Be persistent; strive for continual self-improvement; never let the fear of failure get in the way. That was the message a group of businessmen with ties to the School of Engineering delivered to aspiring student entrepreneurs.
Professor Allen Katz and Paul Andrews ’84, Thomas Krol ’02, William Parkhill ’03, Matthew Robinson ’02, and Craig M. Wentzel ’76 discussed their paths to success and the lessons they learned along the way during a “Pursuit of Entrepreneurship” panel discussion. The event was sponsored by the Engineering Alumni Mentoring Program, which partners engineering graduates with current junior and senior engineering majors who are looking to solidify their resumes, find jobs, or gain entrance to graduate school.
Krol, who is president of IMET Corporation, talked about his experience trying to bring a voice-activated phone for disabled people to market early in his career. He eventually abandoned the venture because the product was too cumbersome and voice-activation technology was not advanced enough. The lesson learned?
“It’s OK to fail,” Krol told the audience. “You just have to figure out a better way to do things.”
Katz, who in addition to his faculty position is president of Linearizer Technology Inc., echoed that advice when responding to an audience member’s question about Steve Jobs.
“Jobs had lots of failures, but he kept going,” said Katz, adding, “Don’t give up. You need to get over your un-successes.”
The panelists also said successful entrepreneurs must seek to continually improve themselves. “Never be complacent,” advised Robinson, who along with Parkhill co-founded MidAtlantic Engineering Partners LLC. “Always try to add value and keep improving.”
Wentzel, president of C&J Engineering Technical Services LLC concurred, adding, “The best advice I can give a young entrepreneur is, never stop educating yourself or looking at where the opportunities are.”
“As an entrepreneur, you have to look for opportunities,” said Robinson. To illustrate his point, he explained how MidAtlantic takes advantage of New Jersey’s often confusing regulatory system—a potential pitfall for many engineering projects—by guiding developers through the red tape. “One person’s problem is another’s advantage,” Robinson said.
Katz said that the first step to creating a successful high-tech startup is to come up with an idea.
“A good idea is something to value,” added Andrews, senior vice president of sales and marketing at TelVue Corporation. “You should be thinking about ideas from your freshman year onwards.” The importance of having good ideas carries over into job interviewing, he said. “You should know about the company, and have ideas to help them make money. Their eyes will just light up.”
The panelists also focused on the importance of people in any business venture. “The ‘people factor’ is the most important factor to any successful project or venture,” said Wentzel.
Of course, a key to running a successful business is keeping customers happy, and Krol highlighted the importance of having the right attitude toward customers.
“As competitors got bigger, they started to neglect their customers,” he said. “I was right there to pick them up.”
Melisa Easaw ’13 contributed to this report.