Entrepreneur Spotlight department heading
Bob Bickel next to stacked and balanced rocks by a river
Photo: Marlise Reinhold Bickel ’79
Bob Bickel ’79 (shown on a hike in Canada) learned the joy of pushing his physical limits and pursuing his passions at Bucknell.

Runnin’ Down a Dream

When you spend four years running 100 miles a week, you build more than just physical endurance. As Bob Bickel ’79 discovered, you develop determination and grit, character traits that benefit someone who wants to launch and grow a business — and keep it alive through a pandemic.

As the founder and CEO of RunSignup, an online registration platform for endurance and peer-to-peer fundraising events, Bickel says his entrepreneurial mindset was cultivated logging miles on the rural roads surrounding Lewisburg.

Under the guidance of cross-country coach Art Gulden P’03, P’05, Bickel and his teammates tallied “5 and 10s” — 5 miles each morning, 10 miles each afternoon. Bickel says the experience shaped who he would become, and was the second-most influential thing that happened to him at Bucknell. (The first: meeting Marlise Reinhold Bickel ’79.)

After graduation, the electrical engineering major became a software engineer for various tech startups through the 1980s and ’90s. In the 2000s, he came to a career crossroads while working for Hewlett-Packard. Bickel had to lay off 600 employees, including himself. “It was a big emotional moment for all of us,” he says. “I asked myself, ‘What do I want to do with my life?’ ”

The answer led him back to an early passion: running. After working as a race director for a local race, Bickel became frustrated with the online registration platforms and realized he could do better. In 2009, he applied his technical know-how to create RunSignup. It quickly found success. Today, RunSignup has a team of more than 70 employees and has helped participants raise more than $1.8 billion.

Running a business based on in-person events for large groups of people didn’t seem risky — until March 2020. Assuming his business wouldn’t survive the pandemic, Bickel prepared for the worst. Fortunately, thanks to a team of employees who deployed software and support to help customers pivot to virtual and hybrid events, RunSignup not only recovered but gained significant market share. In 2022, Bickel launched a new platform called TicketSignup, which expanded his business into new markets, helping event directors manage ticket sales for activities like festivals, haunts and golf outings.

“Everybody — both employees and customers — worked really hard together to make a big pivot to pursue virtual events, and we made it work,” Bickel says. “It comes back to this idea of teamwork that I learned at Bucknell. Some people think of running as an individual thing. But when you’re part of a cross-country team you know that’s not true. You’re all in it together. Even if you’re heading out for a run by yourself, you’re putting in the work because you know your team is counting on you.”