On April 1st, 2022, UNO’s Center for Innovation, Entrepreneurship & Franchising (CIEF) hosted the 9th annual Midwest Entrepreneurship Conference (MWEC). The event was held in WP Engine’s space at the Ashton Building of the Millwork Commons district. After being cancelled the last two years due to the pandemic, this year’s conference welcomed over 250 community members, entrepreneurs, and students from over 20 universities and 8 states throughout the Midwest.
The conference started out with breakfast and networking time for all attendees. As attendees made their way into the main room, Laurel Oetken, the director of Entrepreneurship at Omaha’s Chamber of Commerce and MWEC’s MC, introduced the first speaker, Heather Brunner.
Heather is the current CEO of WP Engine. She talked about how to manage a company and the qualities it takes to become a successful entrepreneur. Heather spoke about the importance of passion and envisioning your goals. She has helped grow WP Engine’s brand and company across the globe. Heather spoke about how to lead teams successfully, and the importance of having women in a leadership role in large companies. Heather played an important role in acquiring Flywheel, a company that was founded by Rick Knudtson, the second speaker of the day.
As mentioned, Rick Knudtson co-founded Flywheel with Tony Necker and Dusty Davidson. They had a successful exit to WP Engine and founded a new start-up called Workshop. Rick talked about how he started as a student entrepreneur at UNO and the hardships he faced along his entrepreneurial journey. He talked about how he developed Flywheel and his pathway to success. Lastly, he spoke about his current startup Workshop, a software that makes internal communications in companies more efficient. Rick’s pathway is similar to other entrepreneurs and is inspiring for students. The next speaker, coming in from New Jersey, was Carolina Acosta.
Carolina is the current founder and CEO of Tragos Games, a Latino party game. During her presentation, she spoke about her game and how she developed it. She encountered many surprising obstacles, such as running out of space for boxes in her apartment, and also successes, like exponential sales growth in a matter of a few weeks. Acosta was recognized on the 2021 Forbes 30 under 30 list. Carolina talked about her obstacles she faced as an immigrant and entrepreneur. Additionally, she mentioned the importance of creating more representation, not only for the Latinx community, but also for other minorities in the US.
After these three speakers, students had the opportunity to network over lunch with students from across the Midwest. MC, Laurel Oetken, challenged attendees to sit with students from different universities that they didn’t know.
After lunch, speaker Charista Baye spoke about her business, Thoughtful Franchises. She talked about her entrepreneurial career before becoming a franchise broker and what she learned along the way from her previous business ventures. Her story encapsulated a couple significant failures that she learned from and implemented those lessons towards her current business. She gave many tips, so students can learn from her mistakes and to understand her thought process during her journey.
The fifth speaker was the founder of Godfathers Pizza, Willy Theisen. He spoke about how he created Godfathers Pizza and the success that came along with it. He also gave advice for young entrepreneurs on how to grow their business and what skills all entrepreneurs should utilize and strengthen. A major point he hammered on was to make your bed every day. Theisen said this is a great way to start the day. If you come back home after a long day and nothing went right, at least your bed is made, and you can restart tomorrow.
The last speaker was Hannah Nodskov, owner of Hannah Caroline Couture. She spoke about risk adversity and how she was able to grow her business in a sustainable manner. Hannah also talked about finally quitting her part time job and how she made that jump to working on her business full time. She has designed dresses that have been seen around the world and worn by celebrities. Working hard and enjoying what she does makes her want to do it every single day. Hannah left the group with a lot to think about as contestants prepared for the MWEC Pitch Contest.
It was finally time for the annual MWEC Pitch Contest. Current student entrepreneurs were given the opportunity to pitch their business to a panel of judges to receive up to $500 in funding. A big congratulations to the pitch contest winners and thank you to all that participated!
1st Place: Hayden Pauls – Flykicks / University of Wisconsin-Whitewater
A business that sells highly sought-after shoes through online and social media.
2nd Place: Eli Vedral – Kookaburra Cookies / Creighton University
A unique type of “strumble” cookie, similar to the top of a muffin.
3rd Place: Carly Overacker – Help Parking / Wichita State
Partnering with school parking services to help students find open parking on campus.
A special thank you to Wells Fargo, Nebraska Business Development Center, WP Engine and Millwork Commons for sponsoring MWEC 2022. Lastly, thank you to all attendees and speakers, you are the reason this event was so successful. Keep an eye out for MWEC 2023, and we are excited to see you back next year!
Midwest Entrepreneurship Conference 2022 Sponsors: