Melissa Kjolsing

Q&E: Learning to Celebrate Wins, Big and Small

Friday, March 25, 2022

Melissa Kjolsing has seen firsthand how a business can grow hundreds of times.

As the former director of MN Cup, the nation’s largest statewide startup competition, Kjolsing was instrumental in helping businesses grow from small ideas to ones with big aspirations.

Since leaving MN Cup in 2017, Kjolsing has worked for several small businesses, including as the CEO and co-founder of Recovree (a MN Cup division winner) and now as the chief growth officer at Reema Health.

Kjolsing spoke to the Carlson School about how MN Cup has shaped her career, the best entrepreneurial advice she’s been given, and what traits she sees in successful entrepreneurs.

How did your experience with MN Cup shape your career path?

It’s completely changed my career. It was a job that I went to, was so excited by it, and I became consumed with it in a very positive way. I never felt tired or burned out or felt like the work was heavy. While working there, you learn and are exposed to entrepreneurs, startups, and different ways of thinking that activated another part of my brain, heart, and soul. That energy that I got from doing that work was so significant. It ended up taking me down a path of wanting to work with startups. So, what I learned from MN Cup has infiltrated my life in many, many ways.

Through your experiences working with different entrepreneurs, are there habits or traits that you think make entrepreneurs successful?

I see a lot of success in the entrepreneurs that recognize early on that you cannot do it alone. Building a business requires a number of people to take an idea to innovation.

Also, I'm a very Type-A person. I hate being a perfectionist, but it shows up in different ways in my life at different times. The mantra of “progress over perfection” is really important. As an entrepreneur and as someone working at a startup, you're trying to hit milestones and you're trying to be in a different place than you were yesterday, last week, a month ago, last quarter, and whatever it might be. So, that progress and that momentum are really important.

What is the best advice you've ever been given?

Obviously, it kind of hits you over the head, when you hear it, but as a founder and working at a startup, I think that people need to start something at a scale at which a solution can be brought to life. 

For most entrepreneurs, they will not reach that mega success or hit a massive home run. I think the more that we can celebrate these hits, and small wins, the better our community and even our entrepreneurs will be. If you're good at something, get really good at that specific thing. Then, find a way to leverage that in whatever way you can. Don’t try to be everything to everybody, because resources are the most meaningful for some to an entrepreneur, whether it be time or money. There is a finite amount of hours in the day and really being concentrated and focused with that time.

If you were talking to Carlson School students or aspiring entrepreneurs, what advice would you give them?

You don't have to have a huge idea or something incredibly grand to start something. I think the more that you can practice starting, and building, that’s great. It's a muscle that you will get better at flexing over time. So just try and attempt to create and bring something to life. That way you can see what that process looks like. The more that you do that, the more comfortable you become. Then, when a potentially large opportunity is presented to you, don't have fear inhibiting you because you have been there before, even if it was on a much smaller scale.

Questions & Entrepreneurs, or Q&E, features entrepreneurial Carlson School alumni, students, faculty, staff, and friends. They will share successes, challenges, and insights about their journey of bringing ideas to reality, whether through new companies, new ways of thinking, or solving new problems.