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Expert panel addresses business student plans

Patrick Dowd | Friday, September 16, 2005

A panel of entrepreneurial experts from the Notre Dame family spoke Thursday at the Mendoza College of Business to help students prepare for business plan competitions slated to take place later this fall.

Sponsored by the Gigot Center for Entrepreneurial Studies, the hour-long panel discussion featured entrepreneurs and venture capitalists – two primary groups involved in business deal-making – debating back-and-forth on the topics of entrepreneurship, what makes or breaks start-up business ventures and how to choose a career path.

As panelists weighed in on their respective professions, it became clear that they were cut of the same cloth. They conversed articulately and at times almost jovially on the ins and outs of the business and making deals that support innovation, create jobs and build wealth.

President of Network Appliance (NetApp) and Notre Dame alum Tom Mendoza said the education he received at the University was influential in the development of his entrepreneurial instincts, noting that the intelligence of his classmates made him “open his mind and actively listen to other people.”

The ability to learn from others is an indispensable skill in the business world, he said.

Mendoza also conveyed his pride in the fact that Notre Dame graduates have a “moral compass” and profound desire to win – something that panelists unequivocally stated as the most important aspects of a good business partner.

Mendoza and other panelists informed students how to further build successful business opportunities. The panel agreed that the goal of a start-up should be to solve a problem not addressed by current markets.

Tom Crotty of Battery Ventures emphasized importance of getting started early and “riding the wave” of new technological movements.

Tim Connors of US Venture Partners spoke about the sort of perseverance it takes to push a new idea past skeptical investors, and stressed that hard work is the only recipe for substantive results.

“If people are telling you [your business plan] is a good idea, it’s probably too late,” he said.

David Hitz, founder of NetApp, said students should aim to get to the right place and “hang out.” The idea of being in a progressive business atmosphere is one that the other panelists identified as critical in the formation of good entrepreneurial instincts.

Panelists also suggested embracing the risk of getting involved in small start-up businesses early on as opposed to larger companies like IBM, Microsoft and SUN Microsystems.

Panelists said they wouldn’t want to hire someone who has to learn on the job and pointed to start-ups as an ideal training ground for future managers. Furthermore, speakers warned students it is often difficult to acquire fundamental business sense in a bureaucratic corporate atmosphere.