Pioneer Launch Lab fosters entrepreneurial spirit on campus

April 21, 2014

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Brock Waterman

PLATTEVILLE, Wis. — Entrepreneurship is on the rise at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, and the Pioneer Launch Lab is helping students make their business idea a reality.  

The Pioneer Launch Lab, created in February 2012, is made up of students, faculty and recent alumni, all in varying stages of their business development. It provides its members with consultation, resources on business start-ups, networking opportunities and an environment to meet other members and share ideas.

Requirements for becoming a Pioneer Launch Lab member are set up to give the members practical business experience – for example, creating a professional e-mail address, reading a contract and finding a scalable and repeatable business model. “With everything we do, we’re trying to think about how to give them experience at the same time that they are trying to work on business ideas,” said Brock Waterman, coordinator of Pioneer Launch Lab.

Waterman comes from an entrepreneurial background himself, which began at a young age as he contributed to his family’s forage box repair business. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from UW-Platteville and runs his own small-business consulting enterprise.

Membership in the Launch Lab has jumped from approximately eight to more than 20 full members in the past year. According to Waterman, the growing interest in the Pioneer Launch Lab is reflective of national trends of people interested in starting businesses at a younger age – which he said can be attributed partly to the use of new technology and social media, but also to the uncertainty the millennial generation has seen in a changing job market and economy. “I’ve had students tell me that both of their parents have lost their jobs, and they don’t want to have that same fate; they have seen that their parents are hard workers and dedicated to their jobs, and it hasn’t worked for them — and they realize there is a lot of transiency in how things can go now,” said Waterman. “I also think it is very important to them to be doing something that has meaning and which they enjoy. I’ve heard a lot of them say they would rather do something they like and not have much money, than do something they don’t like and make a lot more. They want to have control over their destiny.”

Joshua Joseph, a Pioneer Launch Lab member, aspires to be his own manager by the age of 30. The senior agribusiness major from Viola, Wis., has owned several agriculture-related businesses — from custom-raising cattle and sheep shearing to selling maple syrup — since he was in the eighth grade.

Joseph continues to manage his businesses while attending school full time, which he explained can be a challenge. With no classes until afternoon on Mondays, he schedules all appointments with consultants for Monday mornings, and wakes up early other mornings to conduct business via e-mail and phone before classes begin. “Luckily, in the agriculture field everyone is up early in the morning, so I usually get up early and get most of my business done before I have classes,” he said.

According to Joseph, the chance to network and meet others is one of the most valuable assets the Launch Lab has offered him. “We don’t expect universities to have people that know everything, but if we can get connected to someone who does, that’s the big ticket,” he said.

When he graduates this May, he hopes to find a full-time position while continuing to grow his businesses on the side. “I enjoy owning my own businesses because the success is reflective of how much I put into it,” said Joseph. “So it’s very rewarding when things go right.”

Joshua Terrill, a senior industrial engineering major, is also exploring some of his business ideas – related to the health care industry – through the Pioneer Launch Lab. Terrill, who was the winner of the recent Elevator Pitch Competition, sponsored by the Pioneer Academic Center for Community Engagement, has been working on developing devices for children with disabilities to use for sports.

“The community of entrepreneurship in the Launch Lab has been really influential,” said Terrill. “I have found that of any non-academic activity I’ve been a part of, it is the Launch Lab that I have gained the most from over the past year.”

For more information about the Pioneer Launch Lab, visit http://www3.uwplatt.edu/entrepreneurship/pioneer-launch-lab.

Contact: Brock Waterman, Pioneer Launch Lab coordinator, (608) 342-6193, watermanb@uwplatt.edu

Written by: Alison Parkins, University Information and Communications, (608) 342-1526, parkinsal@uwplatt.edu

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