by Marie Bradby

 Suzanne is creating the next generation of entrepreneurs at the University of Louisville College of Business. 

What’s one of Suzanne Bergmeister’s favorite TV shows? Shark Tank.

Suzanne says the show, which features entrepreneurs who seek money from wealthy business investors, is true to life because the questions the shark investors ask are the questions she asks her students.

Suzanne is the Entrepreneur in Residence at the University of Louisville College of Business.

“I’ve seen the entrepreneurial community in Louisville explode in the last five to six years due to many things coming together,” Suzanne says. “We have a mayor (Greg Fischer) who is an entrepreneur and has created several companies. Also, the UofL MBA business plan team won the national championships at the Global Venture Labs Investment competition twice in the last five years, including 2015.”

Her  background in engineering and venture capital, earned Suzanne a prime spot within the university. 

The first UofL team winner, TNG Pharmaceuticals, is developing a vaccine for cattle designed to significantly reduce the damage caused by horn flies, a costly problem. The 2015 winner, Inscope Medical Solutions, developed a wireless laryngoscope with embedded suction and video that is used during intubation.

“I was part of the team of mentors that worked with the students on a daily basis the whole time they were in the MBA program,” Suzanne says. “Both companies are flying high now and going strong.”

Suzanne wants students to understand every aspect of entrepreneurship — including the challenges. 

How did she get involved in business? “It’s all about relationships,” says Suzanne, 54, who is retired from the Air Force Reserve. “I was an engineer for the first 13 years of my career. Then I got an MBA and went into venture capital and was recruited to Louisville. A few years later, I got to know a number of professors in the Entrepreneurship Department, and they asked me to be a guest speaker, then teach a class, then teach part-time, then full-time about a year ago.

“Engineering training helps because engineers are taught to think critically and solve problems.”

Maintaining confidence in your business idea, Suzanne says, is crucial for a company’s success.  

Suzanne’s tips for starting a business:

  1. Know what problem you are solving. Make sure that what you are going to build or offer actually solves a problem. It’s better to do that before you develop a product that nobody is going to pay money for.
  2. Talk to potential customers. You might think you know what the customer wants, but without client input, you could spend a lot of time building something and put it out there and no one comes, no one buys it. You don’t have a viable concept.
  3. Know your numbers. You have to know all the costs involved for making and selling a product. If it’s not profitable, it can’t survive. You might come up with the best gadget in the world to solve a problem, but if it costs $20 to make it and you can only sell it for $10, then you don’t have a company.
  4. Know your strengths and weaknesses. Then when you build a team, they can fill in those holes. It takes a team; you can’t do it alone. If you are really good with numbers but not that good at marketing, hire the best marketing person you can find.
  5. Get out of the building and talk to people and build relationships. Look for people who can help — mentors, advisers — people with skills you don’t have. If you need engineering, marketing, or accounting skills, there are people in Louisville who will bend over backward to help entrepreneurs.
  6. Build a good management team. Investors would rather invest in a great management team with a not-so-great product. A bad management team will take a good product and run that company into the ground.
  7. You need to have thick skin. People might tell you it’s a stupid idea for a business and that it won’t work. You have to have the fortitude to say, ‘Thank you for your advice, but I am going on anyway.’ You also have to have passion because you are going to have setbacks and be told ‘No,’ and you have to push forward.
  8. You have to be coachable. Period.
  9. You will not be working for yourself. That’s a misconception. Everybody thinks when you are an entrepreneur, you are your own boss. If you take outside money, the investors are your bosses; if you have a bank loan, the bank is your boss; your customers and employees are your boss. You are technically still working for other people.