As part of the Summer Internship Program, the Skandalaris Center is hosting six panel discussions with St. Louis area startups who are hosting students through the program. These panel discussions are open to the public. We will recap the panels and share important insights from local ventures.
For the third edition of the St. Louis Venture Panel Series, six representatives from local startups joined the Skandalaris Center community, including students in the Summer Internship program for an in-depth discussion about the challenges and rewards of developing and working at a startup. The panel was moderated by Zachary Sorensen (LA ’21), summer intern at the Yield Lab, and included the following representatives from internship host ventures:
- Connie Bowen, Executive Director at The Yield Lab Institute, the nonprofit arm of the Yield Lab, which focuses on improving connecting agri-preneurs with relevant stakeholders.
- Srikant Chellappa, Co-founder and President of Engagedly, a performance review software that incorporates elements of employee engagement.
- Micah Goodman, CEO and Founder of Rissana, a company that builds software that helps people be their best selves.
- Adam Hoffman, CEO of CheckTheQ, a service that offers airports and other venues increased revenue opportunities and transformed customer experiences by tracking and communicating wait times.
- Michael Kramer, CEO of Regavi, a digital business card and smart contacts app that enhances your ability to connect with others and grow and maintain relationships.
- Kevin Marschke, President of Ellem Laboratories, an IT firm focused on bridging the gap between science and culture by making machines that understand how to conduct the System.
The panel began with the speakers walking through their entrepreneurship journey and moved to them discussing what they’ve learned from the past and what they look forward to in the future. When asked what they would go back and tell themselves a year ago many of the entrepreneurs shared the importance of getting things done. Some of the wisdom included, “finish now, complete later”, “go with your gut”, and “even when things are going well there will still be unexpected challenges.” While discussing whether or not their current startup will be their last, most of the entrepreneurs expressed that it probably wouldn’t. A member of the audience asked how the ventures found partners. For two ventures it was through unexpected connections – Michael Kramer found many of Regavi’s partners through Skandalaris Center programs and professors who shared information about the startup with their classes; Kevin Marschke found all of Ellem Lab’s partners from his high school Calculus II class. The other panelists stressed the importance of finding people who are complementary and from different backgrounds.
The next question for the panelists focused on the biggest challenges for the ventures, outside of fundraising. For Adam Hoffman it has been the steep learning curve. He shared that “there is no way to prepare for it, you can only really learn from experience and the many mistakes you’ll make.” Srikant Chellappa had similar learning curve. For him it was coming into an industry that was completely foreign. For others it is a combination of time management, employee management and maintaining focus. After a brief discussion about government relations and market research a lively debate emerged around entrepreneurship. Adam Hoffman shared his belief that there is no reason not to be an entrepreneur if that’s something you’re interested in. He emphasized the importance of starting something intelligently but not being afraid to challenge the fear around creating a startup. Srikant Chellappa disagreed and shared that not everyone needs to be a founder, especially if it is a space in which the person has no background. He expressed that someone might be able to make a bigger impact if they work with another company. Connie Bowen bridged the two opinions agreeing, from her experience in Venture for America’s Entrepreneurial Fellowship, that there’s little to no risk in apprenticing at a startup but noting that there is a low likelihood of founding a successful startup. She believes that while it is valuable to work at a startup it is illogical to just think you have the solution, especially if you don’t know something about that space. A different question for the panelists asked their biggest paradigm shifts. For Kevin Marschke it was shifting to assume best intentions. Michael Krammer had the opposite experience and has found that he has had to micromanage more. Adam Hoffman shared that he had to understand that most adults aren’t smarter or more mature that you and that we don’t live in meritocracy, so those who are wealthy aren’t necessarily smart and those who have good positions aren’t necessarily competent. Connie Bowen has learned the importance of thinking through who you associate yourself with in an industry. As with all of the St. Louis Venture panels, this one ended with the entrepreneurs sharing why they are in St. Louis.
- Connie Bowen – “St. Louis is a great place for agtech.”
- Micah Goodman – “St. Louis is a very safe, stable place to be, which helps manage risks as much as possible. It has a low cost of living and I like the city, I grew up here.”
- Kevin Marschke – “I’m originally from St. Louis. I had a choice between Chicago, Kansas City, St. Louis and Silicon Valley. St. Louis was the #1 place for low stress – the cost of living is cheap, there isn’t a ton of traffic. St. Louis was a logical great place.”
- Srikant Chellappa – “I’ve been here 20 years and I’m not going anywhere.”
- Adam Hoffman – “Entrepreneurship is incredibly challenge and I wanted to launch in a supportive environment. St. Louis is changing enough and young enough that you can substantially make an impact.”
Following the panel attendees and panelists joined the Center for a networking reception. To find the next Summer Internship panel visit skandalaris.wustl.edu/events/. To learn more about the Summer Internship host ventures and students read our blog about this year’s program. Also check out blog posts from students participating in the program.