Featured Student Entrepreneur of the Month – December: Michael Kirsanov

Get to know our featured student entrepreneur of the Month of December, Michael Kirsanov.

This month, the LEC Innovation Interns (Grace Rogers and MJ (Madeline) Horinek) met with Michael, an active participant in NSF I-Corps Milwaukee and the Student Startup Challenge, to learn more about his experiences in entrepreneurship and collaboration. Michael is pursuing dual degrees – an M.B.A. and an M.S. I.T. Management. When we heard what he had to say, we thought that others would find his insights just as interesting and helpful as we had. Follow along in our interview to learn more about Michael and his entrepreneurship experiences at UWM and beyond.

Grace: You have a lot of experience with collaboration and partnership in projects. How do you facilitate these partnerships?
Michael: I utilize tactical empathy. As an example, one of my projects is in craft and exotic fruit wines (mangos, banana, dragon fruit, etc.). Seeing what Milwaukee company Agricycle Global (formerly Blue Mangoes) was doing, we reached out and are now working on product collaboration and co-development. I saw two parties that could benefit from working together and facilitated the partnership.

MJ: How would you advise other entrepreneurs to seek similar collaborations?
Michael: Exercise reading and staying current. Talk with lots of people. Consider “what does this person care about, and how can I help them get there? What am I doing that overlaps with this person’s interests?”. Entrepreneurship, at its purest, is a form of economic empathy – that principle applies for customers and collaborators alike.

MJ: What are some difficulties you have run into while working with others on a project? How did you overcome these difficulties?
Michael: Differences amongst founders will always be present to some degree, and I’ve come to anticipate, welcome, and learn from them. Very few times have these actually caused outright conflicts; more so, they’re considerations that must be taken into account when effectively collaborating with others.

Grace: Why is entrepreneurial involvement on campus important to you? How has it impacted you as an individual and/or how has it impacted your education?
Michael: Entrepreneurship on campus is important: it has the ability to turn career seekers into career creators, and I am no stranger to that effect. It has also influenced my education and knowledge-seeking in an ‘antidisciplinary’ direction – why stop learning about new things? Why stop looking for problems to solve?

Entrepreneurship is highly enabling, liberating even – it gives you the ultimate license and mindset to tackle most any problem in your life or in the lives of others. This mindset has also notably increased my engagement as a student. By collaborating with exemplary professors from different schools in league with the venture-boosting programs administrated by the Lubar Entrepreneurship Center (Student Startup Challenge, NSF I-Corps, etc.), I was able to refine my method for successful product research, validation, and development.

Grace: Could you tell us more about your current or past projects? 
Michael: Izabelle Villafuerte (UWM) and I have developed a startup around engineering easier-to-clean makeup brushes. With the customer pain as strong as it is, we reached the top 20 in a global business model competition earlier this year and have currently accrued over $15,000 of non-dilutive funding. Additionally, I am currently Chief Strategy Officer of ConnectOnCommute – a Harvard Innovation Labs venture – leveraging behavioral data to improve mental health and decrease loneliness, especially in large enterprises. We just came back from presenting at Web Summit, and we’re happy to be working on such an impactful project.

MJ: Is there anything else that you would like to add about entrepreneurship or your experiences with collaboration in entrepreneurial endeavors?
Michael: In general, I enjoy exercising Gall’s Law – a rule of thumb for systems design, and one I’ve regularly used for developing testable, verifiable solutions:

“A complex system that works is invariably found to have evolved from a simple system that worked. A complex system designed from scratch never works and cannot be patched up to make it work. You have to start over with a working simple system.”

To balance my life with all my aspirations, I exercise this personal creed:

You don’t have to do all the things. You just have to do the right things.”

Thank you, Michael, for sharing your insights with us. Michael, like many other students here at UWM, is crucial to the vibrant entrepreneurial and innovative ecosystem here in Milwaukee and around the globe!