Ryan Gresh ’09 (ENG) started his career as an eager young UConn School of Engineering graduate – he took a job with Sikorsky, the esteemed aircraft manufacturer located in Stratford, as a design engineer.
“I thought I’d be designing helicopters, the coolest job you could imagine,” he says, “and little did I know, my real job was working for six months on a bolt that went in a helicopter.
“I was so naïve as to what the real world was like.”
After a couple of years, Gresh left a nine-to-five life behind to chart a drastically different entrepreneurial path. He’s now the chief executive officer and co-founder of The Feel Good Lab, a wellness-focused company that works out of UConn’s Technology Incubation Program, or TIP, in Farmington and is primarily known for its successful line of over-the-counter pain-relieving creams for arthritis sufferers, athletes, and people experiencing chronic pain.
“I’m kind of a grass-is-always-greener guy,” Gresh says, “and if I didn’t know what I know now, I’d always be like, ‘you know, man, I could go design those helicopters.’ And you couldn’t pay me a million dollars to quit what I’m doing now to go do that.”
While Gresh’s company is unique, his path to entrepreneurship is relatable – a lot of students may not know what they want to do in their life after graduation, or they may enter a career field and later find it’s not what they thought. And he wants UConn undergraduates to know that it’s alright to not have all the answers right away.
“You’re young when you’re in college, you’re young 10 years out of college, you’re young 20 years out of college,” he says. “You don’t need to have it all figured out. It’s OK to try a lot of different things and really learn what you want.”
A desire to give back is part of why Gresh has volunteered his time and experience to various programs at UConn as an alum – he serves on the advisory board for UConn’s Connecticut Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, or CCEI, and has volunteered as a mentor for NetWerx, a signature program offered by the Peter J. Werth Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation that matches current students with alumni mentors.
It was through NetWerx that he met another now-alum, Devin McNamara ’21 (CLAS), an undergrad studying economics at the time.
As a student, McNamara had immersed himself in the growing entrepreneurial ecosystem at UConn. He joined the Werth Institute and ran an entrepreneurship club on campus. He was a part of Hillside Ventures, the University’s student-run venture capital fund, and he joined NetWerx when the program was still in its early stages of development.
“I just thought it be a good experience to meet somebody who is an alum from UConn who ran their own business or was kind of in a similar field to where I wanted to be,” McNamara says.
While both mentors and mentees through NetWerx can participate and be matched multiple times, Gresh was McNamara’s first mentor through the program.
To say they hit it off would be an understatement.
“When I met Devin, he just was so mature, and even though he was still a student, I was like, wow, he brings so much to the table,” says Gresh.
“It was kind of right as COVID was starting,” McNamara says. “I had lost a lot of internship opportunities due to the pandemic, and Ryan was like, ‘hey, listen, we need some help here, if you’re interested.’”
McNamara took an internship with The Feel Good Lab, graduated from UConn in 2021, and then went out into the workforce.
“I went to a more traditional nine-to-five,” he says, much like Gresh did as a recent grad. “After a couple years, we reconnected, and here we are.”
Where they are is back at The Feel Good Lab, where McNamara is now an employee, working side-by-side with his NetWerx mentor primarily on marketing efforts, but with opportunities to work on many aspects of the growing business.
“I think my favorite thing about working for a startup is that you wear a lot of different hats,” he says. “It’s not like Ryan was saying, where you’re focused on just that one bolt. It’s cool, because you get to touch a little bit everything.”
Their NetWerx experience, McNamara notes, is a perfect example of an ideal situation – creating an opportunity for both parties to continue having a positive working relationship, even after the program ends or the student graduates.
But the value of a program like NetWerx, and of networking in general, stretches far beyond any potential job opportunities, both McNamara and Gresh agreed.
“There’s value in students, such as myself or who are in my shoes, to go out and just make that one extra connection,” McNamara says. “Maybe it’s someone who’s going to lead you to a new job opportunity, or someone that you may become founders with one day. You never know what one connection in life – and never mind the business aspect – can really do.”
McNamara adds, “I think networking is probably the most valuable skill anybody can really learn. Classes are great, all that stuff is great. But it only gets you so far if you don’t have that network and continue to develop those skills.”
“You have four years of being a student, and that dot-edu email – oh my goodness, it can open so many doors for you, because people do want to help,” says Gresh. “And UConn has such an amazing alumni network. I can almost guarantee that if you come in as a student genuinely wanting to learn, there’s almost nobody that you can’t reach out to and get in touch with.”
January is National Mentoring Month – to learn more, visit mentoring.org. NetWerx, the Werth Institute’s signature one-on-one student-alumni mentoring program, accepts both student mentor and alumni mentee participant applications on a rolling basis. Visit entrepreneurship.uconn.edu for more information.