Kate Volzer knows a few things about higher education. She is a 2014 graduate of the Chicago Booth Evening MBA Program and the CEO and co-founder of Wisr, a networking platform that enables students, alumni, and supporters to connect about their careers and professional experiences. Wisr was built in 2016 in partnership with five research universities, including the University of Chicago.
Kate recently chatted with Kara Northcutt, director of admissions and marketing for the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA Programs, and shared insights on how her time at Booth helped to shape her professional aspirations.
KN: Tell us about Wisr
KV: Wisr makes it extremely easy for members of a private university network to connect with peers. We spent our first year in business co-creating the software with five universities (UChicago, CWRU, Oberlin, Denison, and Cedarville) to make sure we got it right. After that, we fully commercialized and are now at over 20 universities, have raised two million dollars, and are a team of nine headquartered in Cleveland, OH.
KN: How did the Booth MBA experience influence your entrepreneurial venture?
KV: While studying entrepreneurship, I had the opportunity to hear from entrepreneurs in the field (many Booth alumni). Hearing their stories, both wins and losses, has been critical in navigating building a company from the ground up. As much as group work was a pain at times with classmates across the country, it is very reminiscent of my life today.
Two classes stand out to this day: Entrepreneurial Selling and Brian Barry's Business, Politics, and Ethics. While writing the five-year plan for my final project, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn't going to be happy pursuing the banking career I thought I wanted, so I decided to leave Chicago after nine years to take a role in Cleveland, OH at a startup. In my Entrepreneurial Selling class, I learned the art of hustle, storytelling, and that cold calling isn't actually that bad. I constantly apply the lessons learned from both of those classes.
KN: What advice would you give to someone considering starting his or her own venture?
KV: Find people who know things you don't and get them to work with you. If you choose to raise money to grow your business, have confidence in yourself and your plan for the venture. You don't have to raise capital to have a successful company, and always remember that you know your business better than anyone. People will help you, you just need to ask.
KN: How has the Booth network helped build your venture and/or support you in general as an alumna?
KV: I've tapped into the Booth network a number of times over the past couple years for both investor intros and business development relationships. The University of Chicago was Wisr's first client which was a wonderful show of support.
KN: Anything else you’d like to share with prospective Evening MBA and Weekend MBA students?
KV: Your life is going to be extremely busy but you'll make it (really, I promise). Just make sure to give yourself a break if things don't go perfectly (they won't). At the time I started, the Dean told us to “be present” in whatever we did, especially when spending time with people you care about – family, friends, teammates, etc. Don't worry about homework or other priorities during those times. Make the people you're with your priority and choose to be with them.
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