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During a Nov. 13 visit, Michael Ferro said that Kellogg students should define entrepreneurship more broadly to include leading existing businesses, as well as starting their own.

Michael Ferro

Downturn can mean opportunities for entrepreneurs, Kellogg speaker says

Students should consider reviving faltering ventures to create their own mark

By Amy Trang

11/14/2008 - With the economy in crisis, Kellogg entrepreneurship students should hone their skills to revive fallen businesses and keep jobs in the community when they graduate.

That’s the message that Michael Ferro Jr. conveyed to a Kellogg audience on Nov. 13 during a forthright and lively discussion at the school about the future of entrepreneurship.

The chairman and chief executive of Chicago-based holding company Merrick Ventures said that the roots of his entrepreneurial career go back to his adolescence. Prior to his role at Merrick, Ferro was the founder, chairman and chief executive of Click Commerce Inc., a supply chain management solutions company. His talk was hosted by the Kellogg Entrepreneurship Club.

Ferro said that even during an economic crisis there are people sitting on the sidelines with cash to invest, but they generally want to put money into deals that will save existing jobs and businesses. He said that Kellogg graduates will have the skills to revive those businesses and restore them as economic engines for the community.

“The entrepreneurship dream is different” under those circumstances, Ferro said, noting that for many entrepreneurship means launching a brand-new venture. Not necessarily, according to the speaker: “You can latch onto people [with existing businesses] who need help. They need talent and equity and if you have it, you can do a lot.”

Ferro, also a Northwestern University trustee, said that angel investors typically will not give budding entrepreneurs millions of dollars to start their business. In nearly all startups, it is the families and friends of entrepreneurs that help build the dream, Ferro said. Entrepreneurs usually are working second jobs to help pay the bills until their company becomes profitable.

“If you think you can get $1 million by presenting a PowerPoint, you’re wrong. It’s over,” Ferro said. “You’ve got to have a different plan.”

Sectors where Ferro said he sees the best potential for entrepreneurs are technology, manufacturing, healthcare and entertainment.

“By bringing in Michael Ferro and entrepreneurs like him, students not only get practical advice, but most importantly, inspiration to pursue their dreams,” said Glenn Chiu ’09, communications chair of the Kellogg Entrepreneurship Club.