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WTBC CEO Jon Benson e2e Program Speaker at UW

May 23, 2018
two men talking
Jon Benson (right), CEO of the WTBC for the past 13 years, will retire at the end of June. He will be a guest speaker at e2e Wyoming’s Laramie chapter meeting Wednesday, June 6, from 5:30-7 p.m. at UW’s Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center. (UW Photo)

For the past 13 years, Jon Benson has been at the helm of the Wyoming Technology Business Center (WTBC). On June 6, the WTBC CEO will say goodbye during the Laramie chapter meeting of the e2e Wyoming program. Benson will retire at the end of June.

Benson and Mike Kmetz, a serial entrepreneur, will present “Laramie’s Solid Foundation” from 5:30-7 p.m. at the University of Wyoming’s Marian H. Rochelle Gateway Center, located at 222 S. 22nd St.

“I have been here 13 years, and it has been a great experience,” Benson says. “I am an urban guy, and being an entrepreneur in an urban area and running a university-based business incubator in an urban area is totally different from doing those things in a rural area.”

Because the population is small in Wyoming, there is not a large number of technology and entrepreneurial businesses that start naturally, he says.

“But, we have a lot of talented people. So, the big lesson is that the WTBC had to do things to stimulate people to start businesses who might not have done them otherwise,” Benson adds.

Benson says some of these activities included setting up e2e as a networking/educational group to help stimulate an entrepreneurial ecosystem; forming a close relationship with the UW Technology Transfer Office to be able to talk with faculty and students who were developing new technologies; and creating entrepreneurship competitions like the Fisher Innovation Challenge at UW and others in Casper and Sheridan where the WTBC also runs business incubators.

The e2e meeting will provide a look back at how far Laramie has progressed during Benson’s tenure; provide a sense of business trajectory ahead; and give people an opportunity to wish Benson a farewell.

Kmetz, from Laramie, will join Benson in providing perspective on what Laramie has done right in developing business; where business can improve locally; and how the community can build on successes in the future. As an entrepreneur, Kmetz started IDES, Teton Composites, CrossFit 7220 and Healthy Kids Rx, all in Laramie.

“Mike is one of the most talented entrepreneurs in Wyoming. And he started his first business over 30 years ago when there really was not much help for startup entrepreneurs,” Benson says. “Since that time, the Wyoming Business Council and the University of Wyoming have partnered to create the Business Resource Network at UW, which now provides a rich resource for new entrepreneurs across the state. And the WTBC is part of that network.”

Administered by the UW Office of Research and Economic Development, the WTBC is a not-for-profit business incubator that provides entrepreneurs with the expertise, networks and tools necessary for success.

Benson also lauded Bright Agrotech, a startup founded by Nate Storey, which began in the WTBC incubator.

man leaning on a metal railing
Mike Kmetz, a serial entrepreneur, will be a guest speaker at e2e Wyoming’s Laramie chapter meeting June 6. (UW Photo)

“His dissertation for his Ph.D. at UW was to create vertical hydroponic towers for growing food in greenhouses,” Benson says. “Nate built a successful business, and his company was bought last year by a company named Plenty, which is a Silicon Valley startup. Plenty wants to use these towers in warehouses outside urban areas across the world to grow food that can be shipped directly to grocery stores and restaurants. And the former Bright Agrotech is now growing rapidly here in Laramie as a result of this merger.”

Benson has an impressive business resume himself.

Before joining UW in July 2005, Benson was the CEO of an early-stage medical device company that was founded in 1998 to develop and market an optical mammography device using light from lasers to image breasts. Benson led the company through three rounds of financing, and the development and testing of an experimental and alpha prototype. Additionally, he helped the company obtain Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I and Phase II funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) and Phase I funding from the National Institutes of Health.

Before that, Benson was the founder and CEO of the Ben Craig Center Inc., a technology-related business incubator started in 1986 and associated with the University of North Carolina-Charlotte. He led the center through its startup phase; the development of a new 50,000-square-foot facility in 1990; and the establishment of a European subsidiary in 1993. He also was a program manager with the NSF from 1979-1982.

He received his Ph.D. and master’s degree, both from Ohio State University, and his bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio.

E2e is an educational networking program with chapters in Laramie, Casper, Gillette and Sheridan, and is designed to improve the climate for the startup and growth of entrepreneurial companies. Each e2e chapter meets bimonthly for 45 minutes of networking, followed by a 45-minute program. The programs feature successful entrepreneurs telling their stories, panel discussion on relevant topics and advice from experts in specific businesses.

To register for the e2e meeting, call Fred Schmechel at (307) 766-6395 or email fschmech@uwyo.edu.

 

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