Jonathan Gerdes entered the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with the ability to conceive engineering solutions and the desire to find ways to make his entrepreneurial ideas successful. He worked with faculty at the Nebraska Center for Entrepreneurship and found the guidance and resources needed to build new ventures and an internship at Tesla.
“I yearned to uncover the intricacies of launching and managing a successful enterprise,” said Gerdes, a Lincoln, Nebraska, native who chose to major in civil engineering and double minor in business and entrepreneurship at Nebraska because of the university’s outstanding reputation and value. “This quest for practical insight guided me to the doorstep of the Center for Entrepreneurship, a space of innovation and experiential learning. As I entered their domain, I was immediately greeted by an atmosphere charged with creative energy and ambition."
Gerdes felt an immediate kinship with fellow students and professors at the Center for Entrepreneurship and vibed with their entrepreneurial mindset, which provided him with new insight. His conversations with Andrew Hanna, Seacrest Teaching Fellow and assistant professor of practice in management and entrepreneurship, helped guide his decisions.
“Dr. Hanna has proven to be an invaluable resource in my journey, consistently offering insightful guidance and answers to a diverse range of inquiries. Through his association with the Center for Entrepreneurship, I had the privilege of connecting with founders, executives and managers across various industries, expanding my learning beyond the classroom,” he said.
Gerdes’ enthusiasm for learning caught Hanna's attention, and the two began to converse regularly in the Center for Entrepreneurship.
“Jonathan became involved with the student organization StartupsUNL and quickly became a regular fixture in the center,” said Hanna. “I found him to be one of the most inquisitive people. When I launched my inaugural study abroad trip to Rwanda, Jonathan jumped at the opportunity, even though he admitted not having extensive experience traveling. I found his love for the ambiguity of the situation and his openness to having new experiences admirable and refreshing. He stood out because he has always been a ‘say yes to life’ person.”
Gerdes’ engagement with StartupsUNL helped him gain clarity on his career goals and meet others with entrepreneurial aspirations. Through the group's networking opportunities, he connected with Tesla and also interned with the American multinational automotive and clean energy company.
“As a global supply analyst intern, I embarked on a transformative journey at Tesla's Fremont, California, factory,” said Gerdes. “In this dynamic environment, I delved into the intricacies of factory construction procurement and the electric vehicle industry. This immersive experience granted me unparalleled insights, enriching my understanding of complex processes while reinforcing my passion for innovation. My time at Tesla represents a pivotal chapter in my professional growth, offering collaborative opportunities with the industry's brightest minds, honing my skills and further deepening my commitment to driving innovation forward.”
He continued to build business acumen at Tesla ranging from identifying the selection of suppliers to strategic negotiations rooted in a commitment to sustainability. It was important for Gerdes to select suppliers whose ethos aligned with Tesla’s pioneering spirit of innovation while keeping efficient operational cost structures at the forefront of decisions.
“My role centered on proactively foreseeing challenges, thus ensuring an uninterrupted material flow and seamless project advancement. This endeavor required a comprehensive evaluation of bids, cultivating enduring supplier relationships, and facilitating sustainable long-term cost efficiencies and project success,” he said.
His journey with the Center for Entrepreneurship worked hand-in-hand with his internship at the global company. At Nebraska, Gerdes competed in global case competitions to simulate real-world experiences.
“The experience of analyzing intricate business problems and crafting innovative solutions within a competitive context honed my analytical skills and equipped me with a strategic mindset essential for entrepreneurial success,” Gerdes said. “My involvement with the Center for Entrepreneurship proved to be a defining chapter of my academic experience. I have embraced a transformative learning process, acquiring practical skills and insights that extend beyond textbooks.”
Hanna sees Gerdes as a primary example of how the Center for Entrepreneurship can empower students from any major. The synchronicity of people working together to create a business gets passed on as students graduate and give back through mentorship in their new role as Nebraska alumni.
“The way Jonathan was trained to think about problems as an engineer always brought a very different perspective to class discussions because he wasn’t inclined to fit everything into the box of business thought,” said Hanna. "Getting to travel to Africa earlier and Chicago for the Center for Entrepreneurship Summer Impact Team showed he's someone whose attitude and approach to accepting the challenges of life are truly admirable.”
Published: October 17, 2023