The road to success is paved by failures and has many dead ends was part of the message shared by Jerry Ropelato, a local businessman and Weber State University graduate, to students and entrepreneur hopefuls Wednesday evening during a weekly meeting of the Weber Entrepreneurs Association.
After a brief introduction, Ropelato led an hour-and-a-half long discussion with WEA members and visitors. The WEA is a student-led organization and partnered with Grow Utah Ventures, a network of affluent individuals, also known as angel investors, who provide capital for a business start-up, usually in exchange for part ownership of the company.
Currently, Ropelato is the CEO of TechMediaNetwork, a leading technology media company that produces news and reviews that reach more than 19 million visitors each month. He was previously the COO/CTO of Net Nanny, a popular Internet filtering program, but left in 2003 to start another business where he currently resides.
However, Ropelato says he did not always drink from the cup of success.
“I was on track to graduate from Weber State in accounting, but my grades were horrible,” Ropelato said. “So, I dropped out.”
Three years later, he returned to WSU and sought a degree in data processing, a precursor to information systems and technology, which soon became his passion and endowed him with the drive to begin a business.
“I love computers so much that I got all As and finally graduated in ’83 with a 4-year degree in 5 years,” Ropelato said with a smile.
After gradation, Ropelato started a small information technology consulting company and eventually grew it to over $20 million in revenue. As the year 2000 approached, Ropelato’s top ten customers withdrew their support within a week, forcing him to declare bankruptcy and lose the entire company.
Ropelato feels very strongly that he learned more going through the process of bankruptcy than he learned in the seven years he spent creating and maintaining his first business.
“Going through bankruptcy is a very painful process,” Ropelato said. “It made me realize some of the things we should have done and some the things we shouldn’t have done. We took certain measures to make sure it wouldn’t happen again. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a risk taker.”
WSU student and WEA Director of Deal Flow Matthew Sutherland agrees that to be a successful entrepreneur, one has to take risks.
“You’ve gotta take risks as an entrepreneur,” the senior studying business administration said. “There are so many types of risk. Take me for example; I’ve spent thousands in a website. Sure, there is risk that this endeavor might flop, but the potential benefits outweigh the risks for me.”
According to Sutherland, on his website, www.BesideYouForever.com, he has implemented many of the social media elements he has learned about in his business administration courses, but also used elements from other sources of education.
“I will always say that I was schooled at Weber State,” Sutherland said, “but educated by Google.”
Sutherland went to explain about other risks. He said that time commitment, family and other social stressors add to the risks and possible downsides of pursuing the entrepreneurial route.
For this reason, the WEA was created. The WEA allows students to acquire real experience by screening proposals from local entrepreneurs who are seeking funding. For entrepreneurs, this screening is the first step toward receiving funding, expert advice and support. The WEA meets every Wednesday evening at 8:00 in Shepherd Union Building Room 320.
“I think Jerry’s story is inspiring. He taught me that I should never throw in the towel too soon,” Sutherland said. “It’s an awesome experience to meet these successful guys … and I see how alike we are. I believe if they can do, so can I.”