Meet the Team

Meet the Team

We are a 60-person professional staff dedicated to supporting all University of Chicago students, faculty, staff, alumni, and outside small business owners in navigating the complex process of creating and growing a startup or bringing their idea to market. We also serve as an important gateway for industry partners, helping them access new research and technologies from the University of Chicago.

Booth Entrepreneurship Program

Booth Entrepreneurship Program

Erika Mercer

Erika Mercer

Executive Director of Booth Entrepreneurship

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Erika Mercer

Executive Director of Booth Entrepreneurship

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.834.1521
E: emercer@uchicago.edu

Erika Mercer serves as the executive director of Booth Entrepreneurship at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. In this role, she oversees all entrepreneurship programming within Chicago Booth, leading a team of staff in developing co-curricular programs and experiential learning opportunities for MBA students, alumni, and other related constituents. This includes managing the startup, private equity, venture capital, entrepreneurship through acquisition, and small business programs that serve the professional interests students and alumni. She has been with the Polsky Center since 2010 and, over that time, has led the development and growth of numerous Polsky Center offerings.

Erika brings close to 20 years of experience in higher education, having previously held roles in the international programming offices at the University of Chicago, Harvard University, and Brown University, where she managed, developed, and promoted study abroad programs worldwide, acted as the primary contact for students, faculty, and staff on site, and provided international training and advising to undergraduates. She served as a member of several international education organizations, including The Forum on Education Abroad and NAFSA: Association of International Educators; was published in Abroad View Magazine and the Bulletin of the American Research Center in Egypt; and presented at national conferences on the topic of cultural and citizen diplomacy. She also interned in the Academic Editorial Department at Oxford University Press, where she assisted editors with the review and preparation of manuscripts for production.

Erika earned a BA, magna cum laude, from Middlebury College and an EdM from Harvard University. She has studied in Spain, Germany, and Egypt.

Lucas Peralta

Lucas Peralta

Director, Entrepreneurship Programs and Data Strategy

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Lucas Peralta

Director, Entrepreneurship Programs and Data Strategy

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.702.8310
E: lucas.peralta@chicagobooth.edu

Lucas Peralta serves as Director of Entrepreneurship Programs and Data Strategy at the Polsky Center. In this role, he leads the team that oversees all student founder-focused educational initiatives including the New Venture Challenge suite of programs (including the Edward L. Kaplan ’71 New Venture Challenge, a nationally-ranked accelerator program), the BUILD and LAUNCH summer accelerators, the Entrepreneurship Essentials workshop series, the Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker series, and student mentorship opportunities.

He also oversees new efforts to enable the use of data in the evaluation of Polsky Center initiatives, and in strategic decision making around founder and venture support.

Lucas previously assisted with the revamp of the College New Venture Challenge, the undergraduate track of the New Venture Challenge, which is led by Dean Starr Marcello, Deputy Dean of MBA Programs at Chicago Booth. He also previously managed the operations of the Polsky Center’s NSF-funded I-Corps program.

Prior to joining the Polsky Center, while earning his master’s degree, Lucas worked as a program assistant for Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research Strategic Data Project, an initiative that helps connect schools and education agencies to emerging leaders in data science, to improve student outcomes. 

Lucas earned a master’s degree in education from Harvard University and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of New Mexico. 

Lucas is interested in the intersection of economic opportunity and education. In his spare time, he enjoys cooking, eating (obviously), running, and rooting for the University of New Mexico Lobos (particularly basketball). 

Megan Fox

Megan Fox

Director, Svider Private Equity Program

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Megan Fox

Director, Svider Private Equity Program

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.702.5926
E: megan.fox@chicagobooth.edu

Megan is the director of the Svider Private Equity Program and in her role manages a portfolio of experiential programs that help students pursuing careers in investing gain access to training and mentorship in private equity, venture capital, and entrepreneurship through acquisition. The Svider Private Equity Program is the umbrella program that includes all of our PE, VC, and ETA initiatives and utilizes the expertise and resources of the Polsky Center to provide innovative programs that are supported by, and help students access, our broad Booth network.

The Svider Private Equity Program suite includes the Private Equity and Venture Capital (PE/VC) Lab, which offers a firsthand look at private equity through an academic-year internship and academic course; the Sterling Partners Investment Thesis Challenge (SPITC), which provides investment thesis training with mentors at private equity firms; the Private Equity Case Challenge (PECC), a global, intercollegiate case competition held in partnership with Oxford University; and the PE Alumni/Student Coaching program, a mentorship program that matches Booth students pursuing careers in private equity with members of the Polsky Center Private Equity Council and Chicago Booth alumni network for one-on-one mentoring and advising sessions. In addition, Megan manages the annual Chicago Booth Private Equity Conference and the UChicago Private Markets Program, an immersive academic and career-oriented program to educate College students in the private markets through theory, cases, and modeling workshops, and position them to pursue professional opportunities in private equity, private credit, family capital and private markets investing, and investment banking.

Gorana Kolar

Gorana Kolar

Senior Associate Director

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Gorana Kolar

Senior Associate Director

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.702.4073
E: gkolar@uchicago.edu

Gorana Kolar serves as the senior associate director at University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She oversees alumni initiatives – including the Alumni New Venture Challenge, the Alumni Entrepreneurs Growth Forum, Polsky Founders’ Fund Fellowship, and Startup Summer. Gorana also works with students to support and enable their venture creation and growth efforts. Gorana is a mentor to teams in the Polsky Accelerator program, as well as the Polsky Center I-Corps Site program. She has served as a business mentor for one national NSF I-Corps team from the University of Chicago.  

Prior to joining Polsky, Gorana was a manager, business development of licensing, at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Technology Transfer and Enterprise Creation (CTTEC). There she worked with faculty and graduate students on intellectual property protection, license negotiation, and startup creation. 

Gorana holds a BA, MS, and MBA from Carnegie Mellon University. 

In addition to spending time with her family, Gorana enjoys traveling, running, hiking, yoga, and book club. 

Mary Kay Loncar

Mary Kay Loncar

Senior Associate Director, Operations

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Mary Kay Loncar

Senior Associate Director, Operations

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.834.4526
E: mloncar@uchicago.edu

Mary Kay Loncar serves as the associate director at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Mary Kay manages the day-to-day operations of the Polsky Center from budget reporting, gift, sponsorship and investment processing, contracts, and logistics. She maintains internal relationships with University of Chicago departments and external partners and considers herself a generalist committed to making sure the students the Center serves and her colleagues have the information and resources they need to do their job. 

Prior to joining Polsky, Mary Kay was an assistant director of marketing at UChicago Medicine, where she did similar work. Having spent time on the other side of the University, she was able to transfer her institutional knowledge to her current role and maintains relationships with former colleagues and contacts across campus. Prior to working the University of Chicago, she worked in advertising, marketing, and corporate communications/production. 

Mary Kay earned a B.S. in journalism from the University of Kansas.  

Born and raised on the south side of Chicago, in her spare time Mary Kay is interested in travel and spending time with family and friends. She is also working on becoming a much better cook with the support of her ‘foodie’ colleagues. 

Amber Bradley Williams, Ed.D., PPS

Amber Bradley Williams, Ed.D., PPS

Associate Director, New Venture Challenge

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Amber Bradley Williams, Ed.D., PPS

Associate Director, New Venture Challenge

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
E: amber.bradley@chicagobooth.edu

Amber Bradley, Ed.D., PPS, serves as the associate director, New Venture Challenge (NVC) at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She oversees and grows the NVC and its tracks, expanding the nationally recognized program and the resources available to University of Chicago entrepreneurs.

Amber has come to Chicago from Los Angeles, where she spent the past nine years working at the University of Southern California. Most recently, she held two positions: as assistant director of inclusion, diversity, equity, and access (IDEA) initiatives and as senior academic advisor at USC’s Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy for the Arts, Technology and Business of Innovation. In this role, she supported the recruitment and admission initiatives of the Academy, including communication, outreach, interviews, and group presentations, and advised on the school’s recruitment and retention of underrepresented groups at the student, faculty, and staff levels.

Amber is a native of Southern California. She holds a doctorate in education with an emphasis in higher education administration, as well as a master of education in educational counseling and a Pupil Personnel Services Credential in school counseling from the USC Rossier School of Education. She also earned a bachelor of arts in psychology from California State University, Los Angeles (CSULA) and an associate of arts in liberal arts from Santa Monica College.

Outside of work, Amber loves the beach, dancing, all things Disney, and is a huge foodie. She is looking forward to exploring the food scene in Chicago and welcomes any recommendations!

Paul Cavalieri

Paul Cavalieri

Senior Associate Director, Small Business Operations

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Paul Cavalieri

Senior Associate Director, Small Business Operations

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
E: paul.cavalieri@chicagobooth.edu

Paul Cavalieri serves as the senior associate director, small business operations at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Paul manages and builds the educational and experiential offerings in Polsky’s small business portfolio, oversees the Polsky BUILD and LAUNCH Summer Accelerator, supports students interested in closely held and family business, and serves as a resource to local businesses on a variety of operations topics.

Prior to joining Polsky, Paul gained expertise managing a medium-size enterprise at Race Pace Bicycles, a chain of seven bicycle shops in Maryland. Along with running the day to day operations, Paul focused on developing the company’s human resources system and bringing customer relationship management approaches to the marketing communications strategy. Before Race Pace, Paul worked as a third grade teacher at a public elementary school in Brooklyn, NY.

Paul earned an MBA from the University of Colorado, a master of science in education from Long Island University, and a bachelor of arts in journalism and government from American University. In his spare time, Paul enjoys spending time with his wife, daughter and son and riding mountain bikes (slowly), playing drums (loudly), and learning Italian (parla un poco).

 

Kate Turvy

Kate Turvy

Associate Director, Entrepreneurship Programs and Engagement

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Kate Turvy

Associate Director, Entrepreneurship Programs and Engagement

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
E: Kate.Turvy@chicagobooth.edu

Kate Turvy serves as the associate director, entrepreneurship programs and engagement at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She manages a portfolio of entrepreneurship programs and events, including the Entrepreneur- and Investor-in-Residence programs, and works together with the education and programming team to drive student, alumni, and external engagement in Polsky’s programming.

Prior to joining Polsky, Kate worked at the Chicago Public Education Fund (The Fund), where she served on the Data & Policy team. In that role, she analyzed program and system wide school performance data, as well as broader education research that helped inform The Fund’s program and policy strategy to retain and support school leaders in all of Chicago’s 650 public schools. She helped facilitate several citywide working groups and committees, including the Education Transition Committee for Mayor Lori Lightfoot in 2019. Before joining The Fund, she served as a data manager at Akili Academy of New Orleans, where she supported overall school operations and analyzed student data to support teachers and school leaders. Earlier in her career, Kate played professional tennis and competed against players in tournaments across the globe.

Kate earned a BS in education and social policy from Northwestern University. In her spare time, Kate enjoys doing anything active outdoors, baking, and reading.

Isra Omar

Isra Omar

Senior Assistant Director

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Isra Omar

Senior Assistant Director

1452 E. 53rd Street, 2nd floor 
Chicago, IL 60615
E: iomar@uchicago.edu

Isra Omar, serves as the Senior Assistant Director, at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Isra oversees the Small Business Growth & Financial Fundamentals Program, leading to the expansion and advancement of numerous small businesses. Isra manages a portfolio of initiatives, including promoting the program to attract clients and student consultants, leading the recruitment, selection, and onboarding process, and developing program scope and objectives in collaboration with the Faculty Director, student consultants, and small business clients.

Isra has a strong passion for helping small businesses and the local Chicago community. She volunteered for the Muslim American Leadership Alliance (MALA) where she managed the oral recording sessions of its storytellers in partnership with StoryCorps. In recognition of her hard work, Isra was named the first recipient of the Emerging Young Leader Award presented during the 2018 Annual MALA Gala. Isra is a graduate of DePaul University with a degree in accountancy and a minor in Arabic studies.

Makaia Smith

Makaia Smith

Assistant Director, Events

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Makaia Smith

Assistant Director, Events

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.702.9108
E: makaia.smith@chicagobooth.edu

 

Makaia Smith serves as the Assistant Director of Events at the Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. She will be supporting the Education and Programs team with the planning and execution of a broad range of in-person and virtual events. Makaia will play a critical role in streamlining the events process as we continue to improve our operational efficiency.

Prior to joining the Polsky Center, Makaia was the Events Coordinator for the Kankakee Public Library and Spotlight Meetings and Events, Inc. In this role, she coordinated in-person and virtual community programs and events with 3,500+ attendees.

Makaia’s education background includes a bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising and Design with a minor in Event Management from Central Michigan University.

Sarah Harris

Sarah Harris

Assistant Director, Operations

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Sarah Harris

Assistant Director, Operations

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
O: 773.795.4323
E: sarah.harris@chicagobooth.edu

 

Sarah Harris is the Assistant Director, Operations at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Part of the Education and Programming team at the Polsky Center, Sarah focuses on the Center’s business operations, specifically bookkeeping related to procurement and vendor relationships, and expense system management.

Sarah comes to the University of Chicago with over a decade of experience in Operations and Administration, much of which has been in Southern California’s nonprofit sector. Having worked in a wide range of positions and leadership, Sarah holds a deep appreciation for the importance of organizational culture. She is committed to creating operational systems and policies that empower people to focus on their most important work and cultivating a healthy, productive working environment that respects, honors and promotes excellence.

A recent transplant to Chicago, Sarah was born and raised in Long Beach, California. She earned a B.A. in Recreation and Leisure Services at California State University, Long Beach (CSULB) and enjoys camping, reading, thrifing, and looking for ways to get involved and enjoy her local community.

Kylie Gilmore

Kylie Gilmore

Assistant Director, Student Programs

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Kylie Gilmore

Assistant Director, Student Programs

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
E: kylie.gilmore@chicagobooth.edu

Kylie Gilmore serves as the Assistant Director, Student Programs at the University of Chicago’s Polsky Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation. Kylie manages a portfolio of programs under the Svider Private Equity Program suite, with a specific focus on Polsky’s Entrepreneurship through Acquisition and Venture Capital programming.

Prior to joining Polsky, Kylie worked as Director of Campus Engagement at Concordia University Chicago where she managed university wide programs including orientation, student organizations, events and more. She has been serving in the Higher Education sector since she was a student herself, bringing almost a decade of experience.

Kylie graduated with her BA in Marketing from the University of Illinois Springfield where she then accepted a job as Assistant Director of Marketing. During her time in this role, she pursed a MA in Communication and in 2019, graduated and relocated to Chicago.

In her spare time, Kylie enjoys spending time with her family back home in Rockford and attending as many live music and comedy events as possible.

Heyward Harrison

Heyward Harrison

Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship Programs and Outcomes

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Heyward Harrison

Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship Programs and Outcomes

5807 S. Woodlawn Ave., Suite 207
Chicago, IL 60637
E: Heyward.Harrison@chicagobooth.edu

Heyward Harrison serves as the Assistant Director of Entrepreneurship Programs and Outcomes. In this role, he assists the entrepreneurship programs team in administering a series of student founder-focused educational programs that are designed to bring inspiration and support to prospective entrepreneurs.

He was a student-athlete at UNC Chapel Hill where he was an Olympic Trials qualifier in the Men’s 200M Backstroke. He then moved abroad to Australia where he was a swim instructor for children and adults. His time as a teacher abroad and his experience as a student-athlete were the foundation for his passion for education and the student experience.

Prior to joining Polsky, Heyward lived in Clark, Colorado where he worked for Vista Verde Guest Ranch. He then moved to Chicago and worked as a Client Service Representative for Northern Trust in their Benefit Payments department before embarking on his career in Higher Education with the University of Chicago.

Heyward is passionate about media and devotes much of his free time to film, literature, video games, and music. He is also a huge fan of basketball and his partner Maddie.

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