10 Hours to Entrepreneurship

Angel capital, investments in distressed debt, venture capital, IPO (Initial Public Offering)… these are the terms that a finance kid, like me, would only think of while approaching the concept of social entrepreneurship for the very first time. Although I always knew that the passion and innovation behind the startups can never be depicted simply by the dollar amount of capital or some financial ratios that only make sense to investors and business insiders, it is difficult to break my own boundaries and open the door to a different sky. That was the reason why I joined Net Impact Tulane Chapter two years ago and worked so hard to get it recognized by the undergraduate student government, witnessing its ‘net impact’ on more and more students on campus. More often than not, it was the new experiences outside of my own cubicle that helped me learn more in life. Therefore, I did not even hesitate and immediately decided to go when I first heard about the 2015 Harvard Illuminate Conference from Yair, the current president of Net Impact Tulane Chapter.

The conference for me started with a talk with my host at Harvard and two of her friends at 1 pm that day. I arrived late but just in time for the discussion, in the well-furnished Hogwarts-style dining hall, about their vision on the rigid rules in society and how they will change the world. The topic jumped from nonprofit orientation and applications in their Model United Nations conference to effects of drinking age on a next generation of a country, and then to another. I wish I could stay longer for that conversation and for these powerful minds, but it was 3 am already, with only four hours before the conference.

The first keynote given by Dr. Mehmood Khan, CSO of PepsiCo, announced the official start of 2015 Harvard Illuminate Conference. Dr. Khan’s passionate and ambitious speech, instead of focusing on theimage2 astounding market share of PepsiCo as anyone would have imagined, was about how this corporation could help the world solve the food crisis and water crisis with critical thinking and, most importantly, innovation. PepsiCo managed to decrease the amount of salt and sugar in its products by such a high percentage that, as Dr. Khan mentioned, a bag of Lays chips has less salt than a piece of white bread. The company then went further to find possible solutions for imminent water crisis around the globe rather than advertising its accomplishments. As Dr. Khan stated, all of these achievements were only made possible through innovation which could transform the whole society. We often confuse innovation with inventions. There is, however, a drastic difference between the two. Innovation, representing revolution, is the burst of genius ideas that challenges fundamental rules. Inventions, in comparison, are byproducts in the historical trends of innovation, like the novel machines invented during the industrial revolution. What also impressed me was the corporate responsibility PepsiCo showed in Dr. Khan’s speech. Not until then did I realize that despite criticisms of big companies’ profit orientation and hierarchy, these companies have more resources available to benefit the society on a greater scale.

The keynote about innovation in branding and marketing shed a light on the ways new clubs should market themselves here at Tulane. Both of the two panelists were experienced marketing professionals in startups. After they shared their tips for marketing, I asked them if they would seek funding from venture capital with a limited budget and heard the most honest answers. They warned everyone that marketing is our tool, not our purpose. Many startups strayed away from improving their products or services, which are the most valuable to them, to marketing and failed with certainty. What usually stands true for startups is that their value depends on their original ideas and products, the soul and the bones. Marketing may make flesh grow faster, provided that there is something to grow upon. The same rule applies to newly established on-campus student organizations like Net Impact.

Following Pandora’s founding stories by Time Westergren, Founder of Pandora, the keynote by Katie Rae, Chairwoman of Boston TechStars, really opened my eyes to a whole new domain. Boston TechStars is a venture capital firm focusing on financing and supporting potential entrepreneurs in the Boston area to realize their dreams. With a few attendees, Mrs.image1 Rae illustrated the process of collaborative brain storming to perfect a rough idea. This process is happening in venture capital firms for hundreds of thousands of times every single day. I never knew venture capital could be so intriguing.

Our Tulane group’s favorite of the day was the workshop on human-centered design. The workshop was very enlightening as how fast novel, but brilliant, ideas could be generated by a small group of people and ripe with product design. After a brief PowerPoint introduction, attendees are divided into small groups of four or five. Each group needs to design a product from scratch and present in front of others within a total of ten minutes. Following a step-by-step instruction, all the groups arrived at distinctive designs spending 20 to 30 seconds on each step. I still remember how one group designed a medicine ‘ATM’ in 30 seconds and detailed features in a minute. This workshop demonstrated the perfect combination of efficiency, sharp thinking, and team work from which any student or professional entrepreneur can learn something.

After I came back from this experience, I will never look at entrepreneurship the same way again, with all the intelligent remarks in mind. Entrepreneurship is indeed backed by finance, but it is much more. I now understand the importance of Taylor Center which is the embryo of the next generation of entrepreneurs and home to clubs like Net Impact, Startup Tulane, and many more. Our future meetings will still be in Taylor Center, the most peaceful and encouraging space I could find on campus. I know now how I could get more involved with SISE besides just having friends in that major. Maybe one day when I find my dream career in venture capital industry, I can proudly say that it was the conference and generous guidance from Taylor that let me in the door.