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Entrepreneurial Dreams Meet Knowledge at Legacy Conference

Entrepreneurs have several common qualities. Passion, determination, a solution-oriented mind, an understanding of risk and, when armed with an idea, an unquenchable thirst for it to come to life.

Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference 2016

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“If you have the itch to put it out into the world, it would be a tragedy if you don’t,” said Jeffery Adler, a social entrepreneur. “If it’s your dream, you have to take it to market.”

Adler’s answer as part of a six-person panel discussing “What Would I Tell my 21-Year-Old Self,” was in response to whether a young entrepreneur should go forward with an idea they have rather than get a job, gain more experience and learn from the expected growing pains first.

Another panelist, Stephan Aarstol, CEO and founder of Tower, a holistic beach lifestyle company, felt it was important to “learn on someone’s else’s dime” first.

As the rest of the panelists responded, one other commonality became apparent: there are multiple ways that entrepreneurs think and each one has their own path that’s led them to success, some failures, but all in all, has been critical to them finding what works for them.

That revelation was important for the hundreds of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members who attended the annual University of San Diego Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference on Thursday night.

Organized by Mike Lawless, lead professor in entrepreneurship in USD’s School of Business and Regina Bernal ’12, the business school’s entrepreneurship and experiential learning coordinator, this free conference is a valuable tool that the young entrepreneur who served up his question above can benefit.

“It’s an intensely interactive evening of coaching and collaboration,” Lawless said. “Expect to get valuable experience, mentoring and inspiration from our entrepreneurs and to hear innovative business ideas from our students.”

This fall event is a forerunner to the major spring event that Lawless and Bernal host, the Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch Competition for USD students and bi-national entrepreneurs.

Thursday’s program featured opening remarks from Jaime Alonso Gomez, dean of the School of Business, and then moved to a “fireside chat” between Lawless and Aarstol, a 1999 USD MBA alumnus. Aarstol spoke at length about his business background, advice on growing his entrepreneurial knowledge and business skills, an appearance on ABC-TV’s “Shark Tank” where he gained billionaire Mark Cuban as a business partner for his Pacific Beach-based Tower Paddle Boards company. Most recently, Aarstol authored a book, “The Five Hour Workday,” which has been a viral social media hit and has brought national and international media exposure to him and the Tower brand. Attendees received a free copy of the book on Thursday.

Aarstol then joined Adler, Jessica Kort ’16 (MBA), Ana Bermudez, Neil Reisman and Gina Champion-Cain ’94 (MBA) for the panel discussion, which was moderated by USD Clinical Professor of Management Moriah Meyskens.

A second and concurrent panel, titled, “If I Started My Business Today, …” featured all-USD connected participants. Cara Cerutti-Holmes ’10 (MSGL), Stephanie McQuade ’16 (MBA), Andy Altman ’15 (MBA), Carson Drake ’15 (BS/BA Electrical Engineering), Sioma Waisburd ’03 (BA International Relations, BBA) and current finance major Warren Lorenz ’17, who last spring earned the top prize money in the V2 competition, spoke about experiences, gave advice and answered questions. Lawless moderated the panel.

The night concluded with audience members gaining access to the 12 entrepreneurs for individual breakout networking sessions. Students and entrepreneurs peppered them with questions that can help them learn and grow.

Who knows, perhaps one of the audience members on Thursday will be on the panelist side next fall. It’s what happened to Kort, who is co-founder and CEO of Lacy, a washer-dryer that appropriately cleans bras and delicate garments, as well as the co-founder and managing director for the Foothold Foundation, which supports collaborative efforts for social change. Kort last spring became the first USD student to win prize funding from both V2 and USD’s Social Innovation Challenge in the same year.

Proof that if you have a dream — or, even, two — and the entrepreneurial passion to do it, you can make it happen.

— Ryan T. Blystone