Justin Nothem named student commencement speaker
April 19, 2012
That's all the time a student has to pitch a business idea in the National Elevator Pitch Competition. Sixty of the finest college entrepreneurs in the country traveled to Dallas in October to make a fast impression at that event.
Justin Nothem, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater entrepreneurship major, decided to pitch "College Dogs," his innovative hot dog vendor business. He still remembers the adrenaline running through his body as he waited for his turn in the final round.
"I was anxious and practicing my pitch over and over again," he said. "I think a lot of people thought I would choke, but once I started talking, I nailed it."
Nothem's outstanding proposal and personal charm impressed judges and attendees alike. He won second place and captured the People's Choice Award.
On Saturday, May 12, he'll bring that same enthusiasm to UW-Whitewater's spring undergraduate commencement ceremony as he addresses his peers as student speaker.
"It's a tremendous honor," Nothem said. "I've had such a broad range of experiences and I plan on sharing those moments. My fields of study are pretty different - a major in entrepreneurship and a minor in dance. In my speech, I'll talk about how they both helped me face and overcome challenges."
A graduate of West Bend East High School, Nothem said he always felt he would be an entrepreneur.
"When I was in third grade, I sold Skittles packets to my classmates for 50 cents outside my locker," he said. "I was inspired by my family members, who often gave me advice about starting my own business."
When he arrived at UW-Whitewater Nothem was determined to "get involved in as many activities as possible."
He served as a resident assistant in Tutt Hall, participated in the student Dance Company, and joined the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization, where he racked up awards and honors, including first place in the Wiscontrepreneur 100-hour Challenge, first place in the UW-Whitewater Elevator Pitch Competition, and third place in the Warhawk Business Plan Competition
When faculty members were recruiting students for a prestigious business incubation program called Launch Pad, Nothem was an obvious choice. He and eight other students had the opportunity to start their own businesses at the Innovation Center in Whitewater University Technology Park, where they had access to faculty mentors and legal, Web and accounting services.
"By far, it was the coolest experience of my college career," Nothem said. "It's like a family where everybody has their own business. We challenged one another, and often competed, but we still wanted everyone to succeed."
After commencement, Nothem plans to lease his hot dog business while he pursues a career in the sales, service or insurance industry. He is also a certified scuba diver and plans to get his hang gliding certificate and pilot's license.
The entrepreneurial flame still burns brightly inside him, however.
"I may just start another new business," he said. "It's in my blood."