Four years ago Julie Sygiel, then a chemical-engineering student at Brown, began taking elective entrepreneurship classes. The subject captured her interest to the point where two years later she began attending “LunchLab” sessions held by the Rhode Island Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.
She wrote the business plan for Sexy Period, a maker of specialty women’s underwear she co-founded, in her junior year and credits the labs for getting her vision off the ground.
“It was inspiring to hear other people’s stories, the hardships and obstacles they had to overcome,” she said. On March 14, Sygiel hosted a monthly LunchLab session of her own. “What I like about them is that you’re speaking about things that [participants] are really interested in hearing,” she said. “Things like how we came up with our idea, the actual product, marketing, public relations or manufacturing, there’s a lot to talk about,” she said.
A typical session usually lasts about 90 minutes and is very informal. Those in attendance introduce themselves, as does the featured speaker, who acts more as an adviser. Attendees can seek advice or ask questions, which are usually discussed at length by the speaker, a local entrepreneur who has recently gone through the ropes. Topics can range from products and business plans to financing and marketing, and those readying to plunge into possible entrepreneurship learn by both the success stories and failures.
LunchLab speakers are considered by the center as coaches, veterans of the startup process. Most of the participants asking questions have graduated from higher education and are seeking the voice of experience to help them iron out the details on their own projects, which are in various stages of development.
According to Brendan McNally, director of RI-CIE, the LunchLab is delivering on its intent, to assist potential entrepreneurs with the daily and all-too-realistic problems that can be encountered. Learning marketing from a textbook is one thing, but the school of hard knocks is always a good supplemental education.
“We try to have a LunchLab at least once per month. This spring will make it two years since we started and I think it has worked very well,” McNally said.
Max Winograd is another fan of the series and like Sygiel, he has been on the receiving end as well as a featured speaker.