As interest in entrepreneurship continues to soar, the sixth annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase event provided an opportunity to learn from and be inspired by successful entrepreneurs. Attendees, including undergraduates, graduates, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members, came together to embrace and celebrate entrepreneurship. The Showcase featured an esteemed group of speakers who shared their experiences, along with expert mentors that were on hand providing guidance and advice to the students.
Bucky Badger and the UW Marching Band kicked off the event by getting the crowd on their feet and excited for the event. Professor Jon Eckhardt, executive director of the Weinert Center and master of ceremonies, recounted how the Showcase got its start six years ago with sponsors Paul Reckwerdt and Ellen Rosner having the vision and fortitude to create an all-encompassing event that motivates people to make a difference.
The first speaker was BBA graduate Ryan Feit, co-founder of SeedInvest, an equity crowdfunding platform that opens access to venture capital and angel investing to everyone. A notable element of Ryan’s story was what he gave up to start SeedInvest. Rising through the ranks of a successful private equity firm, Ryan seemed to be on a very enviable path. He admits that there were many attractive perks to the job, and he could have been very satisfied if he stayed. However, like many people with the entrepreneurial mindset, Ryan was constantly drawn to the possibility of beginning his own venture. Unwilling to look back later in life and wonder “what if,” Ryan left the security of his full-time job to embark on his entrepreneurial endeavor. On stage, he used a projected slideshow to illustrate how he took his idea and passion and turned SeedInvest into a global leader in its industry.
Co-founders and MBA graduates Jennifer Lane and Priyanka Verma of Laquerus, a modern client-centric nail studio, presented next. Laquerus started as a class project in the Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) practicum class and the two co-founders thoroughly engaged the crowd with stories of their recent launch. Jennifer and Priyanka’s narrative emphasized the many highs and lows that can go along with the early stages of starting a business. Like Ryan, Jennifer and Priyanka had to think hard about whether the risk of starting their business was worth it as both of them had desirable full-time job offers. Ultimately, they expressed that, regardless of the difficulty and risk involved in starting a business, they would not trade this opportunity for anything. Jennifer and Priyanka enthusiastically credited the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship as a major source of knowledge and encouragement in getting their business off the ground.
To cap off the speaker portion, the excitement was palpable as the third and final speaker was introduced: founder and Chairman Emeritus of Best Buy, Richard (Dick) Schulze. Dick was joined on stage by Jon for a question and answer segment where he enchanted the crowd with his own entrepreneurial experience. Hearing how Dick grew Best Buy from a modest stereo store in Minnesota to a global retailing powerhouse was incredibly fascinating and insightful. It was quickly evident how Dick’s dedication to continuous improvement as well as customer- and employee-centricity have been the “secret” to Best Buy’s success. The captivating question and answer portion of the evening contained invaluable advice to both aspiring entrepreneurs as well as those with existing businesses. As an additional act of generosity, Dick provided every member of the audience with a copy of his self-narrated audiobook, Becoming the Best: A Journey of Passion, Purpose, and Perseverance.
Following the speaking portion of the Showcase, members of the audience were welcome to meet with some very accomplished entrepreneurs. During this speed networking event, over 35 individuals with expertise in entrepreneurship were on hand to talk and network with students. Sharing their time and knowledge, these experts generously answered questions for aspiring entrepreneurs.
A special thank you to the speakers, mentors, StartUp Learning Community, and entrepreneurs Paul Reckwerdt and Ellen Rosner for making the Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase event possible and a great success. We are excited and looking forward to next year’s Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase event!