Making important Connections

As Gunner DeFlorian talks about his future, it's no surprise that running his own business tops his list of career goals.

After all, the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire junior marketing major from Chaseburg grew up watching his father and grandfather build their own successful businesses.

As president of the student Collegiate Entrepreneur's Organization, DeFlorian has plenty of opportunities to interact with other entrepreneurial-minded students. The organization's members meet regularly to discuss topics related to building and running their own businesses.

Now, thanks to a new partnership between UW-Eau Claire and a downtown business, DeFlorian and other like-minded students have a place to go that will allow them to also rub elbows with already established entrepreneurs.

UW-Eau Claire students and faculty now have access to Volume One's WorkSpace, a shared space where area entrepreneurs work, hold meetings and interact with other professionals who work outside a traditional office environment.

"A lot of freelancers, remote workers and start-up entrepreneurs languish on their own, working in solitary environments in living rooms or coffee shops," said Ann Rupnow, UW-Eau Claire's entrepreneurship and economic development coordinator. "WorkSpace has given them the opportunity to do their work in a more professional environment with a handful of other people working toward similar goals.

"Now entrepreneurial-minded students from across the campus —students with a wide range of interest and ideas —have a place to come together with each other and to mix with community workers and entrepreneurs."

With co-working space becoming more popular in the region and around the world, Volume One's already established WorkSpace provides the perfect way to introduce students to the concept, Rupnow said, noting that it's likely there will be even more opportunities for students as additional co-working spaces are created in the Chippewa Valley.

When she began working with Volume One to provide students access to the WorkSpace area, Rupnow had hopes of the shared space leading to connections that would help new ideas sprout and grow.

But she hadn't expected that those kinds of connections would happen one of the first times she brought students into the space for an orientation.

"When we arrived there was a community co-worker there working and introductions were made," Rupnow said. "She seemed as excited to meet us as we were to meet her. She immediately offered to meet with the leaders of our Collegiate Entrepreneur's Organization to figure how she could help its members. This is exactly the kind of thing that can happen in co-working spaces like this one. We're excited that it happened as we were just getting oriented to the space and understanding how it can benefit our students."

Already that community co-worker, Blair Foley, a marketing data consultant specializing in helping startups organize their data to talk to investors, has met with CEO members to share her expertise and advice.

"As cliché as it is, connections are so important for a new business on a bootstrap budget," Foley said of her motivation for helping the students. "Life is much easier when you have a network of people you can call on who are willing to help 'for less' because they believe in the project and your competency."

With her work touching many subcategories within marketing, Foley has developed tricks relating to a variety of topics, as well as industry contacts that could be useful to the students with varying entrepreneurial interests, she said.

"I love what I do and like talking about it, so I've invited the students to contact me to go further in depth in any of the subjects or to talk about some ideas for after graduation," Foley said of her ongoing support of the students.

Foley, who lives in Eau Claire to be near family but works primarily with West Coast companies, is a regular user of Volume One's WorkSpace.

"For those of us that work independently much of the time, co-working spaces offer valuable opportunities for professional and social interactions with talented, interesting people who have unique specialties," Foley said. "Some of the best collaborations I've had on projects that needed a specific skill set came from meeting someone at a co-working space."

The information Foley shared about using marketing to secure capital to launch new businesses was especially valuable to students, said DeFlorian, who hopes to someday turn his passion for health and fitness into a business of his own.

"She took some of the concepts we've talked about in our classrooms and helped us see how they translate to the real world," DeFlorian said. "It's amazing to have someone like Blair willing to take the time to work with us. She's an example of the kind of A-plus people we can meet in this new space."

While there are spaces on campus where students can meet or collaborate on projects, Volume One's WorkSpace provides a different kind of environment, Rupnow said. There are workspaces, meeting rooms and lounge areas available for use 24 hours a day, seven days a week, she said, adding that Volume One also provides a co-working space staple: plenty of coffee.

Software consultants, graphic designers and computer engineers are among the professionals that regularly use the downtown space, Rupnow said.

"It takes students off campus and puts them alongside local entrepreneurs and remote workers doing the things in real life that the students are studying and aspiring to do," Rupnow said. "But it's also a hip, comfortable space that offers amenities like couches and a kitchen that helps get the creative juices flowing."

Volume One's downtown location is a bonus for students using the co-working space, said DeFlorian.

"Students who are passionate about their work need to get out into the community where there are people doing the kinds of things they hope to do," DeFlorian said. "A lot of students get really involved in campus organizations and that's great, but you can't limit yourself to campus. Networking and making connections in the community also is important. The WorkSpace is a great way to tie the campus and community together."

Knowing that the highly successful Volume One magazine and website was launched by an Eau Claire entrepreneur also is inspiring, DeFlorian said.

"It's so cool to see what Nick Meyer has created," DeFlorian said. "He turned his passion into this great thing for the community. And it's cool that he stops in to talk to us and see how things are going. It's pretty amazing to have him as a resource."

The partnership with Volume One comes at a time when UW-Eau Claire has revamped its entrepreneurial program so entrepreneurial-minded students and faculty from all academic disciplines can be part of it, Rupnow said. The only requirement for members of the campus community wishing to use the co-working space is that they must go through an orientation, which Rupnow can help arrange.

While the entrepreneurial program is offered through the College of Business, an entrepreneurship certificate now is available to students with majors outside of business, Rupnow said. Students within the College of Business still can earn a business major with an entrepreneurial emphasis or an entrepreneurial minor.

"Students who are majoring in chemistry or music or nursing who have an idea they want to pursue now can be part of our entrepreneurial program without having to be admitted to the College of Business," Rupnow said. "We know there are students in all majors with ideas and passions that can benefit from this program, so we want to give all of them an opportunity to be part of it."

For more information, contact Ann Rupnow at 715-836-5026 or rupnowac@uwec.edu.