Entrepreneur Ed Brady delivers the keynote speech at the Bryant University Entrepreneurship Conference.
Social entrepreneur and community leader Ed Brady ’06 offers advice to attendees at the 2024 Bryant University Entrepreneurship Conference.
Bryant University Entrepreneurship Conference sparks innovation, motivates gamechangers
Mar 06, 2024, by Stephen Kostrzewa
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Jack Kidd ’27 admits he only signed up for this year’s Bryant University Entrepreneurship Conference (BUEC) because the email invite looked interesting. A recent transfer to Bryant with a small knife sharpening business, he’s still learning about the campus and its opportunities.

At the start of the day, he didn’t yet know much about Bryant CEO — BUEC’s hosting organization — and the group’s international reputation, or the connections he could make with Bryant alumni working in the field, or the powerful network of support he’d find in the group’s members.

That would change by the end of the day. So far, though, he’s enjoying the conference’s energy. “I like the atmosphere here,” he said. “Everyone here’s really motivated."

Celebrating its 13th year, BUEC — formerly known as the Bryant University Northeast Entrepreneurship Conference — brought together entrepreneurs from the Bryant campus and beyond on March 2 to learn from each other through networking opportunities, keynote speakers, focused breakout sessions, and workshops.

The university’s branch of the Collegiate Entrepreneurs' Organization has won Chapter of the Year six times in the last 10 years and Best Cross Campus Networking and Innovation nine times, noted BUEC Executive Director Abby Milelka ’24. “This is a committed group that wants to network and wants to learn from these speakers and then take those lessons with them into the world,” she stated. 

"Coming to a conference like is a way to separate yourself and get an advantage," suggested Brynn Hennessey ’25, BUEC’s marketing director. "BUEC is for students who want to go above and beyond and take the initiative regarding their future.”

Learning about the entrepreneurial mindset, said Milelka, is valuable to anyone, regardless of their career path. “Having the leadership skills, risk management skills, and problem-solving skills that entrepreneurs have will help you wherever you go.”

“If we get to know each other on an organic, real, and honest level, then we can grow our networks and we can scale businesses or scale concepts to levels beyond what we could ever imagine.”

Even the conference’s name change was a reflection of this focus on inclusion. “We wanted to broaden our horizons. This is an entrepreneurship conference designed for anyone and everyone,” said Milelka.

That community mindset echoed throughout the day’s programming. Social entrepreneur and community leader Ed Brady ’06, co-founder of the Thirsty Beaver Pub and Grub, president of the Historic Park Theatre and Event Center, and co-founder of RestauRent, gave the day’s first keynote speech, centering on social responsibility and the power of connection. Brady took the audience from his time at Bryant to Los Angeles, where he started his own event production company, to his return to the Ocean State, where he launched the Thirsty Beaver and now works to support other entrepreneurs and the community around him.

“I only invest my time in sustainable ideas that I think are going to help build a better community and build a better world,” he noted.

Every step of the way, Brady argued, the power of communication propelled him forward. “When we find ourselves in a new environment, or are meeting new people, we want to talk and tell them all about us,” said Brady. “As I've gotten older, though, I'm listening, just listening, to what other people have to say, so I can learn more about that person and what they love. Because if I can find a way to help others accomplish what they love, through what I have and the networks I've curated, ultimately, we are building a better ecosystem, together.”

A successful entrepreneur, Brady suggested, doesn’t just make money; they fill a genuine need and help others realize their own passions. “If we get to know each other on an organic, real, and honest level, then we can grow our networks and we can scale our businesses and business concepts to levels beyond what we could ever imagine,” he said.

The conference’s breakout sessions expanded on that idea with leaders whose expertise ranged from marketing to cybersecurity. In his breakout, Xavier Perez ’23, a former president of Bryant Ventures, Bryant CEO’s startup accelerator, led a panel on growing your business, using examples from his sneaker reselling business, X’s Kicks, which he has been running since high school.

Perez also talked though issues ranging from tax liabilities to building a loyal customer base through social media. He brainstormed with Kidd about expanding his business, including branching out to selling knives as well as sharpening them, and raising awareness for his company, “Jack’s Knife Sharpening,” by creating short vignettes for YouTube and TikTok.

“I've been called the queen of beer. I've been called the trailblazer. I've been called a success and I’ve been called a failure. All of these are true.”

There’s an audience for everything online, from hoof maintenance to rug cleaning, he suggested, and Kidd could use that to his advantage. “I’ve never seen anyone in your industry do this before,” Perez noted. “Why not be the first?”

Being the first, and the triumphs and travails that entails, was the topic of the conference’s afternoon keynote delivered by Rhonda Kallman, CEO of Boston Harbor Distillery, and co-founder of the Boston Beer Company. “I was 24 years old when I helped start a revolution,” Kallman noted. “When we started, there were 35 breweries in the United States. Today: 10,000.”

In her talk, Kallman shared moments of inspiration and acclaim alongside the struggles she faced as a rare woman in her field. “I've been called the queen of beer. I've been called the trailblazer. I've been called a success and I’ve been called a failure,” she told the audience. “All of these are true.”

Being an entrepreneur, she said, demands courage, sacrifice, and a willingness to fail — but if your mission is your passion, there’s no other way to live. “Why am I still risking it all? And why does it matter so much?” she asked the crowd. “To me, the answer is simple: because I love it and I believe in myself.”

At the close of the conference, Kidd, who wasn’t sure what to expect when he began the day, found himself exchanging contacts with other attendees, including Perez, and consulting with CEO leadership about connecting with the chapter. He’s not certain he wants to be a full-time entrepreneur when he graduates, he admitted, but he’s eager to learn more.

Most importantly, he’s found a new spark, one he wants to nurture. “This has been inspirational,” he said. “It gives me motivation to push my business forward.”

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