‘Office hours’ on State Street offers informal advice to entrepreneurs

Jan. 27, 2014

by David Tenenbaum

A campus leader in entrepreneurship has embarked on biweekly sessions at 100state, a "co-working" facility on State Street near the Capitol where entrepreneurs gather to move their ideas toward the market.

Photo: Allen Dines

Allen Dines

"Many people say, I have this idea, I want somebody to talk to, to look for some connections to get to the next step," says Allen Dines, who is assistant director for new ventures at the UW-Madison Office of Corporate Relations (OCR).

"I'll talk to anybody; it's not limited to students or people with UW affiliation," says Dines, a veteran of three Madison startups himself. "Being a member of 100state is not a prerequisite either. All are welcome."

Dines, like others who promote new business development, says great ideas are more common than great follow-through. "I try to be positive but realistic. I honestly think people have to pursue something to the point where they can say, 'I am going to commit a tremendous amount of energy and go forward.' But if it does not look like it's going to work, they need to set it aside — and the sooner, the better."

OCR is the "front door of the university for business and industry," says Dines, and the office sees great potential in new small companies, which account for a substantial portion of job growth.

“Even if they are just kicking around an idea, they can still get an informed reaction.”

Allen Dines

At a previous "office hours" that Dines held at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, the advice-seekers were "all over the board in the type of enterprise, prior knowledge and skill sets," he says. "Some had thought it through pretty well and already had investors or made a product. Other were right at the beginning: 'I have an idea; I wonder if makes any sense.'"

Facing that diversity of personalities, skills and needs, "I acted as coach, counselor, cheerleader and broker," says Dines, who also works with MERLIN Mentors, a campus-related but Madison-wide entrepreneur mentorship program. "Even if they are just kicking around an idea, they can still get an informed reaction."

The next office hours will be held Wednesday, Jan. 29. Sign-up is available online. If all slots are taken, interested entrepreneurs can go to the same website to be notified of future events.