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John Mueller

What is your official title?

My official title, why I came to Kalamazoo, is Assistant Professor in the Management department in the College of Business at Western Michigan University. What I do is very different from that, though.


What’s an average day in the ‘Zoo look like for you?

I do not have a regular routine. Some people say they get up at 5:00am everyday, but for me it’s whatever. The only things I have to do is get to class. I teach two classes each semester, and those range from an entrepreneurship class to an innovation class. My focus in general is in entrepreneurship. People think entrepreneurship is new to WMU, but it’s been around for years. We are trying to build it back from years ago when it was introduced. There’s a lot of momentum right now – we have an Entrepreneurship major coming out and a minor – it’s moving through the system right now.


What kind of projects are you currently working on?

Nothing big, but lots of small things. Couple things, one is PitchZoo. I started it back in March after being in Kalamazoo for 5-6 months and watched what was going on in Kalamazoo; there were enough ideas out there, but people didn’t have a safe place to talk about those ideas and get people excited about them to help move things forward. That was all about filling a gap. That’s what I do, I fill gaps, I come up with solutions to the challenges I see. Another is Opportunity Discovery, which helps students focus on their creativity. In their education, it’s all about the structure and the standardization, so in Opportunity Discovery we are doing very basic things to get these students to unlock their creativity. Starting Gate is another project, and that is a business accelerator for WMU students. It officially launches in September, but the Dean wanted to have it be a summer cohort to test some things out. There are five companies in there, which we picked up from the Pitch Competition a few months back. And lastly is Startup Grind, which starts in September, an activity started by Derek Anderson out in San Francisco, and we’ll be doing fireside interviews with Entrepreneurs on the 3rd Tuesday of each month throughout the winter months – great for fireside interviews.


Any upcoming events that you’re particularly excited about?

I don’t think too far in advance, or backwards. I live in the moment, and what’s on my plate for the day I get done, but I can’t think too far ahead.


What do you love most about Kalamazoo?

I was born in Germany, grew up in Austin, TX, lived for 9 years in Boulder, CO, and then got my PhD in Louisville, so I’ve been all over and I’ve seen how startup communities get going and how they’ve grown, especially in Austin and Boulder. And I have to say that Kalamazoo is a similar culture in terms of food, and music, and size and culture – and that I like. Kalamazoo has a neat opportunity, and I don’t think it’s been fully realized yet. I think there are 4 themes that make Kalamazoo a great startup community. Technology is one, food and beer, music, and then the health sciences; these 4 communities have the ability to really make things blossom here.


What can be done to improve our beloved Kalamazoo?

Remove the roadblocks that people either think are in the way of doing things, or actually are in the way of doing things. Why I say “think” is because sometimes it’s just in our minds, and once we can get our ideas moving and get things started, those roadblocks just disappear. It has to be the entrepreneurs that do it. It’s not the responsibilities of the universities, or the institutions, organizations, the mayor – the people need to step up and we need to be the ones who get things started here.


What has been one of your biggest learning moments?

Lots of little ones. There are no big moments, but lots of little moments. Each day is learning, like, how do you work the coffee machine at Maestro? HA-HA. If you have a huge learning experience it’s tough to come back from. Because a big learning moment is something that hurts so much, but lots of little things, and those are the moments you really learn.


What have you been jammin’ to recently? What’s on the iPod?

All of [my son] Martin’s stuff! Martin plays 3 instruments, the guitar, piano and saxophone. And he’s a drum major in the band now. I listen to some of his music and also what my daughter plays as well…she’s 9. I love Billy Joel, Enya, country music as well. I also like Foreigner, Seal, Cat Stevens.


What is next up on your reading list?

It’s for the book club the Kalamazoo Business Book Club, second Monday of each month we meet. I read a lot about startup communities, I read a lot of blogs. But I jump from one book to another, so I’ll read a couple chapters from one book, and then a couple from another. Not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s how I stay involved right now.


How do you take your coffee?…or do you?

I don’t drink coffee anymore. On my birthday 3 years ago I went cold turkey. In the PhD program I was drinking way too much coffee, so I stopped and now I stick to drinking tea or hot water.


What is your favorite app to use?

Runkeeper. It tracks my location and how far, all that stuff. Running is where I do a lot of my thinking, it clears my head, and it’s where I come up with things for my classes or starting things in Kalamazoo. I run around the city and check out all of the cool places. I don’t like running in the same places either, so I run different routes, KRVT, find some trails, that kind of thing, so I’m out running every other day.


Do you have a “go to” spot in Kalamazoo?

I don’t really have a spot I always go to, I like to try new places. Just like I don’t like running the same routes, I like to go to different places. New places stimulate thinking and new ideas.


Are there any places in the ‘Zoo that you haven’t been to and are dying to go?

Hmm, I don’t know right now. I don’t know, but I will find it! I scout places out when I run, so I’ve been getting to the places I been wanting to check out.


What is the best reaction you’ve gotten to the name “Kalamazoo”?

I’ve had people just say, “is there really such a place?” That ends up being the thing. After I tell them where it is, then they’re like oh yeah I read this about Kalamazoo, or I heard this or that about Kalamazoo. It’s like yeah it’s always been here, but it just opens their eyes a little more.


John, thank you for taking the time to meet with us and sharing your thoughts! Keep up with John on twitter and be sure to follow us on facebook and twitter for updates.