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StartOut hosts panel discussion with founders/CEOs
Special to the online edition of Windy City Times
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times
2014-10-14

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Being your authentic self was one of the themes discussed at a StartOut founder/CEO panel discussion Oct. 1.

More than 50 people gathered at the HistoryIT offices to hear from out business leaders Dr. Kristen Gwinn-Becker, founder and CEO of HistoryIT; Howard Skolnik, president and CEO of Skolnik Industries; Shelley Young, founder and CEO of the Chopping Block; and straight ally Jordan Dolin, founder of Emmi Solutions about the origins of their business, the lessons they have learned, how they manage growth and how being out has played a role in the way they manage their companies.

Mary Shea, founder of the RevvEx Group and adjunct faculty member at Chicago Booth School of Business, moderated.

Shea, who is also a StartOut steering committee member, explained that StartOut is a national nonprofit organization that focuses on providing support to LGBT entrepreneurs and business leaders through education and mentorship programs and events.

Skolnik, who identifies as bisexual, noted that being authentic and honest about who he is has been great for business. "We [him and his partner Robert] haven't seen an example of anything other than a welcoming environment. "What happens is people come to me and start sharing the private details of their lives and it causes our business relationships to grow stronger ... and that's why coming out is good for business," said Skolnik.

Young, who is a chef by trade, shared that she's never really had to come out professionally and being out has been good for business.

Gwinn-Becker explained that HistoryIT is a bootstrapped company which Shea pointed out is unusual in the technology field.

"My business is fueled by publicity and marketing ... I'm an introvert but when it comes to my business I'm very passionate about our cause and what we do so I'll put myself out there," said Young.

"Since I have a design background I look at my business as a designer," said Skolnik.

Dolin noted that entrepreneurs should bootstrap as much as they can.

As for what he would've done differently, Dolin said everything. "All you need to do is make more right decisions than wrong decisions and you'll start to go in the right direction. Expect to make mistakes and that's OK." said Dolin.

Gwinn-Becker explained that she would've anticipated and planned for growth earlier rather than later and been more thoughtful about some of the decisions she's made.

Skolnik went against the grain and said he wouldn't change anything about the way he's approached his business. "I've learned from the experiences I've had," said Skolnik.

"I'm very spontaneous," said Young. Young noted that it's important to get to the heart of why you're doing what you're doing as an entrepreneur. "I care about food," said Young.

As for one thing that they've done really well, Gwinn-Becker said for her it was investing in multiple non-exclusive partnerships.

See www.startout.org for more information .


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