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Founder’s Story: Ben Schmuck

Ben Schmuck is about as far away from a typical entrepreneur that you can find.  He doesn’t have any experience starting or investing in any companies.  He’s worked for one giant company his entire 15-year career, Caterpillar Inc. here in Illinois.  You might ask yourself, “Why is he spending time at the Polsky Center?” let alone asking yourself “What can I learn from Ben?”

After many years in engineering, Ben decided to pursue an MBA at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business and graduated from the evening / weekend program in 2014. Afterwards, Ben was exposed to the fascinating world of corporate innovation and became an “intrapreneur” or “corporate entrepreneur.” In this role, Ben acted as a founder and developed many growth ideas including a used equipment history report similar to CarFax, a mobile app to help jobsite owners and managers answer the question “How’s my site doing today?”, and a sales tool for our Cat dealer salesman to help sell a service to rebuild a piece of Cat equipment for its second or third life.

Now Ben is a startup coach for internal Caterpillar startups and, along with a few colleagues, built what is now known as “Lean Innovation,” a combination of learning from Lean Startup, Strategyzer, Stanford, Cal Berkeley, human-centered design and others to help make sure that Caterpillar avoids the biggest defect of all, building something that nobody wants.

Ben is a mentor at the Polsky Center to share the concepts of “Lean Innovation” and how they can help real life founders validate business ideas for a very small amount of money prior to significant investment. Therefore, when it’s time to scale, risk is lower for the investors and much more equity can be retained by the founders.

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