What lessons can be learned from serial and successful entrepreneurs? How does one build a great team? What challenges and opportunities do today’s business owners and entrepreneurs face? How secure is your internet-connected technology from cyberattack?
Those were just some of the topics covered at the Foley & Lardner LLP/BNY Mellon Wealth Management Tech X 2018 conference, a half-day event in Chicago on May 17, that brought together nearly two dozen leading experts and entrepreneurs for a wide-ranging discussion of some of the biggest issues and challenges confronting new and growing companies today. Foley’s Chris Cain, a partner in Foley’s Transactions Practice and Technology Transactions & Outsourcing Practice, and Lisa Conmy, a partner in Foley’s Finance Practice and Venture and Growth Capital Practice, hosted the event, along with Jennifer Lucas, a Senior Director at BNY Mellon Wealth Management.
The event, which drew an audience of nearly 150 business executives, entrepreneurs, investors, and lawyers, treated the attendees to a series of panel discussions, a keynote address by Pamela Netzky, co-founder and former president of SkinnyPop Popcorn, a buffet lunch, and several networking opportunities.
The program opened with a Q & A with three entrepreneurs who either founded or played a critical role in several successful startups: Daniel Berg, currently chief technology officer at JumpCloud, a cloud-based directory-as-a-service provider; Randi Brill, now chief creative officer and lab guru at QuaraCORE, a Chicago creative design agency; and Scott Wald, founder and president of Romar Services, a private family office and investment firm.
The three panelists fielded questions on a variety of subjects, including what the allure of being a serial entrepreneur is, what they learned from their biggest mistakes and/or failures, how much planning they put into their exit strategies, and what words of wisdom they have for those who wish to follow in their footsteps.
The opening session was followed by several breakout sessions, including one focused on building a great team. Panelists included Danielle Drabkin, managing partner of Chicago-based technology startup The Minte, a hotel-style housekeeping service; Stuart Frankel, co-founder and CEO of Narrative Science, a Chicago-based technology company; and Peter Rahal, co-founder and CEO of natural protein bar maker RXBAR.
They discussed, among other things, what sort of attributes they look for in the people they hire, how to build a more cohesive team, how to motivate and reward valued employees, and how to manage conflict.
Another breakout session addressed the issue of internet-connected technology and cybersecurity. Andrew Retrum, managing director of Protiviti’s technology consulting practice, moderated the program. Mercedes Mane, managing partner of the Product Manufactory, Nadya Nguyen, CEO of smart water bottle company Hidrate, and Armando Pauker, co-founder and managing director of Tensility Venture Partners, were panelists.
Retrum opened the session by noting that there are now more connected devices in the world – an estimated eight billion – than there are people. And that number is expected to rise to one trillion in the next five years.
He also demonstrated how vulnerable such technology can be to cyberattack by recounting the case of the Las Vegas casino that was hacked last year through the Internet-connected thermometer in the aquarium in its lobby. Once there, the hackers managed to access the casino’s database of high-roller gamblers.
The ½ day conference ended with a keynote address by Netzky, who told the unlikely story of how she and SkinnyPop co-founder, Andy Friedman, turned one man’s obsession with Chicago-based tourist favorite Garrett’s popcorn (Friedman’s father) into one of the world’s largest and fastest growing “better for you” snack food brands.
Netzky attributed the phenomenal success of SkinnyPop, which is now sold in more than 50,000 stores throughout North America and Europe, to being in the right place at the right time with the right product.
“I can’t tell you enough how grateful I am to have been on this crazy rocket ship,” she said. “It’s been the experience of a lifetime.”