their own paths.
Brian Wiegand’s Q&A session with Jon Eckhardt, Executive Director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship touched on a multitude of topics from why it is so hard to raise capital in Wisconsin to why the Midwest needs to stop classifying failure as negative. Brian expressed failure as a key part to the entrepreneurial process because statistically more businesses fail than make it. The faster you weed out the bad ideas, Brian said, the quicker you will hit your home run idea. Failure should not be an omen, but rather a badge of honor that you use as a learning experience.
After the main speaker event, a speed networking session with 40 individuals with entrepreneurial expertise took place. The room was filled with eager students who wanted to learn about entrepreneurship from mentors willing to share their advice and insights. Groups of four to six students would spend a few minutes at each mentor table absorbing all the knowledge they could. The networking event was a perfect cap to the Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase’s mission: keep moving entrepreneurship within Wisconsin and the university together, forward. Read More
The Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase event is sponsored by Entrepreneurs Paul Reckwerdt, Ellen Rosner, and made possible by the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, the Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community (ERLC) and UW Housing.