Firefighter Jeff Dykes recently was awarded first place in Wisconsin’s business plan contest. Jeff’s success was due to his grit (passion and perseverance) and his network, which he had to develop. With networking, Jeff sought help from the Wisconsin SBDC at UW-Eau Claire and Merlin Mentors in Madison, among other resources available to entrepreneurs and small business owners in Wisconsin. Jeff bootstrapped his business, based on a life-saving device for firefighters, to this point with his team of one.
It’s not a bad idea to build your network one cup of coffee, phone call, email, or valuable LinkedIn request at a time. It’s rare to find someone who refuses to help you as you build your business, develop your product, or need a question answered about your entrepreneurial endeavor or small business conundrum. You cannot be an expert at everything! However, your approach to people in your network or new to your network should be: How can I help you?
I applaud the student entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial teachers especially at Brookfield Academy, Crivitz High School, Longfellow Middle School, West Salem High School, and Whitman Middle School who had multiple entries in the recent Wisconsin YES! contest. Twenty-four entries, ideas submitted by 40 students, were chosen for top honors. This year’s top place finisher also took top honors in 2015 (I claim her as Wisconsin’s first prep serial entrepreneur), and second place went to a middle school entrepreneur competing against 6th through 12th graders. Well done, Wisconsin students, Wisconsin teachers, and Wisconsin schools!
In 2016, four universities were invited to pilot a collaboration that would produce a significant annual competition for New North university student entrepreneurs. The result is “The Pitch” on May 3 at Fox Cities Stadium. The collaboration, the Fox Connection for Creative Entrepreneurship, was subtly revealed in a business blog at JS Online, and has continued to push toward its objectives, one of which is to encourage students of New North universities to work with each other in their entrepreneurial endeavors. Current members of the Fox Connection invited each other. UW-Green Bay’s event prior to “The Pitch” was its first student business idea competition. Competitors now head to other entrepreneurship events, such as the Wisconsin Big Idea Tournament and the European Innovation Academy.