Alumni Profile: Jonathan Ozeran (BA, Political Science)

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University of Michigan alum and seasoned entrepreneur Jonathan Ozeran is blending a passion for startups and technology innovation into something big in the Windy City. Not only is he the designer and engineer behind the apps for the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Blackhawks, The Pampered Chef, HondaJet, and more – he’s also contributing to Chicago’s startup scene and making his mark in the health industry.

Tell us about yourself

Jonathan: From a young age, I’ve always enjoyed building products, teams and companies together with like-minded, passionate and talented people. Over the last eight or nine years, I’ve helped build a few of these organizations in Chicago focused on mobile app design & development for large Fortune 1000 companies (Lextech), mobile-enabling campus recruiting across the country (Yello) and empowering employees with a mobile-centric health & benefits concierge service (Zest Health). I have had the opportunity to help transform a media company (Tribune) through mobile engineering, product development and research & development and am also a co-founder of WÜF, the world’s smartest dog collar which raised nearly $100,000 via a successful Kickstarter in December, 2014.

I also help foster and amplify the Chicago startup community through my teaching at Northwestern University (courses: mobile product & user experience design, real-time programming with Node.js), advising a handful of early-stage companies and providing mentorship to entrepreneurs.

Finally, I try to maintain strong connections to the University of Michigan and the Detroit startup community to help support and keep in sync with the tremendously vibrant activity happening on campus and beyond. A few particular areas of interest include the precision medicine & data science initiatives as well as the advancements emerging from both faculty (FFMI) and students spanning the College of Engineering, the Center for Entrepreneurship, the Medical School and the Department of Computational Medicine & Bioinformatics.

What entrepreneurial mindset/skillset do you wish you would have learned as a student?

Jonathan: As a student, I had often felt a bit isolated as someone interested in building both products & businesses. It seemed as though a majority of my peers at the time were focused solely on excelling in the classroom according to the traditional rules of academia in order to earn the right to climb a ladder of someone else’s design. I drew inspiration from the University of Michigan’s unique and proven ability to assemble and combine diverse perspectives into productive discussions and world-changing collaborations. In fact, I have not been able to replicate this phenomenon, even in a wonderful environment like downtown Chicago and our growing, bustling startup community.

Looking back, I wish I would have been able to benefit from this fresh entrepreneurial mindset directly while on campus vs. looking back many years later wondering why it hadn’t been in place during my tenure there. Students on campus today are quite fortunate to have this opportunity at an earlier time in life.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received as an entrepreneur?

Jonathan: Here are a few pieces of advice to share:

1) Maintain a team-first approach: In each of my entrepreneurial endeavors, I’ve found that the most important element, hands-down, has been the people you align yourself with and the camaraderie and sense of purpose you build and share together. Having built a number of product, design and engineering teams from scratch, I can firmly state that there is a tremendous and growing amount of competition to recruit and retain top talent. This places authenticity, trust and mission front and center in order to out-compete and successfully attract those with many lucrative and intriguing options available to them.

2) Do it for the right reason(s): Building companies (both those that last and those that don’t) requires an uncomfortable amount of effort, energy, passion, motivation, stress and yes, luck. The journey, for me at least, has always been equally important to the desired destination and outcome. I think Ben Horowitz’s book ‘The Hard Thing about Hard Things’ is a requisite read for anyone wanting to jump into the entrepreneurial waters.

What was the hardest lesson to learn as an entrepreneur?

Jonathan: How and when to cease development of a product or even a particular business activity/endeavor. I think Facebook summarizes this best in their often-cited quote: “We are just 1% finished in our journey” which to me equates to an ever-changing sense of curiosity, experimentation, iteration, data collection and optimization of product development and engineering efforts.

Why stay connected to the University?

Jonathan: Ever since hearing about the inaugural MHacks event from Dave Fontenot during a campus recruiting event a couple years ago, I’ve been a bit envious of students who get to participate and form strong connections with each other. I believe many of these students are or will be in need of guidance to take what they have or plan to build to ensure that they not only see the light of day but also have the opportunity to become impactful in their chosen industry. As apps like Product Hunt have demonstrated, there are many capable builders and entrepreneurs designing and shipping a multitude of products every day — the complexity lies not only in successfully designing, iterating and shipping products, but also in establishing, defending and scaling a business that can make a dent.

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