Panel Discussion Celebrates Entrepreneurship in Oberlin

January 24, 2020
Kyra McConnell ’22
two women and three men seated at a long table.
Local entrepreneurs spoke about their journeys during a panel discussion at CoWork Oberlin. Photo credit: Osama Dawood

LaunchU teamed up with the city of Oberlin on January 21 for a panel discussion dedicated to entrepreneurship in Oberlin. The event was open to the public and took place in the event space at CoWork Oberlin, a collaborative workspace for local freelancers and entrepreneurs. The audience consisted of Oberlin community members and business owners, as well as participants in the LaunchU 2020 Winter Term Bootcamp and pitch competition.

The panel, moderated by Oberlin College Director of Entrepreneurship Bara Watts, featured four local entrepreneurs who spoke about their unique journeys.

“If you’re thinking about being an entrepreneur, then you should be thinking about how your ideas are going to fit into this changed world,” said panelist John Petersen ’88, Paul Sears Distinguished Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology.

In 2004, Peterson cofounded Lucid Design Group, a platform dedicated to energy efficiency in commercial buildings, with a group of Oberlin College students. Now, his work focuses on Environmental Dashboards, which provide information about sustainability and energy consumption to large communities of people. Petersen cited climate change as one of the most important factors entrepreneurs should consider as they enter the market.

Another panelist, Dave Sokoll ’10 of Oberlin Food Hub, encouraged the self-starters in the room to learn from their mistakes.

“There are things you don’t know until you’re there,” said Sokoll, who emphasized the importance of striking a balance between preparedness and self-preservation.

For participants in LaunchU especially, the diverse room of both seasoned and budding entrepreneurs of all ages proved a fertile ground for collaboration and networking.

Kieran Minor ’19 is working on his startup curriculum model dedicated to arts and environmental education as a participant in the 2020 LaunchU pitch competition. For Minor, the panel showed him that “the bubble that is Oberlin has a lot of ideas and a lot of opportunities for exchange.”

A recurring theme throughout the evening was the power of entrepreneurship to make a difference in one’s community. 

“Entrepreneurship is about who you are as much as what you do,” said Watts. “There’s no other job out there that will give you the breadth of experience both for knowing yourself and engaging with people, and feeling like you’re actually making an impact.”

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