Category Archives: UW – Madison

Innovation And Investment Dollars Turn To A New Region: The Midwest

Memorial Union Terrace, Madison, WI
Memorial Union Terrace, Madison, WI (Photo credit: Mike Procario)

This post originally appeared on Forbes.com.

It may seem as if entrepreneurship and venture capital are exclusively tied to the east and west coasts. In many cases this is true. A recent report derived by SSTI from PricewaterhouseCoopers Moneytree Survey Data shows that California attracted 53% of all venture capital dollars in 2012 in the United States followed by Massachusetts and New York City with a combined 19% of  VC investment dollars.

For recent graduates pursuing a career associated with the world of startup life, it may seem as if the coasts are the only places to go to start or join a new business.

There are, however, accelerator programs that are trying to change that. One program that I’m intimately familiar with, given my ties to UW-Madison, is called gener8tor and it is launching its third class of startup companies. The program is based in Madison, Wisconsin and is drawing companies from Austin, Madison, Milwaukee, Chicago, and the Twin cities.

Jon Eckhardt, co-founder of the program sees a big opportunity to create a more meaningful environment for aspiring entrepreneurs in the Midwest.

“gener8tor’s is tightly integrated into the entrepreneurship communities in the mid-west and the coasts, especially as a result of our work with nearby academic institutions” Eckhardt said. “This, combined with our innovative training platform, lets us link the capabilities of the mid-west with resources nationally.”

And it’s starting to work. According to Troy Vosseller, a co-founder of the program, its 13 companies have raised more than $5 million in capital and created 70 jobs. “The growth is only accelerating and this summer the program saw over 250 applications from around the country and from around the world,” said Vosseller. Other VC firms are starting to notice. One of which is Great Oaks Capital, a VC firm who’s founding team spent time studying at UW-Madison.

John Philosophos, Partner at Great Oaks Venture Capital put it this way. “We see big opportunities brewing in the Wisconsin ecosystem.  The entrepreneurial community is growing and producing high quality start-ups. Critical resources, including top flight developers from the UW Computer Science program and College of Engineering, mentorship from the State’s broad based economy and forward thinking corporations are all being mobilized to support innovation in the State.  Accordingly, we have made Wisconsin one of our national areas of focus.”

Local corporations are also joining the movement. American Family Insurance, based in Madison, has begun investing in and becoming customers of the region’s emerging companies. Dan Reed, Director of Business Development at American Family, says the company “sees an opportunity to engage the community in creating wealth and value in a way that also fosters a culture of innovation across the region.”

And it’s no wonder that more focus is being spent on this Midwest ecosystem.

Consider that just a few years ago, the University of Wisconsin was said to have “stood out among its state school peers” in terms of producing chief executive officers of major corporations, according to a study from U.S. News & World Report. If a program like gener8tor could help guide some of that raw Midwestern talent, maybe we’ll see an uptick of investment dollars and economic growth in the Midwest which would be a huge win for the region and national economy.

Dear Ambassadors and Respected Representatives of UW-Madison and Education – A Year in Review

University of Wisconsin–Madison
Image via Wikipedia

Over a year ago I wrote an open letter to several faculty members of the University of Wisconsin – Madison. In the letter I voiced my concerns over the broken admissions process and broken academic protocols within the school and within other universities. I also discussed the importance of building a network and more importantly, maintaining the health of that network.

Well, this past weekend I attended my younger brother’s graduation at UW-Madison and I couldn’t help but think about how broken the system still is.

This is another open letter to the faculty members of UW-Madison.

(Before reading this letter, please note that I will be making this letter publicly available on my blog. Also, kindly take note of the recipients).
To: Chancellor Carolyn Martin – chancellor@news.wisc.edu
To: Provost Paul M. DeLuca, Jr. – provost@provost.wisc.edu
To: Director of Admissions, Steve Amundson – samundson@uwmad.wisc.edu
To: Dean of Students, Lori Berquam – lberquam@odos.wisc.edu
To: Vice Chancellor for Administration, Darrell Bazzell – dbazzell@vc.wisc.edu
To: Vice Chancellor for University Relations, Vince Sweeney – vsweeney@bascom.wisc.edu
CC: Executive Director, Youth Speaks – james@youthspeaks.org

5/20/2010
Dear Ambassadors and Respected Representatives of UW-Madison and Education,

It’s been over a year since my first letter to some of you regarding my concerns over the current admissions process, concerns over the current state of affairs within various academic departments, and concerns with the overall reverence (or lack there of) for the alumni network. This past weekend, I sat in the Kohl center watching my brother and his peers graduate in the same exact 2:30 pm “Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the School of Business and College of Engineering” ceremony I did two years ago. In attendance from my family was, in addition to myself, my parents, grandparents and sister. Simply being back in Madison and sitting in the Kohl center brought back all of the feelings I had when I was attending school. A sense of pride, distinction, loyalty, success, and belonging. All of these feelings came back full circle, and then I watched James Kass’s charge to the graduates and his words hit me like a ton of bricks.

In his closing remarks, he said:

“So I’m going to ask you to do something starting next week after you revel in this weekend celebrating all that you’ve done and all that you are. And when you wake up next week, always and forever celebrating all that you are and all that you’ve done, I want you to ask yourself if you’re satisfied. And I don’t care where you come down on the political spectrum, even if you passionately disagree with everything I believe in. I just want to know if you’re satisfied, and if you’re not, what it is you’re going to do about it, because the system has been designed perfectly to achieve the results it achieves.”

Almost a week later, I’m still asking this question, “am I satisfied?” And the answer is most certainly and emphatically “NO.”

I’m not satisfied because over a year ago I wrote some of you a letter voicing my concerns for your methods and system. How the university showed either a lack of interest, lack of means, or incompetency when evaluating and rejecting a potential UW candidate, my younger sister (and probably others). A person that would have most certainly strengthened the UW network and its legacies, which was a theme that was addressed in one of the speeches during the commencement ceremony (so much so that the alumni present in the ceremony were asked to stand among the crowd, I among those). Well, a year later I can report that my sister, a could-have been future UW-Alumni, has just finished her first year at Penn State with a 3.8 GPA making dean’s list both semesters. In addition, she was 1 of about 30 freshmen selected among an application pool of about 250 for the nursing program. Although I’m proud of my sister, I’m disappointed with UW because she could have been an asset and member of the badger network in years to come. Perhaps if the system hadn’t been “designed perfectly to achieve the results it achieves” she would have been accepted to UW and could have been sitting next to me in the Kohl center as a badger, your peer and ambassador, and not as an outsider. So I ask, what have you changed since last year? What steps have you taken to improve?

I’m not satisfied because over a year ago I voiced my concerns about a University that is trying “to compete in a rapidly changing world using obsolete methods and practices.” As this world becomes more complex, it will be less relevant for a student to earn a 4 year degree and some are already beginning to question its purpose. In addition, as technology becomes more advanced, it will become even easier to obtain the same level of education for a fraction of the cost. And with a fragile economy, unpredictable global markets, and diminishing job openings, what does the University do? It raises tuition for students and claims that it will benefit everyone. I ask how? How could this possibly benefit everyone or anyone? By increasing tuition for students and families, who are already struggling under current circumstances, we are supporting a system that was designed for a 9-5 industrial revolution. How can the University (or all universities for that matter) possibly expect to maintain its clout among other academic institutions when the best students either can’t afford tuition or aren’t accepted in the first place? Furthermore, why do you use broken metrics to evaluate these candidates? Metrics that look at grades from standardized tests (tests that might not be conducive to some of the brightest and most creative minds), metrics that look at grades from high school systems that were also designed for the 19th century, or worst off, metrics that do matter but are greatly overlooked – like leadership, entrepreneurship. Every aspect of our world is changing, some quicker than others, and if the academic institutions can’t adapt at least at a “satisfactory” speed, then “satisfaction” will be the least of our concerns because at that moment, we will be concerned most with survival as a society and as individuals.

At the end of the day, I respectfully ask that you take the same advice that was delivered to your students at their commencement ceremony. Like James, I’m here “to tell you that I’m not satisfied, but that I am one of many trying to do my work, knowing that it’s in your hands now and hoping that you’re willing to do yours.”

Please don’t be complacent. Please don’t raise tuition because it’s the only way. Please don’t reject exceptional students because they don’t fit your admissions template. Please don’t support a broken system.

But most of all, please challenge the status quo among other academic institutions because tomorrow is very different from today, and if you do this, you will secure a bright future for our university, its legacy, and indirectly, our society.

My Very Best Regards,

Dan Reich

Class of 2008′

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Exclusive Music: Yolks – Drive Wise Volume 1

When it comes to Hip Hop, there are those artists that stack up on the top of my list. Guys like Nas, Jay-Z, Talib Kweli, Common, The Roots, Notorious B.I.G, but one of my favorite hip hop artists is someone that most people have never heard of. His name is Yolks. A guy from Madison, Wisconsin who could freestyle and write lyrics with the best of them.

Check out some of his tracks below. My favorites are I’m Yolks, Trappin, Chop It Up, and Dem Boyz

Yolks – Drive Wise Volume 1 by danreich

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Loosing Your Virginity – Getting Your First Piece of…Business

CraveRedCrossEventSAE
First contracted event

During my sophomore year of college my fraternity was shut down. As a result, all of our events were canceled and to make matters worse we couldn’t even participate in other organized events within the Greek system.

This sucked. It was a huge problem especially for my group of friends who enjoyed going out and doing the social thing.

But where there was a problem, there was also a solution.

At this point in time, my friend and I decided to build a college marketing company that would encompass three themes: (i) host events in a safe and secure environment (ii) be honest and upfront with our partners and vendors (iii) create recognizable and memorable marketing events that would promote the company brand in a positive and unique light.

In the short aftermath of my fraternity’s suspension, we hosted our first event. The first was all it took. It gave us some confidence, experience, and most importantly, momentum. From that point on we were able to grow the business, form new partnerships, hire more help, and keep the ball moving forward.

We were beginning to be featured in the local newspapers and magazines and were starting to become a focal point of the local community’s social scene:

HalloweenPoster06RP
“Yet another alternative to Freakfest is Runaway Productions Halloween 2006, the first event of its kind to be held at Madison Avenue. Runaway Productions, a company run by UW students, organized this 18-and-up event with Sony/BMG Music Records and CO-ED Magazine to provide an alternative environment for those in search of a riot-free good time. According to Managing Partner Daniel Reich, the Halloween 2006 event was created as a “legitimate venue so people can party in a safe, controlled environment.” Instead of wandering around aimlessly amid the drunken antics of State Street, students will have the opportunity to dance to their favorite artists at the dance club on University Avenue.

Runaway Productions intends to appeal to all sorts of listeners with a variety of musical acts. Hip-hop, reggae and rock fill the bill with artists including Golden, Collie Buddz, Fahrenheit and Displace. Also performing is special guest Sa-Ra from Kanye West’s record label GOOD. The event runs tonight and tomorrow, and attendees can purchase tickets from ExchangeHut.com.”

-The Badger Herald, State Street not only show in town this Halloween

(Disclosure: Sa-Ra never came and the headliner was Collie Buddz. It was his first live US show. One of his songs here)

At the end of the day, “the first” was all it took. Although we did many events and functions thereafter, “the first” is what really put us over the top. It is probably the hardest thing to do when starting a business or doing sales, but once one is knocked down, the rest just kind of fall into place.

Sidenote: It’s been three years since we parted with Runaway Productions and three years later it is still going strong.

(Posters from other events below)

RunawayCoEdRP MadAveGirlRP

(Pictures from other events below: Collie Buddz and Golden performing)

collie-buddz2golden

Building a farm, planting a tree.

Runaway Productions, LLC

You can teach someone how to pick an apple from a tree or you can teach someone how to plant an apple tree.

I planted an apple tree about 3 years ago, when I started a college marketing company called Runaway Productions. Although my personal and direct involvement was extensive, educational and rewarding, the greatest reward came thereafter. I had recent conversations with its new owners, and they are now generating more revenue, breaking new ground, and expanding the original business model.

It may be easy to build something for the short term and for self serving purposes. That in itself may be rewarding. But when you can build something and watch it grow even after you’ve left, you can really experience a much deeper sense of gratification and accomplishment.

Try it. What’s the worst that can happen?

Something Called Validation

Two years ago I co-founded a website specifically designed for college students. The site:

(Check out my site before continuing to read the rest of the post…or look below. You will understand why)

 

CampusAtlas
CampusAtlas
CampusLive
CampusLive

Today, I see the following article in :

2008 Finalists: America’s Best Young Entrepreneurs

CampusLIVE 

CampusLIVE

Jeff Cassidy, 23; Boris Revsin, 22; Jared Stenquist, 23
www.campuslive.com
Amherst, Mass.

Will college students use a Web site devoted to helping them find campus services and local businesses? CampusLIVE cofounder Jared Stenquist thinks so. About a year and a half ago, the self-taught Web developer started the site as a hobby in his University of Massachusetts Amherst dorm room. When advertisers started to contact him, he took a leave of absence to develop the business.

The site can now be customized for 18 campuses around the country, including the University of Vermont, University of Connecticut, and George Mason University. Stenquist, who isn’t planning on going back to school, says the business, which employs five full-timers as well as interns, had just over $100,000 in revenues in 2007 and is negotiating a $1.25 million seed round with a group of angel investors. He expects it to be profitable by January.

Besides the fact that their site looks exactly like TheCampusAtlas, and besides the fact that they started after TheCampusAtlas did, the fact that BusinessWeek considers the idea worthy, is validation

Validation that our insight into a market need actually existed, and validation that the need could be executed in a successful manner.

While I congratulate the Campus Live team, I also congratulate the other founders of The Campus Atlas

Stay tuned for the future of The Campus Atlas.