Chico State’s Biz Talks Connects Students With Industry Influencers
As a Chico State freshman, Sean Woulfe was laser-focused on getting a business degree. What stumped him was deciding which of the many business-related specializations to pursue.
Accounting or entrepreneurship? Finance or marketing? It was a weighty decision.
“I knew I wanted to do business, but I had no idea which option I wanted to go into, and I wasn’t even actually familiar with all of the different options that there are,” admitted Woulfe (BS, Business Administration, ’16).
With some ingenuity, Woulfe both found his business calling—entrepreneurship—and ended up founding a company designed to help other business students determine their professional paths.
The company, Biz Talks, hosts an annual event on campus that draws hundreds of Chico State students who are eager to hear influential University business alumni express from the heart why they love what they do.
The program’s tagline: “Experience Speaks.”
The third Biz Talks program will take place on Thursday, April 13, at 5:30 p.m. in the Harlen Adams Theatre. This year’s roster of speakers includes Jessica Madrigal, vice president at Bjork Construction; Dave Filomeo, principal at Sagacity Consulting; and Mark Pellowski, vice president of finance at Informatica Corp.
During the peppy and informal Biz Talk presentations, eight professionals get to speak for eight minutes about what lit their passion for their field.
“We’ll have one speaker talk about accounting and one speaker talk about marketing and another speaker talk about entrepreneurship,” said Woulfe about the way Biz Talks presentations are organized. “That way, it gives a really good representation of what a student can achieve while they’re in school and also how they can apply what they’re learning into the workforce to be successful.”
Afterwards, students get to network one-on-one with those high-powered industry influencers, relationship-building that could lead to mentorships, internships, or jobs.
Speakers for the three-year-old program have come from the C-suites of Fortune 500 companies as well as from innovative startups, and those leaders are asked to deliver “inspirational talks rather than educational lectures,” said Biz Talks cofounder Kiaya Sabolovic (BS, Business Administration, ’17). “If they love what they do, we want to hear about why they love it. If each speaker inspires just one student to choose a career path or follow something in business that they’ve been considering, then Biz Talks will have been successful.”
The program’s approach is similar to the style of TED Talks, the nonprofit that in 2006 began hosting annual conferences featuring interesting people who speak on topics that inspire them.
The first Biz Talk session at Chico State, held in 2015, featured entrepreneurs including Chris Friedland (BA, Political Science,’99), president and founder of online home improvement retailer Build.com. Other notable Chico State alumni who spoke that first year included Outsell Inc. cofounder Greg Chagaris (BS, Business Administration, ’69).
Woulfe and Sabolovic launched the talk program shortly after they met through campus business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi.
It was also through that fraternity that, as a freshman, Woulfe had found the older students who helped him determine which area of business suited him best.
“I grilled them with all kinds of questions—what was their major, why they liked it or why they didn’t like it, what they planned to do right out of college, and what their ultimate goal was,” said Woulfe. Their on-the-ground insight was crucial to shaping the direction he wanted to go in his own career.
The process also gave him the idea to create Biz Talks, which he envisioned as “an environment where students, whether they are part of an organization on campus or not, can find out about more opportunities within the business field.”
So far, the two annual events have drawn an average of 400 attendees. All the talks are videotaped and are available to watch on the company’s website.
Woulfe and Sabolovic appear to interchangeably handle the many aspects of operating a startup without missing a beat, though they each claim their own areas of expertise.
“A lot of what I do that kind of keeps the train rolling is the external communication on behalf of Biz Talks, whether that’s to the University, to our lawyer, or to the students running the event,” said Sabolovic. “I’m kind of just like, out there, making sure that communication’s happening and that we’re following up and not letting things slip through the cracks.”
On the other hand, she says, it’s Woulfe who keeps an eye on the critical details.
“I do come up with a lot of big ideas in general,” said Woulfe, who added that Sabolovic often follows up “with something amazing that totally improves the idea like ten-fold. We work really well in that way. She’s really good with communication and relationship-building, and I’m really good about some of the small details.”
In her role as the company’s voice, Sabolovic has written more than a dozen entries on the Biz Talks blog, which presents short items designed to help students or young professionals eager to get ahead. Her most recent item, titled “Just Ship It,” urges people to get over aiming for perfectionism with school or work assignments. “You just need to get it done, and getting it done is better than getting it perfect,” she explained. “I’m quick to be like, ‘let’s just go, let’s just make this happen RIGHT NOW!’”
Living the life of true startup founders, the pair both work full-time, Sabolovic as a customer sales representative at Build.com, while Woulfe is director of community recruitment at DesignByHumans, a Chico startup that helps artists and others create and sell T-shirts and other merchandise decorated with their art.
That means they tackle Biz Talk once their day jobs are through—for now.
Fortified by a recent $5,000 grant from the College of Business’ Accelerator Fund, the entrepreneurs have their sights on expanding Biz Talks to other business schools—and, maybe, creating inspirational alumni talk events geared for students from other disciplines.
“Med Talks or Bio Talks or even Law Talks,” said Woulfe, who devised the idea.
“That’s really where I think we could hit a lot of scale, in business terms, and go from this one event in Chico to several business events across the U.S.” to possibly hundreds of universities, said Woulfe. “That,” he said, “is definitely a few years down the line.”