Wes Wagner, a senior at Indiana University studying entrepreneurship and international business, first attended the Combine his sophomore year.
Wagner’s passion for technology and entrepreneurship began in high school.
“Most high school kids would get to school and talk about the big game from the night before. I would go to school and talk about the newest iPhone or tech product,” said Wagner.
Throughout his four years at IU, Wagner’s passion for entrepreneurship grew—most notably through his involvement with the Shoemaker Scholars. The cross-disciplined student group created StartupIU, an initiative to accelerate IU’s entrepreneurial and innovative community through its website, newsletter, and monthly meetups for students. Wagner said the biweekly newsletter has grown to over 1,500 students interested in entrepreneurship and innovation.
Wagner’s interests in entrepreneurship have expanded beyond campus as well.
“I chose Indiana University for the entrepreneurship education, but I’ve actually learned the most about startups and entrepreneurship from members of the Bloomington tech community,” he said.
Wagner began connecting with different local tech events, including Startup Mic Nite, Startup Weekend, and various hack-a-thons. Through these events, he met Mike Trotzke, CEO of Bloomington-based tech company Cheddar and co-organizer of The Combine. Trotzke encouraged him to attend The Combine his sophomore year.
“I was blown away by The Combine’s speakers. I talked to tech CEOs from Chicago and prominent startup folks from San Francisco,” Wagner said, referencing some of The Combine’s 2016 speakers including Justyn Howard, CEO of Sprout Social, and Alex Wilhelm, current Editor in Chief at Crunchbase.
“The Combine creates a platform for techies, entrepreneurs, investors across the United States to come together and learn, share best practices, and connect with each other. As a student, it’s a huge value just being able to absorb it all, especially for the discounted tickets,” said Wagner. Student tickets to The Combine 2018 are $30, compared to the regular ticket price of $119.
Because some of the event often occurs during a week day, Wagner found his class schedules overlapped with a few sessions he wanted to attend; however, he also discovered that some of his entrepreneurship professors encouraged him to pursue extracurricular outlets where he would learn from entrepreneurs in the community.
“They understand the value of The Combine’s ‘classroom’, and they are already encouraging students to go this year,” said Wagner. “Many students interested in startups come to college and think that they are going to be handed opportunities like this, but in reality, that’s rare, and you have to constantly seek them out for yourself.”
He gave some advice to fellow students who plan to attend The Combine this year:
“Before the event, look at the speaker lineup and find those who are relevant to your interests and passions,” said Wagner. “Check out their work online, follow them on Twitter, and prepare to engage with them in person, because that’s really what the whole event is about.”
After attending his first Combine event in 2016, Wagner says he left with great relationships, and eventually, a new job at Cheddar, one of Bloomington’s first technology companies to receive outside venture capital investment. After graduation, Wagner hopes to continue working at Cheddar while being a digital nomad, traveling to South America and working remotely.
Catch Wagner at The Combine 2018, and on Twitter @caffeinatedwes.