Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch connects students with industry experts

By Clare Becker, Wisconsin School of Business

If you happened to pass by 5115 Grainger Hall at the Wisconsin School of Business on a Wednesday pre-COVID, you might have heard laughter and applause coming through the closed doors, the relaxed atmosphere belying the fact that some of the biggest names in the Madison startup community were speaking to a rapt audience about their successes and struggles along the road to entrepreneurship.

The Weinert Center for Entrepreneurship’s Distinguished Entrepreneurs Lunch (DEL) has moved online since the pandemic started, but that’s only made the event more popular than ever. Launched in Fall 2013, the lunch invites notable entrepreneurs—the majority of them WSB and University of Wisconsin–Madison alumni—to share their experience and expertise with students interested in entrepreneurship.

“By sharing their own entrepreneurial journey, the alumni do an amazing job both inspiring and educating the students,” says Weinert Center Director Daniel Olszewski. “The examples they share reinforce the concepts the students are learning in the classroom and it is incredibly impactful.”

The series runs during the fall and spring semesters of the academic year with approximately 10-12 lunches held each semester. The low-key format and opportunity for students to meet and ask questions of the speakers has been a success from the beginning, with attendance totaling nearly 3,000 in the past few years alone.

The idea for the luncheon series was the brainchild of Jon Eckhardt, the Pyle Bascom Professor in Business Leadership, an associate professor of management and human resources, and an affiliate faculty member with the Weinert Center. Eckhardt, who is also the founder and principal investigator of the Entrepreneurship Science Lab at the Wisconsin Institute of Discovery, wanted to give alumni the opportunity to get to know and engage with the center, and in turn, have others benefit from their vast knowledge and experience. Lisa Collins, associate director of the Weinert Center, implemented the idea, and together they brought in Joe Boucher (JD ’77, MBA ’78), a senior lecturer at WSB and attorney with deep roots in both the WSB and local entrepreneurship community. Boucher, who is also a board member in the  Weinert Applied Ventures in Entrepreneurship (WAVE) program, believed in the idea so much, his law firm, Neider & Boucher, S.C, became the event’s sponsor. Read more …