The Polsky Center, in collaboration with the Chicago Booth School of Business and the Northwestern Kellogg School of Management, hosted the 10th annual Booth-Kellogg Acquisition Entrepreneurship (ETA) conference this week.
The largest ETA conference in the United States, the conference brought together investors, entrepreneurs, graduate students, and university faculty to share expertise and insights about the ETA ecosystem. This year's sold-out event attracted more than 600 participants, demonstrating the growing interest in the field.
The conference began with opening remarks from Chicago Booth Dean Madhav Rajan and Accounting Professor George Pratt Schultz. In his remarks, he said such events are important in addressing new challenges within ETA.
“In today's economic climate, exploring fresh ideas is essential, and we hope that programs like today's will inspire future leaders to take on new challenges,” Rajan said. . “We are very excited to see this incredible participant, a large and diverse group representing so many parts of the ETA ecosystem.”
Following his opening remarks, Mr. Rajan introduced the morning's keynote speakers. graham weaver, founder and managing partner of Alpine Investors and management lecturer at Stanford Business. In his talk, Mr. Weaver reflected on more than 20 years of experience as an entrepreneur and shared key learnings from his career.
“The three most important things I’ve learned over the years I’ve been on that journey as an entrepreneur are: Find something that motivates you, extend your horizon, and beware of the two most dangerous words in entrepreneurship – not now,” Weaver said. “These are things that world-class entrepreneurs do.”
Exploring ETA search options
In a panel discussion, Consider search optionsWe've taken a deep dive into ETA's three main models: traditional search, self-funded search, and accelerators.
Raam Jani, Partner in BakerHostetler's Business Group, moderated the panel discussion, which included Hannah Barrett, Director of Pacific Lake. Mark Hoffman, CEO of Larson Packaging Company. Alejandro Renteria, Co-CEO of MAS Seguros. The conversation centered around the pros and cons of the three model types.
Using a self-funded search model, Mr. Hoffman specifically emphasized the independence and personal growth he experienced throughout his career as a result of taking this approach.
“I own 96% of the company and can make decisions on my own without board or investor approval,” Hoffman said. “This has meant that I have had to wear different hats in my career, which has led to great growth as an individual. It has given me the opportunity to live my life and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”
Both Renteria and Barret emphasized the benefits of having an investment partner to help you succeed.
The panel also discussed what trends have been seen in the ETA ecosystem over the past few years, noting specifically the growth in both interest and diversity.
“This year is on track to reach the highest water mark for traditional search funding raised in a single year since the model’s inception. 2020 was the previous record, which we have already surpassed,” Barrett said. Told. “We've also seen people from all walks of life becoming more comfortable doing things like this. More than 50 percent of the people we've helped in the last three years They come from traditional pre-MBA backgrounds and more than 50 percent are women or people of color. We hope to see this trend continue in the years to come.”
Current situation of black ETAs
Building on increasing diversity in the ETA field, Black Search Network hosted panel discussions and networking opportunities with the following titles: States of black ETAs. This session was hosted by Jason Jackson, co-founder of Black Search Network, a community of Black entrepreneurs and leaders committed to supporting each other throughout the ETA lifecycle. He attended past ETA conferences and directly addressed the growth he has experienced.
“When I went to my first conference 10 years ago, there were only a few people in attendance. At the time, I only knew five black business owners, and at the time, I knew only five black business owners, which was unheard of at the time. It's amazing to see now.” Jackson said.
Challenges faced by young operators
Responding to the large number of prospective buyers attending the conference, of Challenges faced by young operators The panel discussed in detail the potential pain points of transitioning from searcher to operator.
Hosted by Scott Wilson, principal at Miles & Stockbridge, entrepreneurs who had recently made acquisitions shared their experiences.
Ian Hossfeld, CEO of City Wide Facility Solutions, emphasized the importance of taking some time before making any major changes to your business.
“When I first became an operator, I had a million ideas, but I needed to take some time to sit back and watch the business work, to understand the different processes and personalities. ,” Hossfeld said. “From there, create a roadmap for moving forward. So think carefully about your actions and try not to be too hasty.”
The panel discussion also discussed the importance of building a culture in newly acquired businesses. Luggage Forward co-CEO Audrey Kohout faced this challenge head-on when she co-acquired Virtual Hers' business.
“We spent the first few months building the culture and building trust with the team,” says Kohout. “We're a virtual company, so we got in the car and went to meet the teams where they were. We wanted to show that we were excited to be there and what they brought to the table. I wanted to give them a chance to show off everything they have.”
Hereford Johnson, CEO of Therapy Group of Tucson and North Valley Pediatric Therapy, took a direct approach when he first became an operator.
“After you spend time doing your due diligence, you know what you need to do. Yes, there are some checks you need to make, but there were things we knew we needed to do from day one. I went all in right away,” Johnson said.
The group also discussed how they prioritize when problems arise, when to start thinking about growth, and what they would have done differently if given the opportunity.
There will also be other panel discussions. Determining key personnel with executive management, legacy in transition, and strategic capital allocation decisions; and Governance strategies for deal-making and self-funded research.
The conference featured keynote speaker AJ Wasserstein, Eugene F. Williams Jr., Lecturer in Management Practice at Yale School of Management, and moderator Mark Agnew, Adjunct Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Chicago Booth. It ended with a discussion in between.
During their conversation, Mr. Agnew asked Mr. Wasserstein what kind of impact he hopes to have on his students. He puts living a fulfilling life at the heart of his answer and sees the benefits of keeping businesses rather than selling them.
“When I think about ETA and entrepreneurship, what I want for my students is to build great lives,” Wasserstein said. “While the focus is on money and wealth creation, the truth is that there is much more to the ETA you earn after years of being in business.”
“Seeing a business succeed creates respect, building a great culture creates a sense of belonging, and empowering employees to grow and develop and achieve things they never thought possible.” It gives you a sense of pride when you see it,” Wasserstein continued. “These are things we want everyone to experience, but to experience them we need to stay in business.”
After the discussion, Mr. Wasserstein gave closing remarks and shared important advice with the audience, including planning what you want your life to be and pursuing it as vigorously as possible.He also said that now is the best time to start an ETA project and reminded the audience not to forget about friends, family, spirituality and not to deify successful entrepreneurs. Because they are just like you – the only difference is that they have taken the first step on a long and ambiguous adventure..
And his final advice to the entrepreneurs in the audience:
“You can do this!”
Article by Darwin Minnis, associate director of media relations and external communications at the Polsky Center. Darwin is passionate about telling the stories of people, products and companies that have a positive impact on their communities. Email Darwin.