Established entrepreneurs told Wabash students Saturday that success comes from simple hard work. The third annual Entrepreneur Summit featured alums, guest speakers, and aspiring students.
The Schroeder Center for Career Development hosted Wabash students and alumni, other Indiana students, and members of the Crawfordsville community. A major theme that came out of the day-long event was that before an entrepreneur can speak to venture capitalists about investment, there is no good substitute for hard work.
Peter LaMotte, Senior Vice President of Levick, a Washington, D.C.-based crisis management and public relations firm, said that a venture is successful when an entrepreneur forms a team that isn’t simply credible and relatable, but one in which all members have a vested interest in selling the product.
“At the end of the day, it’s all about sales,” LaMotte said. “If you’re the only one being the salesperson in your organization, and you have to cover all [your coworkers’] salaries – you have to find what your direction is, and build a team around that.”
He said in order to further that direction, an entrepreneur needs to find a mentor who has a stake that reaches further than a monetary value. In having those tough conversations, an entrepreneur can learn and eventually measure his or her own success.
Kendall Baker ’16 used the day to take what ideas he had in mind and learn from the experiences of those who had similar goals and aspirations as college students.
“I’ve had a few ideas come to mind, and today for me has just been a great day to look at all the experiences that presenters have shown us today and [begin to] form in my mind a great interpretation of what entrepreneurship is for them, and how they can use it in their daily lives as they go out doing their [craft],” he said.
More than one speaker said investing is more than monetary value and the idea that if an entrepreneur is passionate about his or her venture, they shouldn’t be willing to sell it if they sacrifice a stake in the business development.. Many speakers said decision-making in regards to an exit strategy must be decided early-on, but could vary greatly depending on the goals of the entrepreneur. Baker said that was something that stood out.
“I learned a great deal about the money aspect of it,” Baker said. “You [may not] want to just take the vast sum of money [if it means] a smaller amount may allow greater participation [in the venture].”
Charlie Kelly ’11, a founder of Square Jive, a smartphone app that provides location-based suggestions on events and activities, shared the insight of a younger and less experienced entrepreneur. He shared the story of founding of Square Jive with two coworkers he had met as an Orr Entrepreneurial Fellow at Bluefish Wireless Management at Indianapolis.
“Our idea was we wanted to make it really simple to find things to do,” Kelly said. “After we got that idea, we started to do market research, and we started to look at what exists in the market currently and how are people finding things to do.”
Kelly said statistics show nearly three of every four start-up businesses, like his own, fail. Kelly said his company was in the “death valley” stage of development until it reached the break-even point.
Kelly and many of the day’s speakers spoke of failure and that sometimes, failure is a good quality in the eyes of investors, and ought to be a good quality in advisors and mentors that entrepreneurs are seeking.
As many of the speakers focused on inspiring students to develop a plan and invest their own blood, sweat, and tears in it, Kristin Clary, Executive Director of Montgomery County Economic Development said opportunities like the summit are great ways to realize the sometimes unrealized potential that exists locally.
“One of our goals for the Montgomery County Economic Development is entrepreneurism,” Clary said, “and so we see a lot of good, untapped talent in the Wabash community. Another goal that both we and [Wabash President Patrick] White have is linking and uniting the College with the community. We see that as a positive result coming out of this summit – that the students are participating, but so are community members. And they’re all being afforded the opportunity to listen to the great guest speakers that they have coming in today. I think Wabash strives to create opportunities for the entire community, and I see a lot of local people taking advantage of those opportunities.”
Clary said by being at Saturday’s summit, MCED wants students and members of the community alike to know that it is there as a resource.
“We want to encourage all entrepreneurs, but if they want to stay local, we want to offer them resources,” she said. “Montgomery County has a lot of positive energy, Wabash College itself [is] an asset to the community, and I think for the first time city government, and county government are working together in unison with Montgomery County Economic Development and the Chamber of Commerce to really start meeting some of the goals of the business community that have gone unmet in the past.”
Entrepreneur Jim Ray ’95, the summit’s closing speaker, said that had the summit existed when he was a Wabash student, it would have had a profound impact on the way his career progressed post-Wabash. He credits Schroeder Center for Career Development for providing a venue for students to realize that their competencies can be applied through entrepreneurship.
“It was a great conference,” Ray said. “We weren’t talking about entrepreneur stuff when I was in school; it just was not on the radar. I’d love to see it become a more important part of the College, I just do. It’s an education that equips you to be an entrepreneur in a real way.”