By Thea Holtlund Jacobsen Mike Panesis is the Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Cal Lutheran. Panesis grew up in New Jersey and received his bachelor’s degree in Computer Science for Business from DeVry Institute of Technology. After graduating, Panesis worked as a software engineer for a few years, then as a Management Consultant for Deloitte, and then continued his career in corporate information technology for Church and Dwight.
“I didn’t discover entrepreneurship until later in my life, but it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. My mom was an entrepreneur, my grandparents were entrepreneurs, but it just didn’t occur to me. I used to want to work for a big company,” Panesis said.
Mike Panesis pictured at an event at Hub101 with Gerhard Apfelthaler, Dean of the School of Management at Cal Lutheran.
Following this job, in 2001, Panesis and his family made the decision to move to Southern California. Panesis’ wife is from California, and the family decided they wanted their kids to be closer to their grandparents who lived in Orange County. Panesis then found a job with a startup company as their Chief Technology Officer.
“And that was my introduction to entrepreneurship,” Panesis said.
Panesis’ entrepreneurial journey led him to the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), where he became the Entrepreneurial Programs Manager and ran UCSB’s New Venture Competition. Eventually, the commute to work from his home in Camarillo was starting to become draining. In parallel, the Dean of Cal Lutheran University’s School of Management, Gerhard Apfelthaler, began his recruitment of Panesis to come work for Cal Lutheran.
“Gerhard knew that I was making that drive every day, and he knew that he wanted to start a Center for Entrepreneurship so he hatched an evil plan,” Panesis said. “It was in the summer, the traffic was horrible and it had taken me an hour and a half to get home, and he called me just as I pulled up to my house. He started the conversation saying, ‘so how is that commute working out for you?’ That led to a longer conversation about the plans for Cal Lutheran, and I was very much interested in shortening my commute.”
Panesis at the New Venture Fair at Cal Lutheran in 2019, with the Austrian MBA students who won the prize for “Best Booth.”
Hub101 was originally started as part of the plan to offer an entrepreneurship minor, but has since turned into much more than that. Hub101 is a coworking space and community for aspiring entrepreneurs and has become the center for what goes on with startups in Ventura County.
“It’s really cool to get the chance to spend time with the startups that are there, and it’s also amazing to see our students around the place,” Panesis said. “My favorite thing about Hub101 is the Doers because it’s so rewarding to see young adults come into their own and discover what they like and that they are good at something that could make them a living.”
Panesis said that there is also something special about Southern California, which he partially contributes to the entertainment industry where creativity and innovation is valued. He believes that there is something unique about the tolerance for people coloring outside the lines and the acceptance for failure.
“There is much more of a risk taking culture here. If it doesn’t work, then fine. Pick yourself up,dust yourself off, and try again,” Panesis said.
Panesis said one of the best things about his role at Hub101 is seeing the student workers evolve and discover their passions and talents.
As the Executive Director of the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Panesis believes that there are many young people in the community with a lot of potential. For the people who might want to start something of their own but find that idea frightening, he says that students do not have to feel like they need to take a huge risk. With the current economy, people are able to do something on the side while working on their idea. Panesis believes this not only helps build up capital but also allows students to learn more. He also believes that many people feel like they have to develop something brand new in order to be an entrepreneur, which he feels is inaccurate.
“When we say ‘entrepreneur’, we don’t necessarily mean launching a startup. We expect you to be yourself and do what you are passionate about, and that doesn’t necessarily mean making buckets of money. It could mean helping people in developing countries, and even though that may not get you a Tesla and a second home, if that’s what you want to do and what makes you feel fulfilled then you’re still being an entrepreneur,” Panesis said.
In his role, Panesis spends much of his time at the Cal Lutheran campus, helping and encouraging students with entrepreneurial mindsets.
In the next couple of years, Panesis believes Hub101 will see its first startup founded by Cal Lutheran entrepreneurship minors to pass $10 million in revenue, and he believes there are already several startups in process right now where he could see that happen. Furthermore, Panesis would like to see more people who live in the area come to Hub101 to launch a startup instead of feeling like they have to go to Santa Monica.
“I would not be doing what I’m doing unless I was at a point in my career where this is all I need. I want the Center to have more influence on campus, and I would like to see a Hub101 there. The great thing about working for a university is seeing what alumni do when they leave, and that’s what I’m most excited about,” Panesis said.
Panesis pictured at the New Venture Fair in 2019, with Gerhard Apfelthaler and Marvin Rue Jr, winner of “Best MVP.”