Tag: Entrepreneurship

Forward Technology Conference 2010

On the flight back from Austin after SXSW last March, I was taking with Jesse about how much fun it would be to have something like it in Madison.  We thought it would be cool to try to set something up for the summer.  When I got back, I pitched the idea to my friend Matt Younkle, who really liked the idea.  In May, over some beers, we decided to try to make a go of it.  As the summer rolled along, Matt, Bryan Chan and I continued to plan Madison’s tech conference.

The Forward Technology Conference took place at the Memorial Union on the UW campus on Friday and was a huge success.  Over 120 Madison entrepreneurs, techies, investors and other tech savvy Madisonians attended the inaugural FTC2010 to hear from some of the most interesting people in the Madison technology scene.

FTC2010 was only a small part of the 10 day long Forward Technology Festival, which was sort of a “taste of Madison” but for all of the tech and entrepreneur focused groups in town.  The Forward Technology Festival was the brainchild of Preston Austin, who had the foresight to try to bring all of the different tech groups in town together in a week long celebration.  FTF2010 included High Tech Happy Hour, Capital Entrepreneurs, Sector67, BarCamp and other tech focused events.

FTC Highlights

The Forward Technology Conference kicked off with a panel called Entrepreneur 101, which featured four successful Madison entrepreneurs: Greg Tracy (Sharendipity), Dan Voell (GoBuzz), Chad Sorenson (Flamedisk) and Roy Elkins (Broadjam) and was moderated by Bryan Chan (Supranet).  The panelists talked about their successes and lessons they’ve learned over their careers in the startup game.  All of the entrepreneurs talked about staying focused as one of they keys to their success.

Next up was All About LLCs featuring attorney Joseph Boucher of Neider and Boucher and Kevin Kelbel an accountant from Smith & Gesteland LLP moderated by Matt Younkle (Y-Innovation).  Boucher and Kelbel talked about the different types of business entities and shared stories about why different companies should choose LLCs, S or C corps.

After a quick lunch break, we did an hour of breakout sessions with topics proposed from the attendees.  We ended up with a wide range of topics and settled on four.  First was how to run an intern program led by Jesse Davis of Entrustet.  The second group was about what a shared hackerspace in Madison should look like, led by Chris Meyer of Sector67.  Another session was about biomimicry, with the last session focusing on the future of the web and HTML5 (hosted by Momenta’s Dan Gordon).

The final panel of the day was all about design, branding and identity.  It featured John Besmer (Planet Propaganda), Wesley Grubbs (Pitch Interactive), Andy Wallman (Knupp & Watson & Wallman), Gage Mitchell (Gage Mitchell Design) and was moderated by Dan Merfeld, (TheoryThree Interactive).  This was one of the more fun panels of the day and featured spirited discussion on the pros and cons of large and small design shops.  The panelists stressed that brands need consistent messaging across all platforms or their marketing won’t work.  My favorite quote of the day came from Besmer “If you’re thinking about your marketing when its time to do marketing, its way too late.”

We rolled on into my favorite part of the day: Pitch Your Biz.  5 startups had 5 minutes each to present their ideas to the crowd and then the crowd had 5 minutes to provide feedback, ideas and ways to improve the business.  Biz Pitchers included Heidi Allstop (Student Spill), Derek Swoboda (Golf Links Cafe), Joseph Beck (Loacsys), Justin Beck (PerBlue) and Mudit Tyagi (Open ADC).

I love this format because it keeps the participants and the audience on their toes.  The audience can’t fall asleep, since the pitches come fast and furious and there’s a new one every five minutes.  All of the startups did a great job, as did the audience.  My personal favorites were Student Spill, which I think has the potential to be a game changer by bringing support groups online, but with a tweak and PerBlue.  Justin Beck from PerBlue is always an entertaining speaker because he is right to the point, provides compelling stats and doesn’t mince words.  All five startups did a great job and Laurie Benson (Innacom) was a phenomenal MC.

Fred Foster of Electronic Theater Controls was the keynote speaker and told the story of how he founded ETC while he was still in school at UW.  He told war story after war story about his battles growing the company into what it is today: $200m in revenue and 700+ employees.  Foster had the audience laughing every few minutes and I could have listened to him tell stories for as long as he wanted to talk.  I thought it was awesome that when he started the company, he wanted to sell theater controls to The Met and 20 years later, he actually did it.  Talk about perseverance!

After the keynote, we put on a reception above the union terrace, right on the lake.  The weather was perfect and I enjoyed talking with all of the attendees and learning about their current projects.

I really enjoyed FTC2010 and am hoping to make it an annual event.  I know that with a full year to prepare, we can do an even better job and get more people in town to attend.  Madison is turning into a startup hub in the Midwest.  TechCrunch noticedForbes noticed and the local media is starting to take note.  The Forward Tech Conference is another step in the right direction and one that I hope continues to put Madison on the map!

Did you attend FTC2010?  What was your favorite part of the festival? Do you have any suggestions or feedback?

Why I Won’t (might not) Vote For Russ Feingold in November

Update 1: May 2010: Shortly after I wrote this post, I got a follow up email from a member of Sen. Feingold’s staff with the correct email response.  The next day, I got a phone call from a different member of the staff apologizing and asking if they could do anything else to help me and yesterday, I received an snail mail copy of the email response with Sen. Feingold’s signature.  This morning, I got an update from one of his staffers about new changes to the Banking Bill that seem to help change the original problems.  While it did take a negative blog post to get the correct response, I am impressed that Feingold’s staff has been this diligent about my blog post.  I changed the title to add “(might not)” because I don’t think it’s fair that when people Google “vote Russ Feingold” my post comes up 5th.

Update 2: October 2016: After six years of Sen. Ron Johnson and Russ Feingold’s seeming rejuvenation, I’m supporting Russ for Senate in 2016. We need a Senator who will bring a different perspective than the vast majority of senators and isn’t afraid to stand up for things he believes in. We need the only Senator to vote against the Patriot Act back in government.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how the new banking bill would screw up angel investing in the US.  The bill plans to raise accredited investor levels by over 2x and institutes new regulation on angel investment.  It treats angels like hedge funds, which is wrong.  In the comments, someone asked how we could fight the bill.  I answered that I didn’t really know, but would email both of my Senators, Russ Feingold and Herb Kohl.

I sent them both a shortened version of my blog post with a little background about me through their official Washington senate emails.  I have yet to hear back from Senator Kohl, which is what I expected.  Aside from making sure that the Milwaukee Bucks stay in Milwaukee and donating $25m to get his name on the Kohl Center, Kohl really hasn’t done anything for as long as I can remember.

I figured that I would get a response from Senator Feingold, since generally more involved and he’s up for re-election in November and some are predicting it will be a close race.  He (or more likely someone from his staff) emailed me back today, 3 full weeks later, which isn’t too bad.  I assume he gets hundreds, if not thousands of emails every day.

So here’s why I won’t vote for Feingold in November.  I wrote to him about the angel investment changes in the tax bill, but here’s what I got back (emphasis added):

Dear Mr. Lustig,

Thank you for contacting me regarding your support for having private student loans be regulated by a consumer financial protection agency. I appreciate hearing from you, and strongly agree with you.  In fact, I am a cosponsor of an amendment to the financial regulatory bill which would extend consumer financial protection agency regulations to student loans.

Access to high quality public education should be available to all children, and access to higher education should be based on a student’s desire to gain knowledge and skills, not financial resources. As I travel throughout Wisconsin, I hear from many individuals who cannot attend college or other post secondary training programs without financial aid. I also hear from students who are extremely concerned about their growing debt as they try to finance their education. I support efforts to make education beyond high school available and affordable to qualified individuals who wish to pursue it.

Thank you again for contacting me. For more information about my work on behalf of Wisconsin, you can subscribe to my monthly e-newsletter by visiting http://feingold.senate.gov/newsletter.cfm. I look forward to hearing from you in the future.

Feingold (or his staff) couldn’t be bothered to actually respond to my email.  I took the time to write him an email, the least he could do is make sure he wrote me back about the issue I wrote about!  I understand it is most likely a mistake, but it’s a mistake that shouldn’t happen.  It shows that he (or his staff) don’t really care about the people who write him emails.  I know I’m not the only person who’s had a similar experience, as I’ve talked to two other people who have written to Feingold and never gotten any response.  To be honest, I’d have rather not gotten any response than the one above.

Burrill Business Plan Competition 2010 and a Look Back


The 2010 Burrill business plan competition was held yesterday at UW.  One year ago today, Jesse and I won the students choice award for Entrustet.  Writing the plan, talking to the judges and presenting at the competition helped us launch the company.  Almost one exactly year later, we had our launch party in Madison and we’ve been featured on Mashable, The Financial Times and tons of other media.  It’s amazing what a year of hard work on a cool idea can bring!

I went to the 2010 public exhibition yesterday to check out the new companies and invite participants to join Capital Entrepreneurs.  It’s safe to say that the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well on campus.  There were some really cool ideas this year, with the top prizes going to im-Bed Biosciences ($10k), Sector 67 ($7k), ProPov ($4k) and MycoLogyx LLC ($1k) with Student Spill taking home $1k and free office space in the Metro Innovation Center.  Buffalo Shoals took home the Green Credit worth $1k.

I took some pictures of some of the cool new businesses I checked out.  I only had my iPhone camera, so the picture quality does not match the business quality.  Sorry for that.

Sector 67 – Chris Meyer

Sector67 is a start up TechShop / Hacker space / Makerspace / Collaborative Environment in Madison, WI dedicated to providing members the opportunity to work on tomorrow’s technology; to build, collaborate, learn, and teach about next generation devices.  It’s basically a place for engineers and others who are trying to improve products or create new ones to use shared equipment and shared space.  Sector 67 is a non-profit and will be an awesome addition to the Madison community.  Chris is also one of the original members of Capital Entrepreneurs.

Student Spill – Heidi Allstop

SPILL is “an anonymous network of students who have formed a venting outlet for college problems that everyone seems to go through, but few people want to LISTEN to. We’re an email based support system FOR and OF college students …just to provide a place to spill your guts or console others who need to vent.”

Allstop started Spill as a student organization and has successfully helped students all over campus.  She has the potential to expand to other campuses across the country and won $1k plus free office space for a year.  Heidi is also a CE member!

ArcherVision Concepts – Raul Correa, Rahul Kamath, Alexander Jacobs, Divya Seethapathy, Sriraman Santhanvaradan

This team has a really cool product.  Many bikers use helmet mounted mirrors to see what’s behind them.  The team created a prototype that updates this system for the 21st century.  They have a camera that goes on the back of the helmet which transmits to a front mounted LCD screen.  They are in the early stages, but have a cool prototype.  Their goal is to embed the camera and the wiring into the helmet so that it will not hurt you if you crash.  Bikers love to spend money on the latest  gadget, so if done right, I could see it catching on and becoming profitable.

Flyboy Carnival – Kevin Burgess, Christopher Martinez

Flyboy Carnival is a cool tshirt company based out of the UW business incubator in the Univesity Square building.  They have some cool shirts, but my favorite part is their creative packaging.   They sell their tshirts in red and white striped popcorn boxes with their tshirts inside. Check out the picture below.

ProPOV – Jon Mumm

Jon has a really interesting backstory. Originally from Milwaukee, he got really good at the first person shooter Counter Strike.  He was so good that he was able to turn pro and earns money playing the game on the pro circuit.  I know many of you are thinking, “what? turning pro to play video games?” but there is actually a well developed professional video game circuit in the USA and an incredibly popular one in Asia.

Jon always had people asking his for tips on how to get better at the game, so he started a website called JuanSource to help teach counter strike players the tips they would need to get really good at the game.  He saved video of him playing the game and commented over the action, helping people get better.  Naturally, he charged money for the commentary and started to have a profitable online business.

His new software the he developed, ProPOV, takes in game commentary to the next level, allowing gamers to comment live over the game.  ProPOV has a nice niche that could be very profitable as it gets rolled out.


Overall, I was impressed by the quality of this year’s ideas.  You can watch all of the presentations in full on the Burrill website.  I’ve been involved in the competition as a participant or viewer since 2006, and it seems like the ideas keep getting better each year.  30% of this years entries had at least one female on the team, which I believe is a big improvement over past years.  What was even more impressive is that most of the women who entered the competition were doing so outside of fashion, which is a great improvement.  Imagine how many more cool companies there would be if women started startups at the same rate that men do?

Introducing Entrepreneur 101

A few different people have asked me “what sorts of things should be taught in a college level beginning entrepreneurship class?”  I always had a few answers, but never came up with a comprehensive syllabus.  After speaking in a class earlier this week at the UW Business School, I decided to write up a basic syllabus for a 16 week college course that I’d call Entrepreneur 101: A Practical Guide to Starting A Business and added it as a page to my site.  I would love to teach a class like this on the college level for interested entrepreneurs.

Introduction to the Course

Too many classes focus on theory and large, overarching issues instead of practical things that you will need to know to start a business.  Hopefully this class will prepare you to actually start your business by giving you the tools to do all of the nitty gritty work that is necessary to get started.  At the end of the semester, students will compete in a business plan competition in front of a panel of judges.

Week 1 – Introduction to Entrepreneurship

Class: There are many types of entrepreneurship, not just high tech.  It’s easier than you think and college is the best time to start. How to Live Before You Die.

Required reading: How to Start a Startup, What Startups are Really Like, The 3 Advantages of a Startup, Entrepreneurs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

Week 2 – Idea Generation and Business Plans

Class: How do you take an idea to a business plan?  How do you write a business plan? Malcolm Gladwell on Spaghetti Sauce

Required reading: The World is Flat, 9 Business Selection Criteria, 13 Sentences, College is the Best Time to Start a Business

Homework: Start thinking about a business to start for the business plan competition.

Week 3 – Types of Businesses Organization

Class: What type of entity should I use? LLC, Corporation, Non profit?  Learn how how to sign up for LLC.

Required Reading: 18 Mistakes that Kill Startups , The Top Ten Lies of Entrepreneurs

Homework: Sign up for an LLC, but don’t pay for it.  Start working on your business plan.

Week 4 – What are the Necessary Legal Docs Required?

Class: Operating agreements, partnership agreement and their  importance.  Guest speaker: A lawyer familiar with these issues.

Required Reading: Top 10 Geek Business Myths, The PayPal Wars

Week 5 – Taxes, Banking, Accounting

Class: How to setup a FEIN, get a free business bank account and start learning about Quickbooks.

Homework: Go to a bank and get a free business bank account set up (you don’t actually have to sign up), start exploring Quickbooks.

Week 6 – Quickbooks

Class: How to use Quickbooks in a small business or startup

Homework: Create a Quickbooks file for a hypothetical startup.

Required Reading: How to Get Taken Seriously Running A Startup Under 25

Week 7 – Credit Card Processing

Class: Teach how credit card processing system works, fill out forms

Homework: Call multiple resellers and see who can get the best rate.

Week 8 – Servers and SSL

Class: Overview of types of servers, server companies.   What is an ssl? Overview of ssl companies.  Test on first half of class.

Required Reading: Don’t Be Afraid of the Competition, My Rules for Startups

Homework: First draft of business plan due

Week 9 – Overview of Programming

Class: Types of programming languages, how programming works works, explanation of databases, what to look for when hiring a programmer.  How to register a domain name.

Required Reading: The Tipping Point

Homework: Register a domain for under $8.

Week 10 – Legal

Class: What to look for in a lawyer, what you need from them and the importance of a legal advisor.

Week 11 – Mentors

Class: Overview of why you need a mentor, who is willing to help, how you should look for a mentor.

Required Reading: Every Startup Needs a Mentor Team, The Entrepreneurial Push

Homework: Connect with a potential mentor on Linkedin, Twitter, email or phone.

Week 12 – Networking

Class: Why you need to network, strategies for successful networking, how to stay in contact with people.

Required Reading: The Business of Meeting People, Freakonomics

Homework: Get business cards for yourself, check out Brazen Careerist.

Week 13 – Blogging and Online Stores

Class: How to set up a blog, overview of WordPress, Blogger etc.  Overview of online shops.  Intro to Shopify.

Homework: Set up free wordpress blog.

Week 14 – Online Advertising, Social Media, Analytics, Document Sharing

Class: Overview of online advertising, CPM, CPC, Twitter, Facebook.  Intro to Google Adwords, Analytics, Docs and Calendar.

Required Reading: Made to Stick

Homework: sign up for Google docs, share a document with me.

Week 15 – Guide to Raising Money, Office Space

Class: How to value your business? Overview of friends & family, angel investors, VCs.  When is the right time to get an office?  How do you get the best deals?  Where should you look?

Required Reading: The Top Ten Lies of Venture Capitalists, To Office or Not to Office

Week 16 – Business Plan Competition

Final Exam – Business Plan Competition with panel of judges, based on Burrill Business Plan Competition.

I really think that this sort of course would be incredibly beneficial to a student who is thinking about starting a business or even thinking about working for a startup.  These types of skills will give students a nice foundation so that they can start their own business.  Check out my full list of resources on my Entrepreneur 101 page for links to all of the companies I would use for each of these lessons.

So help me out: What am I missing?  Would you take a class like this?  Do you think universities would be willing to offer a class like this?