More than 40 alumni and 15 current students met July 18 on Michigan Avenue to learn from some of the best and brightest Jayhawk alumni based in the Windy City.
The event, Chicago Innovation and Entrepreneurship Panel, featured a panel of business leaders who shared the stories of their journey with Chicago area alumni. A select number of KU Student-Alumni Network members also attended.
Bryce McMichael, d’08, Chicago Network leader, said “One of the main goals we have in Chicago is diversifying our event offering beyond watch parties for KU games and expand into the careers and lifelong learning space. This event definitely fit the bill in that regard.”
David Hoese, e’86, vice president at Goldman Sachs served as panel moderator, with Todd Holmes c’89, CEO at Liquidus Marketing and co-founder of Goose Island Beer Co., Sherry Scott j’91, president at Gagen MacDonald, and David Grossman j’89, president at Freshii comprising the panel.
“The panelists stemmed from a Presidents Club reception we had last year in which Todd Holmes suggested an event like this,” McMichael said. “David Grossman and Sherry Scott were also added due to their specific entrepreneurial experience, local ties, and fascinating life stories.”
The event was the first of a series highlighting business leaders and entrepreneurs in Chicago. The panel offered advice to students and young alumni on topics such as how to start a business and risk tolerance.
“With 15 current KU students who hail from the Chicago area in attendance, I believe they came away with inspiration and pointers on how to create your own destiny and do the work you truly love,” McMichael said. “I also hope that those who went also came away knowing that their Alumni Association can provide much, much more value than they had originally thought going into the event!”
Heath Peterson, d’04, g’09, president of the KU Alumni Association, echoed McMichael’s sentiments for the Alumni Association as a whole.
“We want to do more to directly connect students to industry leaders and showcase the power and reach of the KU degree,” Peterson said. “We must leverage the story of successful alumni to ensure current students have direct and constant access to a powerful network.”
Peterson’s goals were realized for Rebecca Hans, j’18, a Student-Alumni Network member who made an unexpected connection.
“I didn’t expect to know anyone [at the event] but I saw a family friend,” Hans said. “He introduced me to someone who has a connection to the military at KU. My dream job is a military psychologist where I could work with soldiers or their families and help them with mental health issues.”
“This event helped me realize that I can be successful in Chicago. Knowing that I am graduating in the spring, it is comforting to see that KU stays with you forever.”
Find out what fellow Jayhawks are up to in our biweekly edition of “In the News.” It’s like an online version of Class Notes.If you’ve seen Jayhawks in the news who should be featured, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Colombia President Juan Manuel Santos won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end a five-decade civil war that has killed more than 200,000 people — and said he received the award in the name of the Colombian people. Santos, b’73, earned degrees in business and economics from the University. Read full article.
Caleb Knueven, c’11, is writing and directing a new short film titled “Stadium” about the beginning of a breakup. On Aug. 19, the film received funding through Kickstarter and surpassed its goal of $6,000, with a final tally of $8,075. Read full article.
Jesse Hufft describes her position as co-founder and CEO of Hufft Projects as the job she never knew she always wanted. She and her husband, Matthew Hufft — a KU architecture graduate — started the architecture firm, which is based in Kansas City, Missouri, in 2005. He serves as the firm’s creative director. Read full article.
Diana Robertson, director of Student Housing at the University of Kansas, has announced her retirement effective June 27. In her 17 years at KU she has served as director for 11 years and associate director for residence life for six. Read full article.
A video from the Kansas City star narrated by KU alumnus and television journalist Bill Kurtis describes the DeBruce Center, built adjacent to Allen Fieldhouse to house the historic rules of basketball purchased by alumnus David Booth. Watch video.
Speaking of David Booth, the Wall Street Journal published an article about his company, Dimensional Fund Advisors, LP, the fastest-growing major mutual-fund company in the United States. The company was launched in 1981. Read full article.
Legendary KU football player David Jaynes, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife Barbara, was in town for a KU football reunion he organized for former KU coach Pepper Rodgers’ 85th birthday, which coincided with Saturday’s 24-23 loss to TCU. Jaynes placed fourth in Heisman Trophy voting in 1973. Read full article.
Have you heard news about a fellow Jayhawk, or maybe you have news of your own to share? Email us at email@example.com, or fill out our Class Notes form to be included in a future issue of Kansas Alumni magazine. Read more about newsworthy Jayhawks.
Shark Tank Episode 728: Sean Knecht and Steven Blustein from Austin, Texas design and customize accessories for the most important member of the family: your one-of-a-kind pet. Tune in Friday, April 8, 8p.m. on ABC. Photo from ABC’s Beth Dubber.
Imagine the pressure of presenting your life’s work before some of the world’s most influential investors. This is the feeling Steven Blustein, b’09, g’11, felt when he and his co-founders pitched their product, PrideBites, on ABC’s hit show Shark Tank last June. Nine months later, Shark Tank will feature PrideBites during its April 8 show.
PrideBites offers customized dog toys and essential pet products: beds, blankets, collars, leashes, hoodies and more. Blustein and his co-founders, fellow University of Kansas students Sam Lampe, c’12, and Daniel Lium, g’11, and Sean Knecht created the product nearly six years ago.
Many advised Blustein and his co-founders that the pet industry would be nearly impossible to get into, yet they quickly found their place with customization and quality products. Within a month of its debut in 2012, PrideBites was awarded “Best Dog Toy of the Year” by Pet Business Magazine.
We checked in with Blustein to learn more about his company and his experience with the show:
How did PrideBites come to be?
We linked up with some of our other friends to develop it [PrideBites] and start the company from scratch. I think KU is pretty influential in what we are doing and how we connected in terms of the beginning and how the environment could appeal to as many people as possible on campus, and to come together to create something fun.
What were some of the challenges you and your partners faced?
Some obstacles we faced were how we were going to find out how to manufacture the product. It was really difficult to start up with a new product, and we were really lucky to be linked up through KU with Ting Liu, an international student at the time, to identify the right factories to work with, and learning how to tell what channels the product should be in.”
What are some of your dog’s favorite things to do?
I got my dog, Mona, when I was a student at Kansas. She’s the first person to greet you at the door. Her favorite activity is sunbathing around the office. She is a part of the many other dog personalities at the office. They help make the day to day activities be less stressful.
Blustein and Mona.
What did you do when you first find out PrideBites was selected to be on the show?
I was sitting in line at SXSW and it was an 18 month journey plus nine months after filming our application. It was like ‘hey you’re going to be going on.’ I was with my girlfriend, and gave her a big hug, and called my partners because it’s been something we’ve been working on forever.
So, what’s it like to stand in front of the ‘Sharks?’
So the filming was back in June. We planned for so much and had a really good pitch, walked in and I remembered those days in college when I presented to my accounting professors. You’re really in awe of the moment when standing in front of celebrity investors. You have one chance to pitch your story to the best people of the field
Did you have any sort of game plan before coming onto the show?
We practiced more than two hundred times. We were religious about going over every single episode to see what kind of questions they ask. Three or four times a day, we would hop online to practice our pitch and go over spreadsheets. This practice is derived from KU. My old professor, Dr. Allen Ford, helped me craft my discipline. Going into Shark Tank, no one could be better prepared than my company.
What are some of your biggest takeaways from your time at KU?
Definitely my friends. I also think the experience and the type of culture that Kansas has. You’ll never be a stranger at Kansas. My degree, the accounting track and the people who helped me along my way. KU has professors who identify your talent and skills and let them come to fruition.
Do you have any advice for recent grads looking to pursue similar success?
You have a great opportunity at Kansas — stick to the resources at KU, learn from the culture there and don’t be afraid to go out and take advantage of your college time. Reach out to as many people as possible, and get connected. You only have one experience, and for my sake, it was to develop an idea, and follow my dream.
The Founders (from left to right): Daniel Lium, Sean Knecht, Steven Blustein and Sam Lampe
Watch co-founders Steven Blustein and Sean Knecht pitch PrideBites to the ‘Sharks’ on April 8 at 8 p.m. CT, and read more about Blustein and his company in a 2015 story from the KU School of Business.
The first in a series of business-focused networking events for Kansas City area alumni was held June 17 at Lexmark Enterprise Software in Lenexa. The company’s president and CEO, Scott Coons, was the keynote speaker.
Jim Brown, j’92, president of the Kansas City Alumni Network, introduced Coons, e’91, who spoke to a group of nearly 40 Jayhawks in the massive lobby of the sustainably constructed building, which boasts 240,000 square feet, a dodgeball court, amphitheater, two-story slide and full-service cafeteria for nearly 800 Lexmark employees who work in process and content management software technology.
“We have a lot of fun,” Coons said. “We believe happy employees make happy customers.”
Coons, who will retire in July, has been with Lexmark, formerly known as Perceptive Software, for 20 years. In that time, he’s learned some valuable lessons for building a successful business, including these tips, which he shared with the group:
1. Focus: Our saying around here is, “You’re not defined by what you do. You’re defined by what you don’t do.” Too many times you see project managers trying to solve the world’s problems with their product, instead of just getting the product built and finding its first customer.
2. Put in a little extra effort every single day. Don’t let something that can be done today trickle into tomorrow. Get it done today. Stay a little late or start a little early.
3. Work is never done. Too many young employees don’t know what hard work is. We have to spend a lot of time helping them understand that hard work is the first thing you have to do to be successful.
4. Prepare for a number of short races. It’s not a marathon. Win the first race and move on to the next one. You might not be around if you don’t win the race in front of you.
5. Surround yourself with winners. Give people a great deal of latitude and let them do their jobs. They will make mistakes. Mistakes are fine; they help you learn. Just don’t make the same mistake twice.
6. Don’t always do what you’re told. The experts aren’t always right. Have the motivation to prove them wrong.
7. Listen to your customers. It’s hard to listen to customers when things are going wrong, but that’s when you’ll learn the most from them. Customers will tell you exactly which product to build; you just have to listen.
8. Don’t make a habit of spending more than you make. Some startups get ahead of themselves, and then they’re in a leverage position they don’t want to be in. Do your business conservatively.
9. Treat people the way you want to be treated. Happy employees make for happy customers.
10. Decide who you are and what you are, then go for it. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise. You have to make a lot of sacrifice. You have to put in a lot of hours and have a lot of support from family and friends. But if they’re in your corner, they’ll understand the time and dedication it takes to get there.
To view of a Flickr album of images from the event, click here.