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Northwestern Engineering Hosts Panel of Alumni Entrepreneurs

Panel of Northwestern alumni entrepreneurs emphasize the importance of risk-taking and continuous learning

A panel of Northwestern Engineering alumni entrepreneurs came together virtually on March 6 to share their experiences building and launching successful business ventures and discuss how Northwestern students and alumni can utilize the University’s resources to help drive their innovations forward. The event was hosted by the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science at Northwestern. 

Hayes FergusonThe speakers were Carolina Fong Guzzy (MPM ’13), cofounder and digital engineering manager at Accienta; Eric Horler (MBA, MEM ’04), president and CEO at AIQ Solutions; and Vysak Venkateswaran (MBP ’14), cofounder and CEO at Biomonadic. The panel was moderated by Hayes Ferguson, Farley Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation director and clinical professor. 

The discussion began with the guest speakers explaining how they found themselves in entrepreneurial positions. Fong Guzzy and Venkateswaran attributed part of their interest in startups to their time spent at the University, with Northwestern Engineering’s curriculum providing them with ample opportunities to learn about and explore entrepreneurship and business.  

Carolina Fong Guzzy

They also considered the differences between working for large companies and working for startups or small companies, with some of the advantages of the latter being opportunities to take on multiple roles, getting more individual attention and responsibility, and being able to build a strong workplace environment and culture. 

"I think being in a startup and working in the intersection of so many different fields is really invigorating,” Venkateswaran said. 

The panelists then broke down some of the challenges they faced, namely fundraising and recruiting passionate staff who could contribute to a positive workplace culture. Fong Guzzy and Venkateswaran said getting their first client was an arduous task, but once they had accomplished it, their companies gained momentum. 

Vysak Venkateswaran

The speakers highlighted the importance of having their finger on the pulse of emerging technologies and innovations within their industries to overcome these challenges and build on their achievements. They noted networking, paying attention to the media, and experimenting with new tools and platforms as key to tackling issues within small businesses and startups. 

“We need to keep up. That’s part of our competitive advantage. One of the best ways to do this is to play with tools when there’s a new functionality release. Don’t be afraid to try it,” Fong Guzzy said. “There’s no excuse not to self-learn nowadays.” 

The panelists wrapped up by advising the audience on how to take on challenges and build business ventures, with the common consensus being that taking risks is crucial to finding success. 

Eric Horler

“I often tell my team that, in a startup, if you take risks you may fail. If you don't take risks, you will fail,” Horler said.