By Jonathan Cherry, MBA ’11
Each fall the Graduate Entrepreneur Association organizes a retreat to energize first year students and expose them to the broad array of entrepreneurial resources the school has to offer. It is also a fantastic experience for second years to network with the community of entrepreneurs and alum who attend the evening reception.
This year’s event was hosted at the Red Lion Inn in Boulder. The first event was a kick off introduction to the Deming Center, it’s resources, and how to make the most of your time as a student.
Second, a panel of Deming board members spoke on their background, how they have come to embrace entrepreneurship, and some key features that are an indication of success. Confidence, perseverance, passion, and innovative are some examples of entrepreneurial characteristics. However, the most important aspect to their success is the ability to create a personal connection with customers, partners, and the rest of their team.
Next, we ate lunch and participated in a team building exercise to build the tallest tower out of a toy kit. It was a timed event and my role was to watch my group and document interesting events. I found the leadership role to revolve, the group segmented themselves to work on multiple tasks at once, and time pressure only kicked in at the last few minutes.
After building teams, we had a presentation on the importance of messaging as told by PR expert, Michele Wells. She explained that when the idea is authentic, has a clear vision, and genuinely responds to consumer needs, the idea will naturally grow and does not need a huge PR campaign. This is what happened with Coleman and their message around natural high quality beef.
Next we went through an exercise to apply this concept of having a pure vision to ourselves. We looked at a few examples of personal mission statements, then were given a few minutes to craft our own. Several students shared their statements and I was among this group. Mine is an acronym. R.I.P.C.F.L Relationships, Initiative, Perseverance, Creativity, Fairness, and Leadership.
Our next panel was full of alumni who are now working in an entrepreneurial capacity. Some are working on their own startup, some are financing startups, and some are doing intrapraneurship at an existing company. They spoke about the startups that came out of the program in the past, the value of taking a diverse range of classes that provide hard skills, and the multitude of meetups and events to get plugged into the entrepreneurial ecosystem boulder offers.
Our last official panel was an opportunity for professors to testify to the value of an entrepreneurial education. While passion and drive may be innate characteristics, the framework and process of starting a business are items that can certainly be taught. We also learned the backgrounds of our professors and saw how they have engaged in entrepreneurship.
The last official part of the day program was an exercise in networking. Our speaker explained the value of “connecting” with people instead of just “networking” with them. Connections provide value in both directions where networking is more “what can I get from you” without considering what value you can provide with the other person. We also went over a few tactics for breaking into a conversation and ways to be comfortable when speaking with new people.
Once the day portion had completed, alumni and members from the entrepreneurial community joined our group for the key note speech. Brad Feld spoke to an attentive audience about his background in startups, how it evolved over the years, how he maintains life balance, what he does to give back to the community, his lifelong obsession with learning. He also took questions from the audience. He spoke about his biggest mistake, losing $320 million over seven years, and advised students to get involved with as much outside of the program as possible. This means getting to know other parts of campus, volunteering time at a startup, and getting to know the business community.
This was a very full day of entrepreneurial energy. After the day was complete, I for one was very motivated and confident in continuing on an entrepreneurial career. The Boulder community has so much to offer entrepreneurs and this kickoff event for the GEA is a fantastic way to start out the year strong.