When the microphone was handed to Jeff Davids at Thursday night’s Seventh Annual University of San Diego Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference, the panelist’s directive was to share what he would tell his “21-year-old self” as it relates to entrepreneurship advice.
He started by saying to “really know yourself and ask yourself what you naturally do well,” so as to consider something that would be enjoyable to create. The second answer, the one that for a second or two made people pause before he finished his thought, was critically important as a life-long goal.
“I encourage you to not network with others,” he said. “… I encourage you to build relationships … I encourage you to really get to know the other person.”
Later, when Mike Lawless, a School of Business Clinical Professor of Management, academic director of entrepreneurship initiatives and founder of both USD’s Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference and the spring Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch Competition heard what Davids had advised, he concurred.
“He’s absolutely correct,” Lawless said. “This event is about people being in touch with each other, communicating, and building relationships. So much of this is not about people talking to the audience, but rather the audience interacting with the speakers on the panels. This is probably my favorite part. People can stand around here and just have these conversations.”
Indeed, it was a great night for current college students — including members of the USD Entrepreneurship Club — alumni, local high school students who are prospective Toreros — and administrators from the School of Business and the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Theatre to fully engage. Furthermore, this year’s one-night conference was tied into the start of USD’s Homecoming and Family Weekend festivities.
Ten of the 12 entrepreneurs who participated in one of two panel discussions — one was the aforementioned “What would I tell my 21-year-old-self?” and the other was “If I started my business today …” were USD alumni or USD-connected.
Likely the most successful alumnus present was James Brennan ’96, who was Lawless’ Fireside Chat guest entrepreneur interview at the start of the conference. Brennan has co-founded numerous businesses, including restaurants (Herringbone and Searsucker), nightclubs (Stingaree), one of the fastest growing juice companies in the country, Suja, a mobile branding app called Dizzle for the real estate industry and Kopari, a health and beauty line based on coconut oil.
Being an entrepreneur has been a wonderful life teacher and helped Brennan, whether things have gone well or when things have not gone so well. “You certainly learn a lot more through adversity and hard times than when you’re riding highs,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about myself personally.”
But the thrill and the passion to create something, especially from scratch motivates Brennan every day. “To me the real risk is when you’re willing to put it all out there and I don’t think there’s a greater risk than when you’re starting a business. I think everyone has to know who they are, early on. Being involved in the companies that I write a check into, there’s only one that I’m not a co-founder (Organic Grain Watches). For most of them, I’ve been there from day one. I write a check into something I believe in. I’m not a passive guy.”
Brennan’s passion for entrepreneurship has been well documented over the years, but his community service passion is also exemplary. He sits on the Board of Directors for Catholic Charities of San Diego, Big Brothers Big Sisters and is an active member of the San Diego chapter of YPO. He was also in the national spotlight for a disaster relief fund called Rockaway Reach, which was created following the wrath of Hurricane Sandy. It devastated the communities of Breezy Point, Belle Harbor and the Rockaways in Brennan’s hometown of Rockaway, N.Y. His work was profiled on the CBS-TV show 60 Minutes in 2012.
Others with USD degree ties were Sarah Panis ’12 of The Gritty Company; Chris Szczur ’18 with Dyno Equipment; Jordan Schultz ’18 with Trash Tracker; Laura Johnson ’14 of You and Yours Distillery; Chad Beville ’05 of Reveel Group; Amar Harrag ’01 of Allied Green Realty; and Janaira Quigley, a 2019 candidate for graduation from the USD School of Business’ Master of Science in Global Leadership degree program, whose entrepreneurial business idea is Generations. Michele Moore, though not a USD alumna, has served on the School of Business Advisory Board since 2014 and was vice chair for the School of Business committee for the recently completed campus-wide Leading Change: The Campaign for the University of San Diego. She is an entrepreneur and a horticulturalist. Three additional panelists were Jeff Davids (Smart Money Startups), Victoria Lakers (Frank M&C) and Ramon Toledo (Busca Corp), the latter of whom has served as an angel investor for the bi-national track at USD’s V2 Pitch Competition Final on numerous occasions.
Throughout the evening, each entrepreneur imparted their wisdom, shared their highs and how they rallied when things weren’t going so well. The mix of entrepreneurs willing to give back, give advice and offer encouragement to the audience and share in the excitement that comes from being a changemaking entrepreneur was palpable throughout the night.
The Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference definitely lived up to the words brought forth at the start of the night by School of Business Entrepreneurship Manager Regina Bernal, a double USD alumna, 2012 (BA), 2018 (MA), who organizes the conference and V2 pitch competition.
“Out of all the places in the world we could be right now, we all decided to be here, as a community. I think the Legacy Entrepreneurship Conference is about that — community. It’s a community formed by our current students, alumni, School of Business board members, friends from the School of Engineering, future Toreros and friends of USD. Coming together exemplifies the power of community. This evening, you’re part of a vibrant community that wants to connect, share and to support each other. … It takes a village of support to launch a business. You have access to an incredible group of people who are here and willing to support you when you decide to finally follow your passion and make your idea a reality. Thank you to incredible panelists for sharing your story and igniting passion for the next generation of entrepreneurs. Take us on your journey. We are ready to be inspired.”
— Ryan T. Blystone