If you’re really an “under-30 CEO,” you should have been at the CEO National Conference in Chicago last week. The weekend was filled with inspirational speeches, networking events, and amazing pitches from college entrepreneurs. For those of you who attended, this article will serve as a nice recap. For those of you who didn’t attend, I’m sorry for your loss; here’s what you missed.
The Breakout Sessions
There was no possible way to attend all the breakout sessions (believe me, I tried). I was even asked to deliver one of the sessions about 30 minutes before it was scheduled (which is a story for an entirely different article!). Two other sessions, however, really stuck with me.
Paul Speigelman, CEO of The Beryl Companies and founder of Small Giants, spoke about building an inspiring company culture. He had too many amazing ideas to count, but my favorite involved sending handwritten notes to employees on the anniversaries of their beginning work with his company. Small expressions of gratitude like this are rare in the fast-paced tech world, and I loved hearing this from a successful CEO.
Paul talked to students about the parts of running a company they don’t learn in school, including how to treat people, how to make people love their jobs, and how to do so while running a profitable company. Paul was inspiring (I will admit I cried twice during his speech) and real. He wasn’t bragging about how amazing his company is; he was teaching valuable lessons to young entrepreneurs who will be building the big companies of the future. I cannot express enough how much this session touched me. Paul, without a doubt, inspired a new generation of entrepreneurs.
On a lighter note, we had Ray Land and Jordan Johnson, co-founders of an app development company called Totuit. These energetic, friendly, and downright comedic entrepreneurs spoke about what really goes into app development. Their breakout session was not without its fair share of jokes from Ray and laughs from the audience, but it also gave college students real takeaways for what they need to consider before throwing time and money at a new app idea.
During this session, students learned the difference between a web app and a native app, as well as different ways to monetize an app. If you’re wondering, Ray does not think advertisements on apps are the right way to monetize – something to consider.
The Pitch Competition
I watched the semifinals of the student pitch competition, and I was thoroughly impressed with the talent. There were 60 student pitches on the first day, narrowed down to 12, and then we were left with six. These students had 90 seconds to pitch an original idea, followed by two minutes of question-and-answer sessions with a panel of judges. The judges were accomplished entrepreneurs, entrepreneurial professors, and even former CEO pitch competition winners, like Nick Chmura, founder of BetterBoo.com.
My favorite pitch came from Jeremyah Grigery, who pitched an idea for a sliding device to deliver beer and collect payment from patrons at stadiums. He placed in the top six nationally. I may be biased because Jeremyah is part of the Entrepreneurial Alliance at the Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business, of which I am an alumna, but his idea is ridiculously, amazingly simple and effective. I loved it.
My second favorite pitch came from Kaeya Majmundar, who pitched a new design for packing boxes which are put together more quickly than standard boxes. She won the competition. Her pitch was the most engaging one I saw, and the design for the new box is flawless. She answered difficult questions with grace.
The Outside Networking
Since I’m no longer a student, I decided to forego the student dance party and attend a non-CEO social in Chicago on Friday evening, Technori Unwind, at the Dragon Ranch Moonshine & BBQ bar. (Yes, that’s the real name of the bar, and yes, the drinks are served in Mason jars.) I was unfamiliar with Technori before this social, but after hearing about the online publication, its weekly meetups, and its monthly pitch competitions, I’m hoping Technori makes its way out of Chicago and to the rest of us very soon.
The CEO National Conference was a unique opportunity to hear from successful entrepreneurs, aspiring college entrepreneurs, and leaders in entrepreneurial education. If you fit into any of these categories, or simply have a curiosity about entrepreneurship, you definitely should have been there. If you weren’t, there’s always next year.
Kelsey Meyer is the president of Digital Talent Agents, an agency that specializes in helping entrepreneurs build their online brand by getting articles published in reputable online publications that reach their target markets.