From Teacher to 'Trep
Heather Wentler lends her brain power to help kids, fellow women entrepreneurs and those in search of a little funding
By Grace Edquist
“I always wanted to be a teacher, ever since I was five,” Heather Wentler says.
While Wentler did realize her childhood dream, she’s done far more than run a classroom in her mere twenty-eight years.
After graduating with a degree in education from UW–Whitewater in 2009, Wentler taught in various school settings, but she realized that traditional teaching with restricted curriculum wasn’t her thing. “I just felt stifled,” she says.
She and fellow local educator Erin McWalter got to talking: How can we bring creative and interactive learning to kids? Just a few months earlier, Chris Meyer, Heather’s now-husband, opened the makerspace Sector67. “I had been talking with Chris about how to get more kids into Sector,” Wentler says.
With a newly opened space that housed more tools, gadgets and machines than any other learning environment in the area, Wentler and McWalter had their answer. Fractal was born in March 2011 and ran STEAM classes out of Sector67. At the end of that summer McWalter left Fractal to pursue her own startup.
Last spring, Wentler used her experience as an entrepreneur to launch the Doyenne Group with Amy Gannon, an assistant professor of management at Edgewood College. Now in its second year, the Doyenne Group has a mission to increase the share of female attendees at April’s Startup Weekend Madison—a seventy-two-hour marathon conference to turn great ideas into a working model for a startup—to thirty percent of total attendees, up from less than ten percent this year. To achieve this, Wentler says she and Gannon focus on instilling confidence in female entrepreneurs in various industries.
“As entrepreneurs we all have different stories, but we have the same points to our stories,” Wentler says.
But Wentler hasn’t stopped there. She started Madison SOUP, a meal-based, bi-monthly micro-grant series with factions nationwide. At each local SOUP event, community members gather at communal space, which—surprise!—is often Sector67, and listen to project pitches. At the end of the night, attendees vote for a project to receive the proceeds from the event, which has ranged from $180 to almost $600.
Wentler’s dreams of becoming an educator have been realized, but not in the way she originally imagined. At one point she did consider going back to traditional teaching in the school system. “Something in me was like, ‘No … keep doing what you’re doing.’”
How lucky we are that she listened.