William Brennan

STARTUP INNOVATOR: WILL BRENNAN

Business Development Representative, Thasos Group (New York, NY)

M.Eng., Technical Entrepreneurship, Lehigh University, 2015
B.S., Civil Engineering, Bucknell University, 2014

As Will Brennan neared completion of his bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering at Bucknell University, he gave serious thought to his next move. He knew entrepreneurship was the right path for him, but he didn’t know where to start.

Why did you decide to enroll in Lehigh’s Technical Entrepreneurship (TE) master’s program?

During my last semester at Bucknell, I was exploring my options. Creating new products and selling them seemed like something I would really enjoy. I had an engineering background, so that definitely helped, but I had no idea where to go from there. I actually learned about the TE program through one of the professors at Bucknell and decided it would be a great fit. I was really excited to learn about the business and product development sides of entrepreneurship.

And did the program meet your expectations?

I didn’t really know what to expect. I learned a lot about myself and what it takes to start a company. It was a year of figuring out what I’m good at and what else I need to learn in order to build a business.

I knew I wanted to be in the center of innovation, and startups were the place to be. The TE program opened my eyes to what it takes to start a business and all of the different routes that one can possibly take.
Can you expand on that?

Before entering the TE program, I knew very little about starting a business, but felt certain it was something that I wanted to do. I was absolutely determined to learn as much as I could about the world of entrepreneurship.

 

Professor de Vinck [Professor of Practice in the TE program] emphasized the importance of “becoming dangerous” at specific skill sets. We learned about things like photography, Arduino programming, video production, and logo design – mastering them well enough to rapidly prototype a product or a business while keeping a tight budget. 

 

We also became familiar with company financials and business plans, and we learned a lot about patents, insurance, and hiring. It’s obviously impossible to become an expert in all of these areas in one year, but we learned enough to know what we don’t know. The idea is that this awareness then drives the process of finding co-founders, employees, mentors, advisors, and board members who will bring other strengths to the table.

Was there one particular aspect of TE that you found most appealing?

I’d say that it was having the opportunity to pick our own project – something we really wanted to explore – and run with it. Each week we would apply what we learned towards those projects. Many of those assignments lead to some great and unexpected things. For example, I worked on a venture in the coffee and tea industry. Over the course of the TE year, I built a prototype, met with industry leaders, developed a mailing list, displayed my product at trade shows and expos, and established a relationship with a mentor in the field. Ultimately, I decided not to launch the product, but the process was an incredible learning experience.

How did your mindset evolve as a result of your year in TE?

Like I said, I didn’t know anything about starting a business or creating new products before the program. I learned the importance of questioning everything and getting feedback on your ideas as quickly as possible so you know if you are headed in the wrong direction.

What did you do immediately after receiving your M.Eng. in TE?

I joined a new startup, Idle Cars, as their fourth hire just a few months after completing my TE degree. My position was Marketing Manager, and I headed the user acquisition efforts.  Based in New York City, Idle Cars was focused on streamlining the process of matching registered, for-hire vehicles with Uber and Lyft drivers through the use of technology.  Unfortunately, the company ran into funding issues and closed its doors in 2016, roughly two years after launch. 

How did your TE degree help you to obtain this position?

Both the fast-paced thinking that characterizes TE and the customer-centric approach that is so integral to the program were attractive to the Idle Cars team. I think these appeal to other potential employers as well, especially in the startup world.

So what are you doing now?

I’m working as a Business Development Representative with the Thasos Group in New York City. Thasos is a small, young company that provides data analytics for the financial services industry. The founder and CEO is a fellow Bucknell alumnus.

I know you believe in the power of networking.

TE stressed this, and I know from first-hand experience that networking can help you get a job, gain perspective, develop business ideas, and grow as an individual. I’ve benefitted immensely from it. I also believe that it’s really important to find people, both in your industry and outside of your industry, who are smarter than you so that you can learn from them and expand your potential.

Are you still in touch with others from your TE cohort?

I am.  I think that one really valuable aspect of the TE program is being surrounded by other people who aspire to be entrepreneurs. It makes a huge difference. The relationships I developed in TE are really important to me. I know these friends and I will support one another throughout our entrepreneurial careers.

Do you have any long-term goals?

I love building things, so I am always exploring new ideas. I would love for one of them to turn into a business one day.

How would you sum up what TE did for you?

The TE program focuses heavily on the value of customer feedback. As a result, I bring a customer-centric approach to my work and constantly assess consumer needs. No matter how cool or innovative you think your product is, you need to make sure people want to buy it.

 

January 2017