WisBusiness: Boot camp for start-ups preaches planning

By Gregg Hoffmann

MILWAUKEE – Successful entrepreneurs learn from their failures and either find a way to succeed in existing markets or make a market of their own, according to John Byrnes, executive managing director of Mason Wells, Inc.

Byrnes kicked off the Entrepreneur Boot Camp, one of two initial sessions at the two-day Wisconsin Entrepreneurs’ Conference. The other initial session was an invitation-only Angel Investor Boot Camp.

Successful entrepreneurs develop good “meta-systems,” which include business models, market models and investment models that lead to good products and services that end up producing profits, said Byrnes, whose company has $350 million under management for buyout and venture investing.

Any successful company needs to produce a product or service that is needed, solves a real-world problem and will be bought by customers, Byrnes added. In the 1990s, for example, many Internet companies gave too many of their products and services away, thus resulting in failure.

“A rising tide raises all boats,” said Byrnes, explaining that one way to succeed is to start a business in an industry that is growing rapidly.

“You need to know the successful business models in your space,” Byrnes said. In rarer situations, an entrepreneur can create a market, he added.

For example, some high-tech companies often have to create their demand. Some customers don’t know they need the product, and only start buying once others have started buying.

“Let’s face it; many customers are lemmings,” Byrnes said. As a new company grows, it needs to reach the Main Street customers, who include the “conservatives” and the “pragmatists” to really grow, he added.

A product line must be sustainable and scalable to succeed. “In other words, your financial models need to keep growing,” Byrnes said. “You want it to become more profitable as you grow it.”

Byrnes kicked off a panel discussion that included, among others, Ken Wanek of the Young Executives Organization, Kelly Hansen of Neophasis, Inc., an information security consulting and ITR product-testing company, Michael Mahoney of Park Bank and Dan Anderson of Virchow Krause and Co.

Wanek, founder, president and CEO of Datatrac, a marketing research company specializing in the banking industry, said some great entrepreneurial activities are going on in Wisconsin and the Midwest.

“We need to make sure those people on the East Coast and West Coast are hearing us,” he said.

The entrepreneurs’ conference will run Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, highlighted by the presentation of the first Governor’s Business Plan Contest awards by Gov. Jim Doyle on Wednesday night.

The conference is organized in tracks – centering around marketing, sales and other concerns of the entrepreneur, services such as accounting, legal advice and development consulting often used by startup and developing companies and technology development and grants.

Breakout sessions on Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday range from “Survive: In your first year and beyond” to “Upbeat Uptown: Starting a Business in the Inner City” to “Priming your revenue pump with marketing and PR.”

In addition to Doyle, major speakers include Jim Rygiel, a Kenosha native and UW-Milwaukee graduate, who has started numerous design and animation ventures and has won Oscars for his work with Lord of the Rings and other films, Teresa Esser, a Wisconsin native and author of “The Venture Café: Secrets, Strategies and Stories from America’s High-Tech Entrepreneurs,” and Juanita Koilpillai, co-founder and chairman of Mountain Wave, a successful enterprise security management firm that was acquired by Symantec in 2002 for $20 million.

The Wisconsin Technology Council, Wisconsin Innovation Network’s Milwaukee Chapter, Wisconsin Small Business Innovation Consortium, Wisconsin Business Incubation Association and other partners are sponsoring the conference.