L&S alumni combine their skills and passions to launch innovative startups across the country
Graduates of the College of Letters & Science work in just about every industry imaginable, in locations across the globe.
Some join multi-national corporations and begin their ascent to leadership. Some opt for nonprofit work and confront critical global challenges. Some dedicate their lives to public service and advocate for their fellow citizens.
And some create their own careers, combining an idea, a passion, or a dream with the skills and perspective honed by their broad-based L&S education. They launch businesses that fill new niches in the marketplace. Then, they build their brands through some of the hallmarks of a liberal arts education — using critical-thinking skills to make strategic decisions, effectively communicating with key industry players to market their products and services, and relying on creativity and adaptability to nimbly navigate the rapidly changing business world.
The following are three examples of companies launched by young, enterprising L&S alumni.
In good spirits
After several years working at a Madison store catering to home beer brewers, Nathan Greenawalt (B.S.’04, Economics) decided he wanted to run his own brewery. He looked at spaces for his operation and began to dream up products — before arriving at a moment of clarity.
“I kind of just had a realization one day that I should do what I was more passionate about,” says Greenawalt, who had viewed the brewery as the first step toward operating a distillery.
So, instead, Greenawalt bought a 220-gallon copper still, obtained a license to distill, and set up operation in a warehouse on Madison’s east side. Old Sugar Distillery was born.
“I like to look at the distillery more as a craft than a science,” says Greenawalt, who is engrossed by both the aging process and the creative nature of devising new variations of spirits.
Since bottling his first batch of honey liqueur in February 2010, Greenawalt has moved his operation to a downtown location (931 East Main Street) that includes a tasting room. And as Old Sugar’s product line continues to expand — after starting out with honey liqueur and rum, it now includes sorghum whiskey, brandy, and ouzo — so, too, does its distribution network, which now covers 14 states.
“We’re constantly growing, more than I even expected,” says Greenawalt.
Matt Forrest (B.A.’10, Geography and Sociology) and Kate Chanba (B.A.’10, Journalism) could have passed through UW-Madison without meeting. Chanba was three weeks into what she thought was her final semester when she realized she needed to fulfill a science requirement. Geography 370: Introduction to Cartography caught her eye.
“I just never had a class that clicked with me in such a deep way,” says Chanba, a lifelong artist who stayed an extra semester to take another cartography course. “I felt like I could use what I was good at.”
Chanba wound up working with Forrest on the final class project, and the two discovered they held similar passions for design. After graduation, they launched Carticulate Maps to create clear, easy-to-use, artistic maps. Carticulate is quickly establishing a foothold in the transit mapping industry, having worked with Asheville, North Carolina, and Des Moines, Iowa, to redesign those cities’ bus maps, and working on bike maps for a handful of cities across the country.
“How can we continue to make cities better? That’s what we keep coming back to,” Forrest says.
A tech tonic
Jon Hardin (B.S.’08, Computer Sciences) founded Hardin Design and Development, a thriving technical development firm, from his parents’ basement.
“I wanted to have something to do over the summer, basically,” Hardin says when recalling his company’s 2007 origin.
Hardin, pictured right, who had previously tried his hand at an unsuccessful startup with a few friends in the dorms, began developing applications and widgets that summer. By the following school year, the operation had transformed into a full-fledged company. Over the past six years, Hardin D&D has worked with the likes of Mercedes-Benz, Google, Apple, and Disney on a variety of applications — including ones that allow users to interact with a new sports car or find alternative fuel providers — for web, mobile, and social media
“We wanted to be a company that had projects that our programmers were excited to work on,” Hardin says.
Hardin and Scott Resnick (B.A.’09, Legal Studies and Political Science), the company’s executive vice president and chief operating officer, have built a collaborative office environment to foster creativity, while maintaining a commitment to hiring UW-Madison graduates.
“We’re very passionate about keeping that talent in Madison and fostering the Madison tech community,” Hardin says.
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