Hapak Alumni Entrepreneurial Seminar offers interactive learning

Published on July 18, 2009

Both seasoned and aspiring entrepreneurs took home practical advice, invaluable knowledge, and insight from the 2009 Hapak Alumni Entrepreneurial Seminar, particularly from the data– and experience–based analysis offered by Chicago Booth faculty, alumni, panelists, and other participants.

The three-day event, sponsored by Susan Hapak, '89, adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship, and the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship, featured five presentations, four panel discussions, and two practice pitch sessions at Gleacher Center on July 16-18.

The new After the Pitch session, in which a panel of investors evaluated a seminar participant's pitch and the structuring of a potential deal to finance a business, was the most useful to Scott Turner, '09 (XP-78), who launched Mohawk Technology LLC in July.

"This panel gave a view of exactly what I would have to do to fund my business. I was able to put myself into that space and visually see myself presenting. I saw the holes in the process and the things I would need to do to be a success."

Leslie Downey, '83, principal at education consultancy RFID Revolution, said she learned especially valuable lessons from a trio of sessions presented by faculty:

• "Entrepreneurial Sales" by Craig Wortmann, adjunct associate professor of entrepreneurship. "Professor Wortmann helped me better understand sales as a discipline in which the entrepreneur needs to give priority to listening," Downey said.

• "Entrepreneurial Execution" by Waverly Deutsch, clinical professor of entrepreneurship. "I gained a greater appreciation for the need to focus at this stage on just one or two target markets — those that are addressable and have the most critical pain," Downey said.

• "Entrepreneurial Marketing" by Art Middlebrooks, '88, executive director of the Kilts Center for Marketing and adjunct professor of marketing. "His framework and exercises presented an opportunity to clarify my company's value proposition," Downey said. "Following the seminar, my seatmate in class and I have met by phone to refine the statements from which we will craft our respective sales pitches."

Utilizing feedback from the inaugural seminar in 2008, organizers added sessions on sales and marketing to the 2009 event. Several participants said the new sessions were very helpful to their businesses.

"The marketing sections of the seminar were the most valuable to us, because that is the area of expertise we lack the most in-house," said Margaret Castrovillari, '00, co-owner of Soulistic Studio & Spa. "They were invaluable in providing a framework from which to think about how to best identify and communicate with target customers. We already know who our target customers are, but we didn't necessarily know the best way to reach and communicate our message to them.

"In a nutshell, we learned that our business strategy and operations execution are solid, but we need more expertise in marketing our services to achieve critical mass."

In addition to adding pitch, sales, and marketing sessions, organizers narrowed the field of participants in 2009 to only include serious entrepreneurs, said Hapak, sponsor and founder of the seminar. "The number of participants in 2009 was slightly smaller than in 2008, but much more focused," she said. "It helped the faculty and panelists because the audience was much more cohesive. It also helped facilitate interaction among the attendees."

Classroom sessions helped participants focus, said Joe Miramonti, '03, co-owner of Fedora Investment Partners, LLC. "The observations and techniques from the class sessions helped us correctly structure problems and focus on the right ones," he said. "Efficient problem-solving can be greatly enhanced by learning from the presenters' research observations and their experiences in new ventures."

Miramonti said he found the entrepreneurial atmosphere inspiring. "The people and their attitudes reminded me that it is indeed possible to really enjoy what you do every day and that finding a great personal challenge in it is really important," he said. "To a person, it was not all about the money. It was about working on something they believed in and had fun doing. Having spent 14 years in a corporate environment, I found these conversations really encouraging."

                                                                                                                            — Phil Rockrohr