What’s a general rule of thumb for building community among college students? Feed them at events whenever possible. The Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community (ERLC) in Sellery Hall, UW-Madison’s living, learning community dedicated to fostering the spirit of entrepreneurship, is no exception.
Yes, the ERLC boasts many outstanding signature programs such as our Dream Big Venture awards, faculty taught for-credit academic seminars and the 100-Hour Challenge innovation competition. But ask any of our current residents and they’ll tell you one of things they enjoy most about living on the ERLC are our monthly Community Dinners.
The Community Dinners, which usually take place on the second Wednesday of the month, give the 64 residents of the ERLC first hand access to area entrepreneurs, business leaders and faculty who are immersed in or highly knowledgeable about startup culture. These dinners provide a first hand forum for our students to make valuable connections and learn from others who are willing to share their experiences and guidance. Some of these dinners have even spawned startup ideas for residents that have led to new venture ideas that our grant program helps fund. As ERLC alum, Nathan Eggenberger puts it, “One of my favorite parts of being in the ERLC has been attending the Community Dinners. It’s exciting being able to meet the people who have done, or are doing, what I can’t wait to do.”
This year’s series of dinners kicked-off during orientation week as local startup, Madison Food Explorers, led our residents on a tasty walking tour of some of State Street’s finest eating establishments, with fascinating local history peppered in. This was followed up by a dinner which showcased former Dream Big grant award winners; hearing about their experiences inspired many residents to consider applying for grants to fund their own big ideas. And in December, our monthly dinner became an innovation competition in its own right, with teams of residents competing to fashion gingerbread businesses in our “Sugary Startups” contest.
Our spring semester dinners have been varied, as well. We have welcomed Maggie Brickerman, who heads up gener8tor’s gBETA program, to the floor to explain the benefits of accelerator programs to our first years. Residents also got to enjoy hearing Birthday Box’s student startup story in March. And this month we will welcome the principal of Legacy Philanthropy Group, Jay Weisman, to the ERLC where he will get students to think about social entrepreneurship as well as their own personal brands.
There is no question the dinners are delicious, inspiring and informative. But most importantly they build community, which is vital to the college experience.