Ph.D.-turned-entrepreneur Gerald “Jerry” J. Wilmink is the founder and CEO of WiseWear Corporation, a Texas-based digital health company that develops wearable technology products for fitness and medical applications. Every piece in its flagship line of “smart” luxury jewelry comes with distress messaging, mobile notifications, and detailed health and wellness activity tracking. The company holds seven patents and 10 trademarks and recently closed a $2.5 million investment round.
A biomedical engineer and self-described “mad scientist,” Wilmink also has experience as an inventor, startup business consultant for venture capital firms, and program manager for the Department of Defense’s $2 billion Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. In 2015, Wilmink was selected for San Antonio Business Journal’s 40 Under 40 list. He learned how to be bold early in life, as he explains below.
What’s the best piece of advice you ever got?
At a very young age, my mother gave me the best career advice: “When you do what you love, you never have to work a day in your life.”
My mom is my role model. At age 33, she went to college. Going to college is not a big deal to many families, but to our family this was huge news. My mom was the first person in our family to go to college. After earning her undergraduate degree, my mother then actively pursued her next dream. She enrolled in law school for night classes. To this day, I still have vivid memories of watching my mother and her college classmates preparing for law school exams. After finishing law school she proceeded to work at a mid-size law firm for a short period. She then moved on to her next dream: opening up her own law firm. Many people discouraged her from doing so, but she had an entrepreneurial dream, and she went for it.
Watching her through the eyes of a child gave me the courage to follow my own passions.
What was your biggest mistake to date, and what did it teach you?
The biggest mistake I have made is hiring people who did not fit the “SWAN” mold. SWANs are:
- Smart: You need to hire smart people who are hungry to learn new things.
- Works hard: You need to hire people who have grit and an “engine” to work hard. Startup founders and early employees put in insane work weeks, sometimes exceeding 90 hours a week.
- Ambitious: You need to hire people who are devoted and make sure their interests are the same as the organization.
- Nice: You need to hire people who are optimistic, know how to have fun and are nice. Startup founders and employees spend a ton of time together, and you want to have fun while you crush it at work.
What advice would you pass on to aspiring entrepreneurs?
To be best prepared for the “roller coaster” of startup life, I strongly recommend starting a business where your passion, domain expertise, and ability to make meaning in the world all intersect. To quote a conversation between Ben Horowitz and Marc Andreessen, in startups “you only ever experience two emotions: euphoria and terror. And I find that lack of sleep enhances them both.” So I would also suggest that anyone launching a business try to get enough sleep!
Jerry Wilmink is a member of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), an invite-only organization comprised of the world’s most promising young entrepreneurs, which has partnered with MONEY.com to help produce this series.