What is it like to think like an entrepreneur?
Is there anything that actually makes their mindset different from the rest of us?
The Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship along with the BBA Program Office organized a panel of experienced and successful entrepreneurs to answer these very questions.
This year, we were excited to host Marina Bloomer, founder of Stellar Tech Girls; Megan Hile, founder of Madison Chocolate Company; Tyler Kennedy, co-founder of Fetch; and Pam Schwartzbach; owner of the Hive of Madison. Michael Quesnell, the Assistant Director for Employer Development, facilitated the conversation.
Tyler Kennedy, as forementioned, is one part of the Madison duo who began Fetch in 2013 while still a Wisconsin School of Business student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
“I always had this idea in my mind that business was my journey. When I was younger, I wanted to make money to buy video games or something cool like that. So, I started mowing lawns. I made good money, and this encouraged me to make more detailing boats. I realized that if there’s a problem, I can probably solve it. When I was in college, I was really interested in connecting with other entrepreneurs. At the same time, I met Wes Schroll, co-founder and CEO at Fetch. He had this idea for couponing, and we started to work through that idea and build a business plan. We ended up winning some business plan competitions and won some initial capital that allowed us to get started.”
When asked his advice to students who may be assessing their own personal risk, Tyler emphasized the opportunity that being a student brings. “Learn a bunch and that will really help you get off on the right foot. I look back on a lot of things that we did in the starting days, and I am in awe that we ever got anything done. With that said, it’s important to realize that sometimes now is optimal for some people. A lot of students don’t have life commitments. You can get by on a lot less. The less traditional student with a lot of commitments is still in the same boat. You are already spending all that time focusing on school, after school it’s going to be a job, why not make that time spent towards developing your business plan?”
Coining herself as a free spirit and chocolatier, Megan Hile and her husband started Madison Chocolate Company in 2012. The company has won two Good Food Awards and is known for using local ingredients while sourcing chocolate from all over the world.
Megan, who emphasized how she felt out of place everywhere she went, spoke about how the ‘traditional’ work life scared her. “Following others’ instructions has always been very confining for me. My husband and I started two businesses and realized, ‘Oh, this is much nicer if you’re making your own rules!’ I need to be doing something that excites me. Something that brings me passion. Becoming my own boss was sort of a no brainer and I can’t think of anything that suits me more.”
Megan taught Spanish for a large portion of her career before switching over to chocolate making. Although it seems like a huge jump, for her, it wasn’t.
“If you’re going to be doing something, you have to do it your best. I started out with web design. It was a quick way to earn money. Then somewhere down the line I was asked if I wanted to teach Spanish. This redirected my life and my husband’s. We both went into teaching and became further educated in it. Fast forward, I got really sick. This happens and is another big reason for why things change in life. I was diagnosed with MS and ended up in the hospital for a month being unable to walk or eat. Blogging became a thing. While I was recovering, I searched food blogs and I ended up with this incredibly particular recipe for chocolate. It was so interesting to me. I used my Spanish and did a big internship in Ecuador. Now I am a chocolatier. I just like it.”
Of all the entrepreneurs, Marina Bloomer stood out for her diverse education and work experience. Having led a career as an aerospace engineer and executive, Marina got her MBA degree in brand and product management from the Wisconsin School of Business in May 2022 and decided to pursue her lifelong desire to help make tech education more accessible to young girls. While in her MBA program, Marina took Venture Creation (MHR 734) and the Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE)s courses that helped her refine her business idea. Founded in February 2022, Stellar Tech Girls is dedicated to inspiring the next generation of female engineers and is Marina’s push at making her lifelong desire come true!
“I didn’t grow up thinking I was going to be an entrepreneur. I started in engineering, then realized I had more of a passion for design. After college, I started my career at GE. There were so many layers of bosses, and I went crazy in that environment. I knew the next thing I had to do was get really innovative, so I switched to working in a startup in the aerospace industry. I like trying hard things and making them happen. I got my MBA afterwards with the intention of starting my own business. I wanted to understand capitalism and how I could use it to my advantage.”
“I got a call from a recruiter at SpaceX who was looking for people with master’s degree from Georgia Tech. I went and worked at SpaceX. It was incredible. I thrived in that fast environment, but I was in my 20s and I became burned out. It was time for me to move on. I used what I learned at SpaceX to be a consultant for other aerospace companies. I had many leads, but then COVID hit. This is when I decided to pursue my MBA degree at UW-Madison while working as a consultant remotely. I always had this idea of starting a company that is focused on bringing engineering and technical education to girls. I wanted to encourage a stronger pipeline for women to go into engineering. I knew this was a space that I could really make an impact in. Leaving a very successful job is scary, but I knew that it was time for me to make that jump.”
Similar to Tyler, Marina’s advice for individuals who may be scared of taking that jump towards self-employment was to get as much experience as possible. “If you are debating, get some experience somewhere else. It’s not a bad thing to go join a startup to see how things run before you make that leap. Don’t put your savings and future plans on the line without fully feeling prepared to do so. Gaining more experience is always a great option if you’re on the fence.”
The last entrepreneur on the panel was Pam Schwarzbach, an independent sales representative and small business owner of The Hive, Madison.
Apart from her store, Pam has owned her company, The Ascentials, since 1997 and operates with the goal of providing vendors and retailers with the best quality of service in the industry.
“My husband and I have been sales reps for 27 years. We’ve been fortunate during that time to focus on small work with small, independently owned businesses. We have never worked with a corporately held company. Connecting with our retailers has always been very important to us, and we’ve kept that same spirit 27 years later. Don’t feel like you’re alone. There is a network around you–your community–that is there to support you. When we had the connections and the support, we were sure we wanted to open our store.”
Pam and her husband’s goal with opening their own business was to truly be present in the customer’s shopping experience. After all, service is what the pair are passionate about. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-person shopping experience was changed indefinitely. As a result, The Hive had to transition online in order to survive.
“We wanted to be local. We wanted to know our customer. See them and talk to them. We wanted to touch and feel the product with them. We never wanted an online presence. All that changed with COVID. We were forced to in order to survive. Luckily, pushing ourselves online didn’t end up being the huge feat we had feared it would, but even with the world going back to normal things are not yet where we want them, and that’s okay. It took us time to go online, and now it’s taking us time to get back to where we want to be.
“Apparel is so much a part of who people are. It brings people great comfort and great satisfaction to be wearing something that reflects who they are. To be purchasing it from someone who really respects who they are–what they bring to the table–that’s the passion of retail. Whatever level the customer is at, you help them through that process, and they respect that.”
When asked what her advice to students who may want to become entrepreneurs, Pam emphasized the importance of being vulnerable. “Ask questions, learn, and never be afraid to do both.”
It was fascinating to hear the career pathways of four local entrepreneurs and how they got to where they are today using their entrepreneurial mindset. Their stories resonated with students and provided them with meaningful advice that inspires their entrepreneurial spirit.