This past week I had the distinct pleasure to be invited to speak at the Collegiate Entrepreneurs National Conference (#CEONAT2016) that was held at the Tampa Convention Center and hosted by the University of Tampa (www.ut.edu) This year’s event had over 800 students in attendance and featured a number of high profile speakers including Kevin Harrington who is the founder of As Seen on TV and one of the original sharks on the hit TV Show “Shark Tank” Other speakers included Dr. Gene Landrum who is the founder of Chuck E Cheese restaurants and Mike DeLazzer who is the founder of Redbox which is the largest video rental company in the world. Quite a group of speakers and I must say it was very flattering to be included on such a prestigious list!
Another speaker who really did a great job was Jeff Vinik who is the chairman/governor of the Tampa Bay Lightning NHL hockey team. Jeff was the keynote speaker at lunchtime on Friday and delivered an inspiring message on how he built his financial services and real estate business through the years. Some of Jeff’s secrets to success that he shared with the audience include 1) Having an optimistic attitude 2) Maintaining a strong belief system 3) Be Bold in pursuing your dreams 4) No substitute for hard work 5) Lead your business with integrity. Really solid advice but the best part of Jeff’s presentation had to be his unbridled enthusiasm when he spoke about the city of Tampa and its tremendous business environment/growth potential. Talk about a great cheerleader for the local community!
Besides being a guest speaker at the conference, I was also asked to participate as a judge (with 2 other people) in the CEO “pitch contest” which included hearing from 11 different student entrepreneurs who were given a minute and a half to convince the 3 of us to invest in their businesses. I must say I was extremely impressed with the student’s creativity (and enthusiasm) as well as the wide range of startup companies that were presented .Some of the more interesting companies included a 3D printer for pizzas (no kidding) as well as an urban pantry (Riverside Bodega) and a healthcare app that will potentially revolutionize treatment for patients with depression and bi-polar disorders. A number of impressive companies that in my opinion have a great chance for success! And I have to say that all of these young CEO entrepreneurs were incredibly poised and professional in stating their cases. I also have to admit as I was listening to the students I was thinking that I personally never had the guts to start my own business in my 20’s much less do so while attending college as well.
The conference wrapped up (for me) on Saturday morning when I presented concepts from my book “Hitting the Curveballs” How Adversity can Strengthen and Grow your Business. The students and faculty that attended my session represented universities from a cross section of the country (West Virginia, California, New York, Kentucky etc.) in addition there were international representatives in my session from Ghana, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Brazil and India. Literally a worldwide audience! And based on the comments and feedback I received after my presentation, it seems my message really hit home with many of them. Very gratifying! All in all, I had a great experience at the CEO National Conference and hope that I will be invited back to the event next year