An entrepreneurship conference for everyone
By Gabby Carlson | Echo
Startup Storytellers, coming April 28–29, is Taylor’s first-ever entrepreneurship conference. This conference, hosted by the Calling and Career Office and the Office of Alumni Programs, will be a place for students, faculty, alumni and community members to hear stories of success, failure and lessons learned. This event aims to create learning experiences for students and leading entrepreneurs alike.
Jeff Aupperle, director of the Calling and Career Office, is the man behind the conference. He was a MAHE graduate student working on a grant for the Promising Ventures program when the grant was approved and the program was born. After graduating in 2014, Aupperle has led the Promising Ventures program for three years. He thought of the idea of Startup Storytellers last fall when he attended the EDGE | X conference in Indianapolis.
“(Senior) Mike McLean said to me, ‘Jeff we could totally do that with Taylor alumni.’” Aupperle said. “And that’s kind of where the seed was planted. That was all the way back in October.”
McLean thought of the idea with the intention of utilizing untapped alumni resources for students to engage with. It evolved into an entrepreneurship conference when Aupperle and the Promising Ventures program got involved.
Aupperle approached Amy Wilson, director of alumni programs, to begin combing through Taylor’s alumni connections, searching for the right speakers for the conference.
“It was kind of a brainchild of Jeff Aupperle,” Wilson said. “He and I were talking, and he was the one who came up with the original idea. Then as we started talking about it, it expanded, and we thought it was a really natural partnership for our two offices.”
The conference will feature five business founders and four student winners of Taylor’s Shark Tank, an entrepreneurship business competition. Registration begins at noon, Friday April 28 in the Larita Boren Campus Center and the conference will be held the same day from 1–5 p.m. in Cornwall Auditorium. Optional breakout sessions are available Saturday morning in the Campus Center. This will be a chance for attendees to talk to the speakers in a “round table” setting over breakfast, according to Wilson.
Aupperle and Wilson envisioned a group of speakers not only diverse in vocation but also in location. The speakers come from varying career backgrounds. They are based in New York, Michigan, Tennessee and Indiana, each a graduate or brought in by a graduate of Taylor University.
“It’s something we hope our students will look at and say, ‘That’s not something just for entrepreneurs. That’s an event that I can come and hear some really cool and inspiring stories,’” Aupperle said.
Attendees get to hear from student entrepreneurs as well. Each student or group will give a 5–7 minute pitch highlighting who they are, how they started and what they’re doing now. Former Taylor University Shark Tank winners junior Keaton Hendricks, seniors Eric Cellier and Sarah Davis, and graduates Noah Drabinsky (’16) and Will Severns (’15) will speak in between the founders’ talks.
Davis is excited to present because she desires to encourage people with different ventures to keep doing the next good thing even when they feel overwhelmed by telling her own stories of success and failure. Davis is also eager to learn from other entrepreneurs’ stories. She is interning this summer with Ambassador Enterprises in their entrepreneurship program to further develop her idea.
Sky Footwear founders Keaton Hendricks and Eric Cellier have given around 2,500 pairs of socks to homeless shelters since Hendricks approached Cellier with the idea in November 2015. With each pair of socks purchased, a pair is donated as a part of their “buy one, give one” model. The company has sparked more interest than ever thanks to a recent feature on CNN.
Hendricks and Cellier hope to inspire attendees to be creative and utilize the resources around them. They are looking forward to listening to other people’s stories and getting advice from seasoned founders to apply to their venture.
Along with student speakers, several interns from Promising Ventures have put in countless hours, working closely with Aupperle and Wilson.The interns include juniors Alex Hunter and Chin Ai Oh, and seniors Sam Petersen and Mike McLean. These students have played a big role in contacting and promoting this event to students, community members, local businesses and alumni.
Every Taylor University alumni living in the United States has received word of the conference; Wilson specifically targeted those within 300 miles of Upland.
“As students are considering and pursuing an entrepreneurial path, we think the best thing we can do is connect them to people who are a little bit further down the path and hear their stories and envision themselves in those stories,” Aupperle said.
Those involved hope this becomes an event that people look forward to each spring. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased from their website and the Promising Ventures office. They are $10 for Taylor students, $30 for alumni and $40 for general admission. Registration closes Friday April 21.