Fred Wergeles is involved with Connecticut entrepreneurs in many ways: as an Adjunct Professor at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Department, as the Founder and President of the Connecticut Economic Gardening Group, as the Founder and Principal of his own consulting practice and through his association with the MetroHartford Alliance.
Innovation Destination: Hartford spoke with Wergeles about his interest in entrepreneurship and his work with student entrepreneurs and Greater Hartford startup businesses.
IDH: Tell us about your interest in Hartford area entrepreneurs.
WERGELES: I became involved with entrepreneurship about a dozen years ago. I have a consulting practice and one of the things I always found frustrating was that startup businesses were in desperate need of information. They needed to know about their markets, their industries, their competitors and different technologies but didn’t really have the resources to devote to a systematic data collection and analysis effort.
I worked with one of the entrepreneurship professors at University of Hartford about 10 years ago and put together a program to match up student teams with some of the local startup businesses and entrepreneurs.
It started there; I was looking to leverage the resources at the University of Hartford to help small businesses with their entrepreneurial endeavors. That’s grown into a program called the Connecticut Economic Gardening Group (CT-EGG), which I’ve been the head of for about a dozen years.
IDH: How does the program work?
WERGELES: The whole concept of the CT-EGG is to utilize resources to enhance the local economy. I worked with the University of Hartford to set up a process and an infrastructure to incorporate entrepreneurial activities on the part of the students to work with startup and small business owners during the course of their classes in entrepreneurship or in market intelligence.
The idea is that at the beginning of the semester, we identify a number of local businesses that are willing to help out and work with the students. We develop and design teams to work on various consulting projects throughout the semester.
At the end of the semester, the students make a presentation to the business owners and provide them with a report and summary of their findings. It’s all done pro bono. So the business owners are getting a good, high-quality consulting report about a particular aspect of their business and the students get a chance to really understand and learn about entrepreneurial and startup business activities.
IDH: In what other ways are you involved with the University of Hartford?
WERGELES: I’m an Adjunct Professor and I’ve been teaching at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Department in the Barney School of Business for more than 10 years. I teach a number of classes in marketing, market intelligence, marketing management and entrepreneurship.
IDH: What do you enjoy most about teaching entrepreneurial students?
WERGELES: It’s a dynamic place for new ideas. I enjoy being able to work with both the students and the Hartford area entrepreneurs because we bring in a lot of them as well to help.
That’s a big component of the work that we do—getting the student entrepreneurs to include and then work directly with local entrepreneurs, the folks who are actually out there doing it.
Over the past couple of years the University of Harford’s Entrepreneurial Department has taken a number of initiatives to increase the student concentration from outside the School of Business and have students from the various programs—engineering, design, art, music, liberal arts, education—participate in the entrepreneurship program.
Trying to get a broader range of students involved in the entrepreneurship program is really the objective. The students may not have entrepreneurship majors, but we try and encourage them to take individual classes or even have entrepreneurship as a minor. The idea of getting a wide variety of the students involved is one of the most exciting parts of my involvement at the University of Hartford.
IDH: You’re committed to enhancing the entrepreneurial ecosystem in the Hartford region. Are you currently working on any endeavors?
WERGELES: I became involved with the MetroHartford Alliance a while ago. From my work with the Connecticut Insurance & Financial Services (IFS) cluster and other small business networking programs, I got to know a lot of the staff and have been working on different projects, most recently with their Entrepreneur Working Group and Mentor initiatives.
I would like to get the MetroHartford Alliance more involved with my student projects—maybe having some of the MetroHartford Alliance small businesses participate in our semester-long market analysis projects. The University of Hartford and the CT-EGG are always looking for interested entrepreneurs to work with our students.
I also think the University of Hartford students would benefit from participating in some of the MetroHartford Alliance programs—maybe on a selected basis we can get invitations for our students to attend one of the breakfasts or other sessions the MetroHartford Alliance runs throughout the year. We are also planning to get the students more involved in the Startup Weekend Hartford program, in which MetroHartford Alliance is a key sponsor.
It would be helpful to be able to tap into the MetroHartford Alliance resources the way we have with reSET. reSET Director of Programs Rosie Gallant and I discussed that some of reSET’s entrepreneurs might be good candidates for working with our students. It’s close by, it’s just down the road between our two facilities. It’s a convenient match up.
So we’re going to be working with reSET in the coming semesters. Some of their entrepreneurs can help our students and our students can help some of the entrepreneurs by working on an internship or something like that, so we can really support each other.
IDH: So you’re making connections and utilizing entrepreneurial resources.
WERGELES: Right, and also educating the folks on the outside about the resources that the University of Hartford can bring to the table as well.
IDH: Let’s talk about your consulting business. Can you describe the company and the services you provide?
WERGELES: My consulting practice, Fred Wergeles & Associates, LLC, specializes in strategic planning and competitive intelligence process improvement. The practice is separate from the University of Hartford and the work that I’m doing with the MetroHartford Alliance.
I conduct management consulting for companies of all sizes, but mostly for mid-sized and larger businesses. I worked with Fortune 500 companies and I’ve done work in a variety of industries, including advanced manufacturing, consumer products, chemicals, financial services, insurance and government. I help companies develop strategic planning processes and market analysis and help them determine a future course of action depending on the market landscape.
My consulting company does a full evaluation of the market landscape—what the competitors are doing, what the customers are asking for—and provides that holistic view of the market. Then we help companies map out a path and help them navigate a successful course of action, whether it involves marketing, sales or new product development.
I’ve taken a lot of that and translated it into the work I’m doing with students at the University of Hartford in marketing and market intelligence. Then I got involved with the MetroHartford Alliance activities helping with entrepreneurs, because again, they have the same need. So my consulting business is just a different application of the same concepts and processes.
IDH: What is the best thing about living and working in Connecticut?
WERGELES: My family came to Connecticut for the quality of life. We moved here from the Washington, DC area, which is very congested and has a completely different life and work culture.
We came to Connecticut because it has great schools and it’s a great living environment for our kids. The work that I’ve been doing both as a consultant and as an adjunct professor has all been focused on improving the business climate in Connecticut.