Where do you find hope and encouragement in troubled economic times?
Some seekers head to the One Way Café in Wauwatosa to share ideas with an ad hoc group of entrepreneurs, who meet every Tuesday from 2 to 4 p.m.
On a recent Tuesday, Oleg Tumarkin, who hails from Minsk, Belarus, arrives first, wearing an impressive winter hat: a Silver Fox babushka made in Siberia - the likes of which would be hard to find in this western hamlet.
"I'll have the usual," he calls out in a friendly way to the café's owner, Sandy Haeger. She brings him a cup of Earl Gray tea.
Mark Huber, a native Milwaukeean, arrives next, followed by Eric Weinberger, a Wauwatosa resident by way of Peterborough, England.
The three men began meeting last fall to discuss business and educational ideas, as well as share laughs with, well, whoever wanders in. Eavesdropping is freely encouraged in the cozy, bright café.
Kathleen Pulz, a Wauwatosa-based artist who lives with her family just up the hill on Church Street, dropped in to ask questions about starting her own business, which she preferred not to publicize at this time.
"I talked about my idea with them, and came away with a clearer picture of what I'd like to do and what it entails - how to take the next steps," she said. "They were able to get me from idea to reality, which is what I needed."
Barbara Elliott Eaves, a presentation coach, also was there on this particular day. Eaves teaches a class at area business colleges and universities on developing an elevator pitch - communicating your core business idea to prospective clients or investors in just a few minutes.
Among the questions she asks of her students: "What pain does your idea - your product or service - address? How does your solution address that pain? You have to be able to answer that," she said.
As the caffeine kicks in, conversation at the table sounds a lot like National Public Radio's Car Talk, only this was Venture Talk. Instead of troubleshooting carburetors and spark plugs, the group talks patents: Are they worth the cost for small businesses?
Huber: "It depends. …"
Tumarkin: "Trademarks are better."
Tumarkin and Huber have several start-ups under their belts and work as small business consultants and instructors.
They teach a course on how to start your own business at BizStarts Milwaukee, a Wauwatosa-based nonprofit dedicated to stimulating new business development in the region. Weinberger teaches computer programming at the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He also is writing a book on a database programming for Web sites.
The group moves from a discussion of patents to debating the merits of entrepreneurial programs at local universities and, more specifically, the ongoing challenge of fostering innovative thinking among students.
"You ask students what they want to do when they grow up and they say, 'I want to be a doctor or a lawyer.' ... You don't often hear them mention, 'I'd like to start my own business,' " Eaves said.
"Not everyone is cut out to run their own business," Tumarkin interjects. "I tell my students that they must be able to manage people and manage money, otherwise chances of success are significantly diminished."
Just for fun
While some may come to the One Way on Tuesdays to talk business, others come for the sense of community it offers.
Wauwatosa residents Norman Dunkelberger and daughter Natalie said they drop in simply because it's fun. Natalie is studying for her occupational therapy license, and Norman is an artist and restoration artisan who restores historical buildings.
"Most of us are educators, so Tuesdays at the One Way have become a forum to share ideas and skills," Huber said. "No one here is the group authority or expert.
"We are all in this together."
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