Q&A Bill Holsinger-Robinson

by Michele Coffill
photo by Bernadine Carey-Tucker

Nearly two years ago, Bill Holsinger-Robinson was named the first Frederik Meijer Endowed Honors Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, a lengthy title that means he helps guide students in their entrepreneurial pursuits as well as in the emerging world of social entrepreneurship.


GVM: How was this position pitched to you?
BHR: Oh, the job description was really a sentence. I think university leaders knew that the people who would be interested in this role were entrepreneurial themselves, and the details of the job would be left to them to figure out.


GVM: You teach an honors college seminar. What types of students enroll in your class?
BHR: Its interesting. Their majors are all over the place, but none from business. Its a project-based class; we start companies or we plan and host events and the students define what the user experience is like. They do everything from raising money to handling details like catering.

Bill Holsinger-Robinson

GVM: When you were in college, would a similar course have been helpful to you?
BHR: I didn't know what I wanted to do. I got a bachelors degree in philosophy; what do you do with that, right? But it taught me to be a systems thinker. I was a lot like these students are; I was opposed to business, and for really no good reason.


GVM: You also connect students to area internships and opportunities with businesses or organizations.
BHR: I can give them the tools they need to leverage and market themselves. They have such big hearts and want to do a lot of good in the world. Im there to connect them to businesses and organizations and tell them that they can embrace entrepreneurship.


GVM: Why did you leave ArtPrize after the first two years?
BHR: I was at Pomegranate Studios when we started ArtPrize. Pomegranate was an incubator for things like ArtPrize. After those initial years, I recognized they needed someone who was better at repeat events. Im good at start-ups.

GVM: Did you envision how successful ArtPrize would be?
BHR: We had realistic goals at the start. Remember that it was initially planned as a film festival. We set a goal of 10,000-15,000 people. [Editors Note: ArtPrize celebrated its fifth year in 2013 and drew hundreds of thousands of visitors to Grand Rapids.]


GVM: Could events like ArtPrize or Start Garden happen in other cities?
BHR: Those sorts of events are very unique to this area. Take TEDx Grand Rapids, for example. Its a surprise that we raised enough money for a single-day event quickly. This community has a series of challenges, but the hallmark of West Michigan is that is has a small enough feel, the leaders are approachable and you can affect change.

People move to New York or Los Angeles to be part of what's already there. They come here or stay here for what this place can be.


GVM: Whats next for you and your students?
BHR: Were just beginning conversations to have a student club affiliated with Net Impact, a nonprofit that empowers students and professionals to have a positive impact on their world through business as a tool or process for change.

There are other colleges in the area that we hope to collaborate with for this Net Impact project, to encourage intercollegiate participation with teams taking a multi-institutional approach to solving problems.

GVM: Failure Lab is a new concept, successful people talking openly about past failures. Do you like that idea?
BHR: Our local community needs to have a conversation about accepting failure. In the Midwest, people are expected to pick themselves up and move on. We need more outreach, and need not to be embarrassed by the risk of failure. We need to support the notion that its OK to fail, but we then need to embrace those people and pull them back into other projects and use their knowledge.

GVM: You've been there.
BHR: I've failed, sure. Its a visceral feeling, like a gut punch. I just failed at a new venture by not raising enough capital. What do you do with that? You talk about it to your business partners, and there's tons of learning that goes on to get you ready for the next time.

About Bill HR

• received a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Alma College
• pursued a master’s degree in comparative religion from Western Michigan University

Career Highlights
• co-founder and managing director at HUB Grand Rapids
• lead organizer and license holder for TEDxGrandRapids
• served as first executive director for ArtPrize

• twitter @billhr

Page last modified August 20, 2014