Pre-Seed Workshop - New York
Pre-Seed Workshop - New York
Pre-Seed Workshop - New York
"The Pre-Seed Workshop is the best approach I have seen to the challenging issue of determining if academic researchers have an idea that can become a commercially successful venture."

Sean Boykevisch
Senior Licensing Associate
Stony Brook University, Long Island


Roger J. Williams (June 12, 1940 - July 5, 2015)

PSW’s own “Dancing guy” first-follower

How lucky we were to have had such an advocate

By Mark Wilson, co-founder of Pre-Seed Workshop

The all-time biggest advocate and steadfast advisor of Pre-Seed Workshops, Roger J. Williams was our true First-Follower Dancing Guy!  As we preview for PSW’s “You and What Army?” module, “Leadership Lessons from Dancing Guy” highlights the fragility for any new idea to create a movement; and now immortalizes the debt we owe to Roger.

While Judy and I concocted our economic-development “foolishness” in PSW’s unique and challenging approach, Roger Williams’ “first following” gave us some credibility.   As Derek Sivers points out in his commentated video, the first follower plays a crucial role.  “He publicly shows everyone how to follow.  It takes guts to be a first follower! You stand out and brave ridicule yourself. Being a first follower is an under-appreciated form of leadership.” Roger’s form of leadership.

Roger’s direct Host coordinating and indirect advocacy played a significant role in PSW’s wide-spread success across New York State.

Just months after the 2004 inaugural PSW was held in Rochester, Roger attended a PSW informational meeting for economic development professionals from the Ithaca, Syracuse, and Binghamton regions.  By the end of the meeting, Roger embraced the approach. It was very fortuitous for all of us that he remained so undaunted by the heavy lifting of reinventing technology commercialization over the years. While it is hard to know exactly why such First-Followers take on what they do, in Roger’s own words it was quite simply because he resonated with PSW’s unique action-oriented approach; knew first-hand the difficulties in implementing the entrepreneurial culture-changes our regions needed; and saw this as a cause he would welcome dedicating some years to deploy.

And deploy he did!  Roger went on to host the second-ever PSW, held in the 1890’s House Museum in Cortland, NY.  Roger tenaciously pushed the boulder of entrepreneurial culture change up many, many hills!  His relatively quiet leadership style was directly responsible for bringing PSW to Cornell. He personally hosted PSWs in Syracuse, Ithaca, and Geneva, NY. Roger played a key role in bringing PSWs to Binghamton and NY city—which led indirectly to PSW Hawaii and Stony Brook. His AM&T connections with Ed Gaetano lead to immediate sponsorship and critical support that lasts to this day.  He also created the I-81 Corridor PSW consortium—whereby universities, including “far-away” Clarkson, pre-paid for an Idea Champion’s seat at the workshop—thereby reassuring outreach from technology transfer leadership into their research halls; and Roger spearheaded two private sharing sessions—whereby Cornell Idea Champion Alumni were allowed to reflect, commiserate, and bond around the joys and challenges of moving their ideas forward.

Not always aligning with the “Mark and Judy letter-of-the-law Operations Guide”, Roger more than once crammed the Kick-off Dinner for 40 into a space for 20. He also served some of the PSWs more rudimentary food fare.  “It’s entrepreneurial!”, he said. “Many wannabe entrepreneurs think of large offices, expensive Aeron chairs, and fine lunches; and it ain’t gunna be that way!” Furthermore, Roger saved some of his budget for delightful thank-you dinners for the volunteer coaching staff, which strengthened the networking and follow-on help of the local mentor pool.

Even after retiring from official PSW business a number of years ago, Roger remained a key advocate, provider of stabilizing advice, and a shoulder to cry on.  Often when PSW took me along I-81 past the Homer exit, I’d call Roger and chat.  His support always bolstered me, as I guess, is the role of First-Follower.

Our blessing to you, Roger, for all you did for the Pre-Seed Workshop, and the pre-seed stage of entrepreneurship everywhere.

If you would like to learn more about our alumni, click here.