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Awards recognize entrepreneurship and innovation

Entrepreneurship may require intelligence, perseverance and the ability to generate ideas, but it depends above all on social skills and perspective, Michael Bertuch ’82 said Thursday at Lehigh.

Michael Bertuch ’82

Bertuch, CEO of ViaTech Publishing Solutions, made his remarks as he received the first Next STEP: Farrington Award for Outstanding Achievement in Entrepreneurship.

The award is named for Gregory Farrington, who will conclude a nine-year tenure as Lehigh’s president on June 30. It was presented by the Lehigh Entrepreneurs Network and the Southside Bethlehem Keystone Innovation Zone (KIZ) at the first annual STEP (Success Through Entrepreneurship in Pennsylvania) awards ceremony.

Two Lehigh students who run their own aquarium-equipment business were also recognized at the ceremony, as was a chemical company. And the KIZ program gave monetary prizes to the winners of Lehigh’s 2006 Student Entrepreneurs Competition, which is sponsored by Lehigh’s Integrated Product Development (IPD) and Integrated Business and Engineering (IBE) programs.

”Entrepreneurs make the world a simpler place”

Bertuch served as a “turn-around specialist” and business consultant before taking over at ViaTech, a worldwide publishing company that specializes in “just-in-time” and custom publishing of technical, educational and training books and texts.

In a 15-minute talk at the awards ceremony, he attempted to dispel what he called four “myths” about entrepreneurs—that they must be smart, have special skills, be unafraid of taking risks, and love their businesses.

To bolster his first claim, Bertuch cited his academic record at Lehigh, where he struggled while earning a B.S. in finance and marketing.

“Dr. Farrington, if you could have seen me when I was a student,” Bertuch quipped, “you would have thought, ‘That guy is annoying! How’d he even get into Lehigh in the first place?’

“And you would have been right. I finished in the bottom half of my class. I got a D in Accounting 111, took it over and got a D again. I got a D in Management 231. The course I took in queueing theory was too complicated for me.

“Later on, I learned that smart people often make the world more complicated than it needs to be—because that’s good for smart people. Entrepreneurs, on the other hand, make the world a simpler place; they make something that anyone can do. Successful entrepreneurs, rather than being smart, are often contrarians.”

As for risk-taking, Bertuch said, “entrepreneurs get other people to take our risks for us.” And, he said, entrepreneurs need not possess unusual skills.

“Anyone can be an entrepreneur. It doesn’t take special skills. In fact, the only skill that matters in entrepreneurship is the only skill that matters in life, and that is social skills. Entrepreneurs get other people to do things with them.”

In countering the myth that entrepreneurs must love their business, Bertuch said, “You can love a lot of things in life, but if you love your business, you’re wacky. I’ve done hundreds of turn-around consulting jobs, with hospitals, bookstores, glass companies, travel companies, you name it, and I found that the vast majority of floundering companies were owned by people who dedicated their lives so much to their businesses that they didn’t see the world changing around them and didn’t notice the people working with and for them.

“Instead of loving your business, you should love how your business can change the world and how it can benefit the people around you. That way, you’ll become a better business person and, more importantly, a better person.”

Bertuch credited Lehigh with helping prepare him for a career that led to success without following a traditional trajectory.

“I learned great things at Lehigh beyond social skills,” he said. “Lehigh didn’t take itself too seriously and that really helped me in the workplace.”

Bertuch praised Farrington for promoting interdisciplinary research and learning programs that have helped improve the “culture” of entrepreneurship at Lehigh.

Graham Mitchell, director of Lehigh’s Entrepreneurship Program, said Farrington has “helped make Southside Bethlehem and the Lehigh Valley a better place to live, work and learn.”

University-community partnerships

Two other STEP awards were presented at Thursday’s ceremony. Eco-Tech Marine, an LLC partnership that develops automated equipment for reef aquariums, was named Student Entrepreneurial Company of the Year. The company was founded five years ago by Tim Marks ’04 and Patrick Clasen ’04, who are now Lehigh graduate students. Eco-Tech Marine has a patent pending on a propeller pump that uses magnets to transmit torque from a motor outside the aquarium to a propeller inside the tank.

CDG Technologies, which develops water-treatment chemicals, received the Start-Up Company of the Year Award. A chlorine-dioxide treatment developed by CDG has been licensed to a company that is using the technology in a portable scrubber for bio-decontamination. CDG is located in the Cook Technology Center in Southside Bethlehem.

CDG, a member of the Lehigh Entrepreneurs Network, has sponsored IPD and IBE student projects and mentored Lehigh student entrepreneurs. LEN includes faculty in the IPD, IBE and other Lehigh entrepreneurship programs, as well as local businesses, alumni and winners of the 2002-06 Student Entrepreneurs Competitions.

The seven winners of the 2006 competition each received $2,000 in seed funding to support their projects. The students are part of Lehigh’s IPD, IBE and Entrepreneurship programs, in which engineering, business and arts students work for one year in teams, either with industry partners or in their own start-ups, to design, make and market products.

Support for the Student Entrepreneurs Competition has been provided through a new endowment called the Joan F. and John M. Thalheimer ’55 Entrepreneurship Ventures Endowed Program Fund. John Thalheimer was a member of Lehigh’s Class of 1955. Besides awarding grants to winners of the annual Student Entrepreneurs Competition, the endowment will support entrepreneurship program in Lehigh’s College of Business and Economics.

(For more on the endowed program fund, see Gift will boost student entrepreneurship.)

Steve Melnick, director of the Southside Bethlehem KIZ, said the award winners exemplify the mission of the KIZ program, which was established by the state in 2004 to promote job growth by supporting community-university partnerships and by creating enterprise zones around universities. The Southside Bethlehem KIZ was one of the first KIZ sites to be approved and is one of 16 in the state.

Funding for the Southside Bethlehem KIZ is provided by the state Department of Community and Economic Development and administered by the Lehigh Valley Economic Develop Corp.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Friday, January 20, 2006

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