Profile: Entrepreneurship Club

Matthew Drewry

Winona State University’s entrepreneurship club is under new leadership and is moving forward despite the impacts that COVID-19 has had on clubs and organizations.
Entrepreneurship club president Mikaela Mohr, a third-year student majoring in marketing with a double minor in sociology and entrepreneurship, said her inspiration for entrepreneurship began after a slew of other jobs.
“In high school I was kinda known as a job hopper. I worked at Winona Health, I worked at Fastenal, HCO, all of these different places. And I just had a really bad experience with management,” Mohr said. “I just realized that, you know, I want to be my own boss.“
This is Mohr’s first semester as president of entrepreneurship club, reviving the club from two members to 33.
Mohr said the structure of the entrepreneurship club is unique among other clubs.
“The structure of it is there’s me, you know, I kind of oversee everything but I’m not going to oversee it and do it all. I have a team, so then we have our team leads. We have four team leads; we’re looking for five,” Mohr said. “We have one person on finance, one person on sales and advertising, one person on marketing and communications, one person on human resource and customer service. And then we’re looking for one on IT web development.”
Students join these teams based on their interest, and the entire club collaborates with local businesses on projects, Mohr detailed.
“We’re putting together a sustainability project to present to the a student green fee fund. And we’re collaborating with Jay who owns a startup business called the fleet electric project, where he’s trying to bring electric cars to campus for students to read,” Mohr said. “And we’re partnering with Sappori, the new Italian place we’re doing their marketing.”
Within the club, Mohr said members have their own personal ideas they’re working on.
“One person wants to open a wedding dress shop, one person a jewelry shop. Another person is trying to get in on like PR work,” Mohr said.
Another member of the Winona State startup community is Willard Kitchen, Director of Innovative Community Engagement and StartUp Winona State.
Willard works with individual students to develop their entrepreneurial ideas by connecting them with other entrepreneurs in the community and beyond.
Willard described his journey that led him to Winona State.
“I’ve had about eight careers. Everything from a schoolteacher to librarian, to lobbyist in Washington DC to a salesperson for one of “Ma Bell’s” Telecommunication companies to IBM, to two of my own start-ups. One did pretty good, one not so good. Now I’ve been a consultant for the past five years, six years,” Kitchen said. “Everything from the largest Belgian waffle manufacturing company in the world where I was COO and chief marketing officer to now working at Winona State.”
Kitchen began his entrepreneurship as a pioneer of distance learning in 1970, where he helped connect rural schools via microwave signals.
“I started my own business and we put in the first fiber optics system for K-12 in the country for two-way video,“ Kitchen said.
This communication journey eventually led to Kitchen being part of the founding of Hiawatha Broadband Cable Co.
Kitchen began his role at StartUp Winona State two years ago and will be concluding his time at Winona State at the end of this semester to open a pizza restaurant.
Kitchen says the club’s success will be based on how it relates to its local community.
“The only way that it’s going to be truly successful is if they are connected into the community and into the region, and that’s starting to happen,” Kitchen said.
He also added structure is crucial to the group’s success “It shouldn’t be just a club where you do these little cutesy things. But it really should be. Let’s run the club like a startup. How can we go out into the community, gain the experience we need, take our ideas forward and make stuff happen?” Kitchen said. “That’s when it’ll be truly successful. And I think Mikaela is going in the right direction.”
Kitchen said more than working with entrepreneurship clubs, connecting people is his talent.
“You don’t want me running a club, you don’t want me to run my program. You want me to make connections,” Kitchen said.
Beyond advising students, Kitchen also had several interns. One of last year’s interns, Brynn Artley said she was hired at her current job after being connected by Kitchen while they worked on a documentary film.
“I’m currently working at Tasnos, LLC as their marketing and media strategist. And getting that job really was thanks to Will and Startup Winona State,” Artley said. “Two weeks before graduation. I got a message from Will saying ‘Brynn, I know you’re job hunting. I think I might have something for you’.“
Artley is a 2020 Winona State graduate with a major in film studies and a minor in marketing.
Artley echoed the importance of connections.
“I think that’s what really entrepreneurship is all about is this idea of networking, of meeting people that you can form two-way relationships with, that you could potentially benefit them, and they can benefit you.”
Artley mentioned how her current role at Tasnos benefits from her entrepreneurial learning.
“Everything’s on the table. You’re looking at all the different angles you’re trying to understand a situation and its entirety versus just looking at one single piece. And I know it’s completely changed how I look at things because it’s like the future is full of possibilities as opposed to closed doors,” Artley said. “And that makes me feel like I have a tool kit that I can take into any situation. And even if I don’t know the answer going into the situation as I often don’t. I know that I can figure it out given enough time and and trial and error or failure.”