Summit Teaches Networking, Mindsetby Tyler Hardcastle '15 • March 31, 2014
The fourth annual Entrepreneur Summit brought students, alumni, and other like-minded guests to campus Saturday. The day consisted of a number of events with different aims: several speakers, break-out sessions, and built-in networking time.
The theme of simply beginning the process of entrepreneurship and proceeding with small steps was echoed by many of the speakers. David Weglarz ’03 reflected on how starting Still 630 a St. Louis based distillery involved taking a series of steps and risks through which he learned quickly.
“You have to find out what you’re passionate about and then go after it, Weglarz said. “You don’t try to find what you think is going to be a good business, if you work from the end result backwards, well I don’t think that’s the way to go.”
Weglarz has long held the goal of owning his own business and views experiences like the summit as valuable. The networking sessions especially facilitate interaction between aspiring and current business owners.
“The idea of willfully surrounding yourself with people who maybe are better than you at least in certain ways is key,” Weglarz said. “It’s one thing that we need to realize, and that I only realized through experience is how much passion can attract people.”
Passion is certainly necessary in this area. One of the morning breakout sessions featured Willie Matis ’10 and his talk on using social media to make a virtual “first impression”.The workshop challenged participants to go beyond the number of followers on whatever platform they used and to look for genuine engagement with the brand or company. Passion comes into play as Matis balances a full-time job as Communications Coordinator for Gleaners Food Bank with his work or HealthNet, Inc. where he built its social media presence.
“Balancing the two roles is tough especially when you’re trying to have a life outside of your full-time job while, at the same time, trying to keep your start-up going,” Matis said. “It’s really just about how to integrate your to-do lists and still get everything you need to do with your full time job.”
The summit did not focus solely on starting a business but also encompassed applying entrepreneurship as a way of approaching work, in whatever capacity. Mike Cullen, the founder of Cross-Alliance a company that aids operations leaders in creating environments that call for the best from their employees spoke both categories of attendees.
“I firmly believe that in any organization [the] employees are the best catalyst for growth, profitability, and performance,” Cullen said. “So as Wabash College students start to get geared-up for starting their own business or managing people in in the companies they work for. I want to make sure they have some strategies, tactics, and some valuable insights on how to handle people and the importance of the employees in their organization.”
The Center for Innovation, Business, and Entrepreneurship (CIBE), met for the first time this weekend to discuss ways that the college can prepare students for their futures. As its name suggests, the board shares an objective with the Summit in offering experiences that will benefit students that aim to start their own business, work for non-profits, or excel with their employers.
“It was the first opportunity for all of us to sit down, I would describe it as something in the formative stages, we’re exploring different opportunities to provide, in addition to the classic Liberal Arts education some exposure to entrepreneurial activities, business activities, etc.,” Founding Board Member Corey Olson ’85 said. “I think we’ll get together in the fall and advance the program, figure out exactly how and if to roll it out to the Wabash community.”
The CIBE, funded among other programs, by a $1 million grant from the Lilly Endowment, aims to set up year round opportunities for students. Among the potential plans are a physical location downtown near the Montgomery County Economic Development group that would provide resources for collaboration between the entire Wabash community.
“My motivation, my drive to participate in program like this for the college is really in giving back,” Olson said speaking about the CIBE and Summit. “Remembering in the mid 80s when I graduated with history major that perhaps i hadn’t spent as much time thinking and contemplating what I wanted to do. It’s exciting for me to come back and participate.”