“Don’t talk yourself out of things; every action you take makes you better,” said Bruce Neviaser, WAVE Advisory Board Member and Principal of Imagine Resorts & Hotels. Bruce shared his entrepreneurial journey with students in Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) class in February. WAVE is an applied learning practicum focusing on starting or growing an entrepreneurial business. The class serves as a capstone for many of the students in the Fellowship program and is open to all graduate students.
In reflecting on my past year in the Fellowship program and in WAVE, Bruce’s words have been extremely encouraging. There is so much uncertainty in the world right now, but the only way to start making progress and learning from this experience is to take action. Without making light of the current situation, I see many similarities in entrepreneurship and the philosophy practiced in WAVE. Getting ideas outside of your head to talk to people; taking action is what allows you to succeed. Small business owners are displaying this experimentation and resilience now as they offer services and products in ways they had not considered two months ago.
This semester, 16 students from across campus made up five business teams. A variety of business ideas were under development this semester including a sensor technology to monitor variables in food production, a bio-based recycled PET plastic technology, a tool to improve tumor localization procedures, an essential oil extraction kit, and an indoor dog park and bar. The students were from backgrounds as diverse as the startups, specializing in business, biomedical and mechanical engineering, law, and synesthetic biology. The assortment of ideas and backgrounds brought unique perspectives to the weekly discussion and enhanced the conversations.
Following the Lean Start-Up approach for customer and market discovery, groups present on a different area of their business model canvas focusing on the experiments that led them to the information presented. Rich discussions allowed us to learn the motivations, explanations, and customer insights that led teams to their recommendations. Each week, I was motivated by the progress teams made and the engagement and ownership groups showed for their businesses. The detail that goes into taking an idea and turning it into a viable business model is difficult to teach, that’s why the WAVE class pairs business principals with experimentation so each team can learn what works for their specific product, market, and customer.
While our approach, business model, and background were all different, each week I learned something beneficial for my team while listening to other presentations. Sharing ideas and perspectives was extremely valuable to refine assumptions, iterate, brainstorm, and improve. Students were generous with their ideas as well as their uncertainties, which increased the overall experience. Both WAVE and the fellowship program helped me feel more comfortable giving and receiving feedback. Often startups are a result of a personal passion, so it can be difficult to seek feedback. This year has shown how important it is to put your ideas out there so that you are sure you are solving a customer need and not overlooking important details. In addition, providing feedback should be approached with care and encouragement.
The end of the semester was far from normal, but Dan Olszewski and the WAVE Advisory Board pivoted for the final team presentations. Without the in-person board meeting, the pitches were prerecorded, and the links shared with the board to view and provide feedback electronically. My team, Red Rover, found the written feedback extremely helpful. We were not able to complete all of the experiments we planned due to safer at home restrictions, so we are grateful for the opportunity to hear from the board as we continue to refine our business model and adjust to the current environment.
The dedicated involvement of the WAVE students, board members, and Dan makes WAVE a rich capstone to the MBA program. I am extremely grateful for this experience and excited to see where these ideas and each of my classmates go from here. A special thank you to Dan, the Weinert Center and advisory board members for their support of hands-on learning opportunities.
2020 WAVE Student Teams
At Home Apothecary: Neha Patil, Sonia Petty, and Amanda Salvi
Circular Plastics: Joseph Beckmann, Nimi Ehr, Xiangyang Liu, and Hannah O’Brien
Kelvin Innovations: Zhutong Li and Keaton Nankivil
Perfalign: Brooke Ashbacher, Terry Brimley, Kevin Fantl, and Alexander Henry
Red Rover: AJ Meinig, Megan Stock, and Johnnie Wagman