Innovators recognized at showcase

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May 7, 2014

By Rumasa Noor

The Innovators’ Showcase is one way for innovators and entrepreneurs to not only be recognized, but inspire students and the community.

Spring Innovators’ Showcase took place on May 2 at the Innovation Center in Whitewater.

Denise Ehlen, the director of Whitewater Incubation Program (iWHIP), organized event. She said the Showcase takes place every semester to feature the work of students, faculty and staff as well as regional entrepreneurs.

“I think the entrepreneurs of Whitewater are remarkable,” Ehlen said. “When you think about our community, we don’t have the funding that they have in Milwaukee, we don’t have the infrastructure they have in Madison, our entrepreneurs are some of the most brave people I will ever meet, because they are in a community that’s very small that doesn’t have the resources, that doesn’t have the infrastructure.

“They are willing to take that risk and not only start their company but help us create that environment. How brave is that?”

The event featured 20 speakers including Chancellor Richard Telfer.

“Sometimes people are unaware of the things that are going on,” Telfer said. “These events showcase a few of the things, so people get a better idea of all the good things that are going on.”

Dan Fink, vice president of Enactus and the co-founder of Student Chamber of Commerce, said this kind of event opens up the minds of people and shows what is going on in the community. He said it shows people that a small town has the tendency to do big things.

Ehlen said a lot of the students get excited about entrepreneurship and small businesses, but they don’t realize they can be a part of them as well. They don’t have to have the idea for a startup, there are other ways to get involved as well.

“I think that a lot of entrepreneurs are very isolated, they have got the idea they are focused on it and they spend 80 to 90 hours a week trying to take their idea to market, trying to grow their businesses and a lot of the times they are by themselves,” Ehlen said. “I think we have a responsibility to shine a light on some of the wonderful work that the entrepreneurs are doing.”

Professor and Collegiate Entrepreneur Organization (CEO) faculty adviser William Dougan said events like Innovators’ Showcase shows that there is growth taking place in the community.

“Entrepreneurs, I think, are very much like designers, they are like architects but unlike architects whose products are very visible in the community, the products of entrepreneurs are sometimes invisible,” Dougan said. “Events like this kind of accentuate the creativity, drive and capability that these individuals have and, more importantly, the kind of significant personal sacrifices that they make to make their dreams come true.”

Dougan said students should not be afraid to consider entrepreneurship as an alternative career path.

Telfer said students should come to events like this and learn different aspects of business and see other people’s ideas.

“I think it’s just about keeping your mind open and thinking about what you might do, because these people [entrepreneurs] are just regular people, they just have some ideas they want to play with,” Telfer said.

Jeff Vanevenhoven, professor and director of iWHIP, talked about one of his students and a successful entrepreneur, Ben Nader, who owns and operates a dog daycare, Barkin’ Up Hickory, in Milwaukee. Nader was one of the presenters at the event.

“Ben is very happy and he runs a dog daycare and he won an entrepreneurship of the year award; he is doing what he loves,”  Vanevenhoven said. “Is that any less successful than starting a $2 million dollar company? It’s his measure of success.”

Vanevenhoven said students who are excited about entrepreneurship should come to events like this; they might be exposed to something they haven’t thought about.

He said those students don’t need to be in business school. They could be studying ceramics and seeing all the different opportunities available. There is a crew of people that will help them.

“Everyone we have here has had experience in their own unique way and has some unique insight to offer the students,” senior Kristina Koslosky said. “They have already made mistakes, learned from the mistakes and have expertise to give to college students; it’s an incredible opportunity to learn from others and gain broader perspectives.”

Koslosky, who works for the Office of Research and Sponsored Programs (ORSP), helped organize the event. She said students should take advantage of the showcase and other programs offered, such as the Elements of Success seminar series, to get a feel of the environment. Koslosky said most people end up enjoying it and, if they figure out that it’s not for them, they can learn something along the way or refer someone who could benefit from these events.

Senior Jeremy Homan was presented with Innovative Student Employee of the Year award. Homan is the president of a UW-W chapter of Enactus and works as a business development manager for Gostrive, a company started by UW-W professor Choton Basu.

“I have talked to a lot of students who have these phenomenal ideas, and they don’t know what to do,” Homan said. “Everyone has some great ideas, but maybe they are nervous to do it. My piece of advice would be just go for it. Now is the only time that you’ll have an opportunity to try it out because, after you graduate, you have payments and a job and everything else. Just go for it; take a chance.”