The Cottrell Speaker Series at the University of North Georgia opened Sept. 18 with a presentation from Michael Cohn, co-founder and senior vice president of Cloud Sherpas. Founded in the basement of Cohn's home, Cloud Sherpas has grown into one of the world's leading cloud-service brokerages, consulting with organizations like Jordache, Office Depot and Perry Ellis in their move to cloud-based services like Google Apps, Salesforce.com and ServiceNow.
Cloud service refers to resources such as data storage being made available to users via the internet rather than on-site servers and hardware.
Sponsored by the Mike Cottrell College of Business and the Center for the Future of North Georgia, the series is designed to provide students and community members with engaging presentations from regional and national business leaders. The event, held live in Dahlonega, was simulcast to UNG's Cumming, Gainesville and Oconee campuses, where a combined 150 individuals were in attendance. Cohn spoke about the challenges he faced in starting his business and how he nurtured it to become a two-time Google Enterprise Partner of the Year for Google Apps, a platinum salesforce.com partner and the first ServiceNow partner to reach preferred partner status globally.
"Exposing students to these entrepreneurial and innovative ideas of today's industry leaders are part of a relevant business education," said Dr. Donna Mayo, dean of the Mike Cottrell College of Business. "Michael is an incredible speaker and shares a fresh approach to business that our students can bring to their future employers."
During the presentation, Cohn discussed starting his company and the opportunities that enabled it to grow so fast. Before laying his foundation, Cohn observed the move toward cloud technology that was beginning to occur in the marketplace.
"Consumer technology had been outpacing enterprise technology," Cohn said. "A very big piece of being successful is timing. Had we waited until now to try and start this company, it wouldn't have been possible. And even with timing, it takes tremendous dedication and perseverance to successfully start a company."
Cohn also spoke about the ups and downs during the company's formative years, including a point in 2009 when Cloud Sherpas was very low on funds and had been turned down by some 30 venture capitalists. However, the founders appealed to friends and family for support, and by the end of the year the company had accomplished nearly $1 million in revenue and had grown from one employee to nine. The company currently has some 700 employees in seven cities around the world.
When asked by an audience member how UNG graduates could make themselves marketable to his and other similar companies, Cohn said they always look for three things.
"One, I want to know if I can have a genuine conversation with you," Cohn said. "Two, are you bringing substance and intelligence to the conversation? And three, we want to see demonstrated acumen and passion in your area."
The Cottrell Speaker Series will continue on UNG's Gainesville Campus with Melanie Few-Harrison, founder of the Super Bowl Gospel Celebration, on Nov. 4. The Super Bowl Gospel Celebration is the first and only gospel event sanctioned by the NFL and is the only inspirational music concert to be aired on ESPN. This session will be held at noon in the auditorium of the Continuing Education Center on the Gainesville Campus, at 3820 Mundy Mill Road, Oakwood.