Presenting to a room of about 500 students at the fourth annual Wisconsin Entrepreneurship Showcase Thursday evening, four prolific entrepreneurs, all University of Wisconsin graduates themselves, touted the qualities that make for successful endeavors in entrepreneurship.
The showcase brought in two entrepreneurs from each coast. Kenny Dichter, Co-founder and CEO of Wheels Up, made the trip from New York City. Zainab Ghadiyali, a software engineer at Facebook and co-founder of the Wogrammer, came from San Francisco.
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The speakers also included Minneapolis-based Jeremy Neren of GrocerKey and Madison-based Keith Streckenbach, who has had his hand in multiple startups in the pharmaceutical industry.
Neren, who graduated from UW with a history degree in 2005, said entrepreneurship is a lot about attitude. The first week of GrocerKey he only had two sales. But his endeavor taught him about entrepreneurship on the fly. In the beginning, he even chased down wholesale delivery trucks to ask them how he could create an account.
Streckenbach said setting the expectation of getting paid before he spent anything was key to succeeding.
“Don’t spend anything until you have an order,” he said, also asserting that entrepreneurs should know the real value his or her product has to the customer — and then charge that price.
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For Streckenbach, the appeal of being an entrepreneur is the ability to be in control. Not only does he alone shape the future of his businesses but being an entrepreneur gives him the flexibility to prioritize time with his family, even if he works more hours than he would traditionally.
Ghadiyali, who now works at Facebook, said the most interesting part about her accomplishments is the path it took to get there. She asked students to think about possibility, pointing to her engineering internship with Facebook when she was an MS student at UW with no coding experience.
“I have been able to do all of these things, and I haven’t been qualified for any of them,” Ghadiyali said.
Dichter, whose airplane business is something like the Netflix of aviation, graduated from UW with a degree in sociology. He touted the importance of entrepreneurs surrounding themselves with the best people, drawing a parallel between running a business and racing a horse. It’s not the plan: It’s the people.
“You can have an O.K. plan and a good jockey, and you’re going to win,” Dichter said.
Dichter also drove home the point that, when it comes to investors, no doesn’t mean no. It just means no at this moment.
Of the speakers, only Ghadiyali graduated from UW with a degree in business. That’s something John Eckhart, executive director of the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship in the School of Business and primary organizer of the event, said he hopes the students in the audience took away from the event.
“It’s important people understand entrepreneurship is not just for business students,” Eckhardt said, asserting that most of the students in the audience weren’t necessarily studying business and didn’t have to.
One of the largest entrepreneurship events for students in the country, with approximately 40 Madison area entrepreneurs in attendance in addition to the four speakers, Eckhardt said the sheer size of the event has allowed them to continue to attract high quality speakers.
The event was sponsored by Wisconsin-based entrepreneurs and cofounders Paul Reckwerdt and Ellen Rosner, the Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship, University Housing and the Entrepreneurial Residential Learning Community.
“We hope that this encourages students to be bolder in their lives, in a reasonable way,” Eckhardt said. “Certainly not everyone is going to be an entrepreneur, but those that are kind of on the fence, we want this to give them kind of an extra kick.”