The Entrepreneurial Mindset

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Baterman School of Business Dean Dr. Daniel Sem discusses some of the entrepreneurial initiatives at Concordia.
Baterman School of Business Dean Dr. Daniel Sem discusses some of the entrepreneurial initiatives at Concordia.
Editor's Note: This story first appeared in the fall 2017 issue of Concordian, the official magazine of Concordia University Wisconsin. View a PDF version of the magazine here.

In the last couple of years, a new kind of entrepreneurial energy has grabbed hold of the Concordia University Wisconsin, as evidenced by a variety of startups, initiatives, and events on the theme coming out of the university.

“It’s been sort of wired into our DNA to be an innovative place,” says Concordia President Rev. Patrick T. Ferry, Ph.D. “It’s something that I inherited when I stepped into my role as president, and it’s been a really good thing for us in terms of allowing us to advance our mission in strategic ways.”

In order for this energy to exist, Ferry says Concordia must foster a culture that respects the delicate tension between out-of-the-box thinking and procedure; disruption and order.

“There’s obviously a need for organization and stabilization, but the right balance is really critical to make sure everything is done in the right way, so as not to be complacent,” Ferry says. “I think we have a very significant value proposition at Concordia. It’s not just about preparing students for jobs; we’re preparing people for lives of service to Christ. In order to do that, we have to have attractive programs, and be nimble and thoughtful about new way of doing things.”

Up and Running

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Initiatives that promote innovative thinking and entrepreneurialism abound at CUW. Here are just a few of Concordia’s recent efforts.  

  • CU LaunchIn its third year, Concordia’s CU Launch initiative offers free business coaching to student and/or faculty teams with startup ideas. The nine-month program concludes with a live pitch event, with $1,000 in seed funds offered to the top innovations. This year’s culminating event will be in early December.  
  • Healthcare Innovation Pitch (HIP)In this Shark Tank-like event, leading health care innovator teams in Southeastern Wisconsin pitch their ideas to a panel of venture capitalist judges. The event is co-organized and sponsored by Bridge to Cures, with funds provided by Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, along with Concordia and other partners. More than $30,000 will be awarded to local entrepreneurs during the November 8 event in downtown Milwaukee.  
  • Concordia Medication Management Accelerator (CMMA)In May, Concordia’s School of Pharmacy and Batterman School of Business, in partnership with The Dohmen , launched a health care innovation accelerator to address medication management for patients with chronic illnesses. The CMMA program will award more than $50,000 to innovators with the best business plans for addressing comprehensive medication management for chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension, and blood pressure.  
  • Startup WeekNovember 5–11 is Startup Wisconsin's second annual Milwaukee Startup Week, and Concordia is serving as a primary academic partner and sponsor for entrepreneurial activities occurring across Wisconsin. In addition to the HIP event and one of the CMMA collaborative events, the week will include nightly sessions at many of Concordia’s learning centers.  
  • RemediemeXchange (Rx) A March 21 “Business of Healthcare Summit” at Concordia set the stage for the announcement of Remediem eXchange (Rx), a Concordia-led think tank meant to address crucial questions surrounding the nation’s staggering health care costs. The 40-person consortium holds regular meetings and will play a leading role in organizing the HIP event.  
  • Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center While a groundbreaking date has not yet been set, CUW leaders say construction on its new academic building, the Robert W. Plaster Free Enterprise Center, will begin sometime this academic year. Upon completion, the building will house Concordia’s Batterman School of Business and serve as the central space on campus from which free market principles will be developed and advanced, and entrepreneurs will be mentored.  
  • Entrepreneur-in-Residence The Batterman School of Business has contracted well-known venture capitalist and startup advisor Loren Peterson to support Concordia’s budding entrepreneurs. Peterson holds regular office hours, and lends his expertise to any Concordia student or faculty member looking to move their startup ideas forward.  
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The man who is newly responsible for ensuring that Concordia is thoughtful about those new ways of doing things, while remaining faithful to its mission, is Dr. Bernard Bull, Concordia’s assistant vice president of academics for continuing and distance education. In his added role as Concordia’s chief innovation officer—a title he took on last October—Bull champions mission-minded and results-oriented innovation that supports strategic and emerging academic opportunities at the university.

“We already have a group of deans who are incredibly entrepreneurial and who promote entrepreneurialism within their academic schools, as well as with other programs,” Bull says. “The next step for us to take is to add a system that helps us get the most out of all of those efforts.”

Among the deans who are pushing the innovative envelope in order to offer the highest-value Christian learning experience is Dr. Daniel Sem, who stepped into the role of dean of Concordia’s Batterman School of Business in July 2015. During his time at Concordia, Sem has connected multiple Concordians—including Dr. Sharon Chappy with Dr. Christian Albano and Dr. Brian Trinh (Link to “In Sync on Medication Management” story)—and incited enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism in even more individuals.

“I think it’s best to learn business by doing it, and the entrepreneurial approach is a way for students to apply what they’re learning in the classroom,” Sem said. “Even if students aren’t looking to start their own business, it’s about teaching the entrepreneurial mindset: how to be creative and think outside of the box, how to problem-solve.”

Born and raised in Milwaukee, Sem stepped away from the Midwest in 1993 to pursue adventure in the state that boasts more startups than anywhere else in the world: California. After working five years as a research scientist, Sem left his job to devote his full time and energy to his own startup idea. He even convinced his boss to leave a six-figure salary to join in the endeavor.

Together, they founded Triad Therapeutics, Inc., a biotechnology company that specialized in research and development focused on leveraging information from the newly sequenced human genome to accelerate targeted drug discovery and development, with initial focus on inflammatory diseases, like arthritis.

Sem recalls the fear that settled in as they poured their savings into the project, and the exhilaration that took hold when the company secured venture capital financing and started to grow. By 1999, Triad Therapeutics had raised $12.5 million in venture capital funding, and in 2001 Drug Discovery Today named the company among the top 10 biotech startups in the nation.

“That got me enthused and exposed to what entrepreneurship really is,” Sem said. “It’s fun to be part of the ecosystem that’s now building that culture in Wisconsin.”

After returning to his home state in 2002, Sem continued his entrepreneurial pursuits and founded three more startups. To date, he has four startups to his name and holds 10issued—and many more pending—patents.

Now Sem is part of the ecosystem of administrators, faculty, and staff who are fostering that spirit at Concordia. And Sem says he can’t wait to see even more Concordians embrace the entrepreneur in themselves.

“It’s like a drug for me to see that entrepreneurial mindset sink in for other people,” Sem said. “I think it taps into something special inside of people. It’s like watching someone find a new way of seeing the world.”

The fall 2017 Concordian magazines hit mailboxes the first week of October. If you are not on our mailing list, but are interested in receiving a free copy, call 734-995-7317.