Every spring semester, graduate students from many disciplines and degree programs come together in Grainger Hall to participate in the Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) class. This year, I had the pleasure of participating as a financed-focused MBA student. I joined a vastly diverse group of students studying subjects such as biomedical engineering, physics, mechanical engineering, brand and product management, supply chain, and various other disciplines. As is standard practice, students formed teams of 2-4 individuals even before the class began. The course is designed for students to determine the viability of launching their own ventures, so only very serious ideas and determined students are accepted into the course.
In addition to the varying specializations of students in the course, we saw a great variety of business ideas in WAVE this year including a cell therapy solution for heart failure, a nuclear fusion power company, an advanced metal 3D printing enterprise, an internet-of-things spice rack and fulfillment organization, an biomedical device company, a machine learning produce identifying technology, a custom furniture platform, and a Persian style savory dip company. Even though many of the “founders” for each of the ventures had specialized knowledge related to their idea, it takes a balanced team to bring each idea to fruition. While no team makeup was the same, my own team was representative of this balanced, coming together with specialized knowledge. Loakal was comprised of four MBA students with experience in operations, engineering, finance, risk management, brand management, and law.
The format of the class helped us take a structured approach to launching a venture. Every week, each team had a deliverable focused on one aspect of the business, and our fellow classmates would provide feedback that we could use to improve our business model. For example, we may spend a week to initially identify our target demographic and a channel to market to them and after presenting our plan that week we could “pivot” based on the input of classmates.
In addition to the feedback received each week from classmates and Professor Dan Olszewski, a highlight of the course is receiving feedback from the WAVE Advisory Board at the end of the semester. Each team presented the final iteration of their business plan during the annual board meeting that took place on May 1. Members of the advisory board have tremendous experience in the business world; some have experience as venture capitalists or have launched successful enterprises of their own (some of which have gone public). The board members contributed extremely valuable advice to students.
Even though my team decided that “bootstrapping” was a better option than to look for fundraising, it was a choice that we had to make. With the Weinert Ventures Fund and Daniel Neviaser Fund both available to make significant investments in promising student startups, there is real money on the line for groups that believe it could get their business off the ground. The WAVE Advisory Board also contributes input on whether they think the individual student startups justify prudent investment.
I can personally say that the WAVE course was one of the most valuable experiences I had during my two year MBA at Wisconsin. No other class gave me the perspective on business administration that came from being a “partner” in a real startup. We focused our efforts and energy on every challenge that real businesses, large and small, will face as they seek to grow and stay relevant. We had to solve challenges related to operations, financing, marketing, strategy, and more. We were able to solicit guidance from wonderful faculty and alumni to bypass challenges, but ultimately our business was going to succeed or fail based on our desire and ability to make it happen. Lessons I learned in WAVE will stay with me well into my career after graduation. Special thanks go out to Professor Dan Olszewski, the advisory board and the WAVE Class of 2019 for a dedicated and enthusiastic semester.
2019 WAVE Student Teams
All Brick Medical: Joseph Ulbrich, Rebecca Alcock, Harshit Agarwal, and Andrew Traxler
Cellular Logistics: Yaniv Sadka, Zachary Bower, and Edwin Neumann
Dastan: Buzz Rankouhi, Gerardo Mazzei Capote, Donovan Walker, and Alec Redmann
Linear Fusion: John Boguski and Ethan Peterson
Loakal: Mike Mansell, PJ Hopkins, Josh Torres, and Aaron Hammer
Papriik: Liam Narozanick and Andy Ortman
ParStar Persian Style Savory Dip: Mohammadreza Ranjbar Naeini and Hossein Panahi
Picky Produce: Christian Gero and Reggie Liu