Top Five: Encouraging Student Entrepreneurship

This fall, the Lead365 Conference will be adding two sessions on student entrepreneurship to the lineup- check out our schedule for more details on this session. To prepare you for the idea of learning about entrepreneurial leadership, we talked to Northeastern University’s Lauren Landry about the value she sees in that sort of thinking and how you can encourage it in student leaders on your own campus.

Lauren Landry, NU Experiential and entrepreneurship mentor
Lauren Landry, NU Experiential and entrepreneurship mentor

What sorts of experiences did you have as student leaders that led you to want to continue working with college students?

When I was in college, I had the opportunity to work for the school’s first lifestyle magazine, initially as a writer and eventually as the managing editor. What made the experience so meaningful is that it became the place students could come to discover whether publishing was the right fit for them, and in what capacity. Did they start as a writer, but fall in love with design or sales? Or did they think they wanted to be an editor, but realized they’d miss writing their own stories?

The magazine served as a creative outlet for so many. It was also a place run on peer editing, meaning students were pushing each other to be better. Our goal was to create the same quality you could find on newsstands and, because of that, it took a lot of work. Students made the choice to spend their time outside of the classroom on the magazine, and that desire to be the best was inspirational. It’s easy to miss that collaborative environment and youthful energy, which is why I was thrilled to cover campus innovation for BostInno.

Given your background as a journalism student, where did the interest in student startup culture start for you, and what opportunities did you take to build it?

Admittedly, prior to taking my job at BostInno, I was a stranger to student startup culture. That said, I, like so many others, was unknowingly plugged into it all along. I was constantly logging on to Facebook, regularly sharing documents via Dropbox, or visiting SoWa on Sundays just for Roxy’s Grilled Cheese. When doing these things, I never thought, “These companies got their start in Boston-area dorm rooms.”

My position at BostInno granted me the opportunity to remind people of that. Even better, I got to put a spotlight on the dozens of other young entrepreneurs trying to make our world a better place, whether through the convenience of on-demand services or the democratization of education.

My initial goal was to simply educate readers on a growing culture I was surprised to know so little about—particularly as a former Boston college student. We launched the Campus Innovation Guide in mid-2012 to highlight the incredible work being done city-wide, as well as provide aspiring student entrepreneurs with the resources necessary to get their ideas off the ground. As luck has it, some of the stories populating that Guide happened to spark the interest of investors and customers, which proved to be a huge win for students and motivated me to wake up every morning.

Over time, I realized my role went far beyond sharing stories—it was making connections. I spent many inspiring nights sitting around tables with student leaders from around Greater Boston brainstorming and collaborating. When I met an entrepreneur I knew could benefit from the expertise of another, I would introduce the two, regardless of the schools they were studying at.

Achieving a vibrant startup community is impossible if everyone is operating in silos. A lot of progress has been made—student-run firms like Rough Draft Ventures and the Dorm Room Fund are great examples of that. More could always be done, however, to encourage students to break out of their campus bubbles.

As I’m sure you’ve seen, many institutions aren’t always ready to support entrepreneurship, instead preferring to steer students toward more traditional paths like corporate work, graduate school, or service. Why do you think that is? [what fears are tied up in it, what skills need to be developed, etc.]

If an entrepreneur is stumped on a problem, they will do whatever necessary to figure it out—often on their own. I think that scares some schools; they fear irrelevance. If an aspiring entrepreneur can learn something without attending class, why should students bother taking on the average $30,000 in student loan debt? After all, we live in a world where students are being paid $100,000 to drop out.

That said, the best schools are making entrepreneurship a part of their fabric. I’m admittedly biased, because I currently work at Northeastern University, but the school’s Center for Entrepreneurship Education has done an amazing job connecting what students are learning inside the classroom to what they are building outside of it, using three simple words: “Educate,” “Incubate,” and “Launch.” They assist students at every point of their startup journey—from fleshing out that initial idea to bringing their concept to market.

More schools should be supporting student entrepreneurs and celebrating innovation.

 

Now I want to get to our Top Five, in which you pose five points or tips for those looking to create a more inclusive and fruitful leadership experience for students who want to create a lasting impact through building a company or solving a problem.

Point/Tip One: Give students the room to innovate.

There is no better time to start a company than in college, when students have a built-in safety net and don’t have to worry about how they will cover rent or additional living expenses. Acknowledge that and encourage entrepreneurship. It’s hard to believe that, at one point, students at Harvard were forbade from running businesses out of their dorm room. Ensure you are not killing the next Facebook by giving students the room to innovate.

Point/Tip Two:  Create a safe space for students to innovate.

Part of giving students the room to innovate requires they have a safe space to do so. This doesn’t require a state-of-the-art facility—it’s unrealistic to say every college or university can afford to create an Innovation Lab. That said, schools can provide a variety of resources dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship. Is there a spare classroom that could be turned into a makeshift co-working space, or faculty available to walk students through their business plan? Are you bringing outside speakers in, perhaps successful alumni, who can inspire students to take that leap or offer mentorship? There are a lot of little things colleges can do that make a big impact.

Point/Tip Three: Celebrate the wins through more than business plan competitions.
Business plan competitions are a great place to start—students should be recognized and monetarily rewarded for their hard work. But business plan competitions shouldn’t be the only way entrepreneurs are supported. Additional programming should be integrated throughout the academic year, whether that be hack nights, networking opportunities, or speaker series. Entrepreneurship doesn’t happen in a vacuum during the spring semester; your programming should reflect that.

Point/Tip Four: Help connect student entrepreneurs to the greater community.

For students in Boston, there are dozens of ways for students to plug into the greater startup scene. Help students discover those opportunities. Too often, we complain about a “brain drain”—students coming to school here, acquiring knowledge, and then leaving immediately after graduation. A way to prevent that is by helping young entrepreneurs build a network too valuable to leave. Companies in this area are committed to giving them a reason to want to call Boston home. Tell them about ventures in your area like Rough Draft Ventures and the Dorm Room Fund, introduce them to accelerators like Techstars and MassChallenge, or bring them with you to events like TUGG’s Tech Gives Back or the New England Venture Capital Association’s NEVY Awards. They will thank you for it.

Point/Tip Five: Build a strong, encouraging alumni network.

One of the best ways to inspire student entrepreneurs is by introducing them to someone who’s experienced what they have. Start building a strong alumni network early—one that’s able to support like-minded entrepreneurs post-graduation if your school might not have the resources to do so. Alumni want to get involved. A prime example of that is the Soaring Startup Circle, a summer accelerator program started by Boston College alumni for Boston College students. Encourage initiatives like this, and provide students with the confidence that their support won’t run out immediately after commencement.

 

If you had to distill all of this into one suggestion for professionals seeking to create a more inclusive environment for creating an environment where potential student startups and their founders can thrive, what would you suggest?

It’s simple: Celebrate entrepreneurship. Create an environment that encourages students to want to take that leap of faith. As President Obama said in July at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit:

Everywhere I go, across the United States and around the world, I hear from people, but especially young people, who are ready to start something of their own—to lift up people’s lives and shape their own destinies. And that’s entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship creates new jobs and new businesses, new ways to deliver basic services, new ways of seeing the world—it’s the spark of prosperity. It helps citizens stand up for their rights and push back against corruption.  Entrepreneurship offers a positive alternative to the ideologies of violence and division that can all too often fill the void when young people don’t see a future for themselves.  

Provide students that future.

Advertisements

The Value of a Helping Hand

“Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, you’ll find one at the end of your arm. As you grow older you will discover that you have two hands. One for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”

-Audrey Hepburn

Community service has always been a huge part of my life. I think I learned it from my mom. She was always the classroom parent, or volunteering at various events my school put on. No matter how busy my three older siblings and I kept her, she always made time to give back to others in the community. So when I got to high school and our community service requirement was only 60 hours for the whole four years, I thought, “That’s it?”

Yes, high school was a busy time for all of us. The coursework was the heaviest we had seen to date, and you might have been involved in extracurriculars because you had to impress colleges, but we really weren’t that busy. Surely the kids in my high school had more than 15 spare hours every year to help others. 60 seemed like a dismal number. How were we supposed to make a difference with only 60 hours?

I find a lot of people that begin volunteering start out with the mentality that I had in high school. You sign up to volunteer somewhere and you think to yourself, “Yes! I’m going to make such a huge difference and impact so many lives!” And that’s great if that’s your goal! But no one can change the world in an afternoon. And a lot of times, when you sign up to volunteer at an organization, you’re never doing exactly what you think you signed up for.

Over the course of 7 years I’ve probably clocked in nearly 1,000 service hours at over 100 different organizations. And at every service event I see the same person. This person typically doesn’t volunteer often, and they are always shocked and disappointed by the tasks assigned to us. I’ve been to organizations that only wanted me and the other volunteers to organize their back storage room, and others where I was told to just stand at the entrance and greet guests. Not the kinds of tasks you’d expect at an organization that provides resources for babies born into poverty, and a food bank. And this person is upset that they don’t get to interact with the people they’re helping.

In volunteering, it’s not always about the clients. A lot of the times it is, but sometimes it’s just about the organization. And you know what? I’ve never seen anyone more grateful for my help than the woman that asked us to organize her storage room. Because the room was neat and easily navigable, she informed us that we just increased the efficacy of their program by a lot. No longer will clients have to sit and wait while a staff member does their best to be quick while retrieving something from that room. Now, it takes that staff member a matter of seconds. And the man that asked me to greet the guests at his food bank, informed me that his clients shouldn’t feel ashamed for needing help. So when they have the door opened for them by someone with a smile, it completely sets the tone for their experience.

It’s important to remember that when you volunteer, you’re often working with nonprofit organizations. They don’t have the time or the funds to pay someone overtime to organize a room. And they also can’t afford to have their staff greeting guests when they need them in the back handing out food. When someone comes along to do it, it’s a huge help whether it seems that way to you or not. So to that person, you might not have made an enriching connection with someone that the organization benefits, but you did help change at least one person’s life, even if it is just the director and their staff.

I was naive to think that 60 hours wasn’t enough. That was more than enough. Because the reality in the volunteering world, is that one hour cleaning out a room or greeting people can make all the difference.

Akyanna’s Leadership Spotlight: Leading Like Leslie

If I were to compare my time as President of OUTspoken (my alma mater’s LGBTQA+ organization), I would compare it to Leslie Knope’s time as Deputy Director of the Pawnee Department of Parks and Recreation. If you’re familiar with the show Parks and Recreation, you will find that Leslie Knope is very passionate about her job. She loves everything to do with the Parks and Rec department and she clearly enjoys her job. I envisioned myself to be the Leslie Knope of OUTspoken for a few reasons.

The first reason is that that it was an organization with a mission that I was very enthusiastic about. I wanted to be a resource for education for the LGBTQA+ community. Even though Leslie held the position of Deputy Director, she was very much the spokesperson for the whole department. People knew that she would fight for the town of Pawnee and its parks. I liked to think that in my time as Secretary of OUTspoken during my Sophomore year, I was viewed as the same way.

Towards the end of the series, Leslie gets promoted to chair of a branch of the National Parks service, pretty much the pinnacle position you could get being in the Parks Department. When I moved from secretary to president at the end of my Sophomore year, I felt that I had reached a point where I could truly make a difference.

Like Leslie Knope, I was passionate about one thing and decided to immerse myself as much as I could in it. I worked with my executive board to reach out different people in other organizations and in other departments around campus to get the OUTspoken’s name out there. Leslie Knope did everything in her power to make sure the citizens of Pawnee knew that the Parks and Rec department cared and wanted to make the town parks better for the children of Pawnee.

Being President of OUTspoken taught me so many things. It taught me how to communicate with other people; both people who were on the same level as me and people who were in positions higher than me. It taught me how to work with different people in different positions; some people who did their work well without any direction (ahem, Jerry) and some who needed a little more guidance with their job and what they needed to do (read: Tom Haverford). But regardless, being a part of OUTspoken was such a great part of my undergraduate career. Being my first leadership role, it gave me my first steps with getting more involved on campus. It will always be the example I give to other students who are having trouble fitting in on campus.

One quote from Leslie that I always enjoyed and I think people should keep in mind is: “I am big enough to admit that I am often inspired by myself.” I think we should all be inspired by the work that we do and where we have started to where we are today.

Loss, Grief, & Stress – It Will Get Better!

As a leader, not to mention just as a human being, we are all going to experience loss throughout our lives. Loss can be anything from a favorite pen to a loved one passing away. My Dad passed away from lung cancer four years ago when I was 22 he was 44. The purpose of this post is to share some of the tools I have learned for dealing with loss, though I am by no means an expert.

Toolkit Item #1 – What You Are Feeling Is Real

Even though it may sound kind of obvious the sadness, anger, guilt, and fear we fill when we experience loss is important for us to examine so that we can heal. Unfortunately, one of the most common ways of dealing with grief is to not deal with it at all, which causes problems for us later. These feelings are real and it is important to express them in healthy ways. Just a few healthy ways include crying, laughing, writing, talking, and praying.

Toolkit Item #2 – Find Your Support System and Use It

Hopefully, at this point in your leadership development, you have a healthy support system around you to help you cope with problems. These are the people in your life that help you deal with issues at work, school, with significant others, and with friends. For some reason, after we have experienced a loss we tend to forget we have our support system ready to help us or we are not comfortable talking to them about our feelings surrounding the loss we have suffered. The same people you talk to about job and relationship issues are the same people who can lend an ear in times of loss and grief as well.

Another great support system to gain is to see a counselor (if you’re comfortable) for a period of time to help you deal with some of the thoughts and feelings surrounding loss. Dealing with grief is a big deal and having an objective person to help you can really be an asset. As leaders we do so much to help others. Counseling is a way to help yourself so that you, as a leader, can continue to help others.

Toolkit Item #3 – It Always Ends Up Better to Do Than Not to Do

Have you ever had the experience of wanting to be left alone when you are with a bunch of people or wanting to be around people when you are alone? This experience can be magnified quite a bit when we experience loss. There are certainly times when, even without a major loss, we just want to lay in bed and do absolutely nothing. I have always found though, especially after a loss, that I always felt better when I got out of bed and did something than when I just stayed at home.

Toolkit Item #4 – Make New Traditions

One of the hardest parts of dealing with a loss is no longer being able to do the same traditions because of the loss. Make new traditions to honor the old memories and make new ones with the people you care about. It isn’t inappropriate to say to people you care about, “we always used to do this, what can we do now together”. New traditions will allow you to have new enjoyable experiences while keeping memories alive.

Toolkit Item #5 – Make A Plan

Loss is going to change your priorities at least for the very short term if not for the long term. This is a great opportunity to reexamine what is currently on your plate and to be conscious in letting others know what you can and cannot continue doing. Most of the things that are going to be changed will be short term. For example, missing a few days of work, class, extra-curricular activities to take care of yourself. The planning part of this is extremely important because effective leaders work hard to plan so that even when small or large changes need to be made they can make others aware of it to ease transitions.

Lastly, not a tool but more of a truth: things are going to get better. Things will never get better fast enough and they will not be the same but they will get better.

If you have questions or would like some more tips/thoughts about dealing with loss please donot hesitate to contact me.

David Dodge
daviddodge2013@gmail.com

Mike’s Leadership Spotlight: Fighting Apathy as an Ambassador

Part of being a student leader is just that- a student leader. You’re a temporary fixture in an institution that survived before you got there and will last after you leave your schooling and head to the real world. The good news is, as a student leader, your presence can be immortalized on campus for years to come after you depart for the next chapter. Jack Welch once said, “Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you before a leader, success is about growing others.”

This is something I have taken to heart. The role that has the biggest impact on me being a student leader on campus has been being a student ambassador (tour guide). For me, this is the pinnacle of being a student leader; this is because I get to put Jack Welch’s words into something tangible. Showing prospective students around, hearing their stories and what drives them, whether it be student government, social justice or cultural understanding. I know if my school is a good fit for them and, if so, give them the opportunity to be a student leader by introducing them to current students and professors in those organizations, share their passions and get involved.

281550_10151297466175856_305435827_n

All the time we hear about apathy in new students when they come to university. As an ambassador for my institution, I get to be on the forefront of fighting that generalization and making a difference in the future of my school. This is why I think being a student ambassador is the most important leadership position I’ve held at my school. Not only will I be able to take pride in all the things that I have personally done to help make my school a better place, I will also get to take pride in the student leaders who I helped make that decision to come to our school and make a difference as a student leader. This is how I see myself leaving a permanent mark at my school and why being a student ambassador is by far the most rewarding opportunity that I have been a part of.

Brooke’s Leadership Spotlight: Learning to Lead with APO

When I got to college, I didn’t know who I was going to be or what I was going to do. I had a major in mind, but I wasn’t exactly sure if I was in love with it. And I knew I should probably join some type of student organization, but I had no idea which one out of the hundreds on my campus. So, like every freshman at BU, I went to SPLASH, a huge carnival type deal before the beginning of school where every on-campus student organization had a booth. I figured I could easily find something there; I was right. But I found so many things I was interested in that by the time I put everything into my calendar, I realized that there was no feasible way for me to be a part of 17 (yes, 17!) organizations. Plus, like my major, I wasn’t really in love with any of them. They all just seemed kind of interesting to me.

Thankfully, later that week, I got a text from a sophomore I met when I was moving in. It was a reminder to go to her organization’s info session. At the time, I didn’t realize how important that text would be. Because of that reminder, I was introduced to what I’m confident is the greatest group of individuals I will ever meet: my brothers in Alpha Phi Omega.

brooke apo 3
Various Members of Alpha Phi Omega Zeta Upsilon Chapter, Spring 2015

Alpha Phi Omega is a national community service fraternity. The 400,000+ brothers in the United States all embrace the cardinal principles leadership, friendship, and service in day-to-day life. Our greatest means of demonstrating these principles is providing service to our chapters, campuses, communities, and country.

I went through my pledging process with ease, and I was so eager to spend the next three and a half years with these wonderful people that all shared my passion for community service. By the end of my first semester, I was so excited to get more involved that I ran for the executive leadership board, despite only being a freshman. And somehow, my fraternity had the confidence in me and my “big” to elect us Pledgemasters for the following semester.

Unfortunately, it did not occur to me that being on the leadership board would be a lot of time and a lot of work. I was a leader in my chapter and I admittedly did not take it seriously. I was in way over my head. I had only been an actual brother for about two months, and I had little to no idea of how my organization operated. It was a really difficult semester because I was excited about how much fun being Pledgemaster would be, instead of being focused on completing all of the tasks that come with the job. Needless to say, I dropped the ball on a lot of things. Despite my mistakes and slip-ups, my pledges, co-Pledgemaster and I all made it through the semester.

brooke apo 1
Me, and my co-Pledgemaster, Morgan Fleming

After that rocky introduction to being a brother in Alpha Phi Omega, I decided I wouldn’t run for a new board role until I knew that I could truly handle it. And even though I wouldn’t be looked to as a leader if I wasn’t on the board, that didn’t mean I couldn’t be an exemplary brother. So I set out to be just that. In the past few years I have gone above and beyond all of my requirements, studied and memorized my chapter’s bylaws and operations, and have been an active participant in everything from weekly meetings to events that my chapter puts on. And through all of that hard work, I am looked to as a quasi-leader in my fraternity.

This past semester I decided that I was finally ready to truly dedicate my time and efforts as an executive board member. So I ran for President, and I was elected. The coming semester hasn’t even started yet, and it’s already been a tough job. But I’m excited about the opportunity because now, I truly understand what it means to be a leader.

In the past three years I’ve learned a lot about leadership. Much of that is from my fraternity because leadership is one of our three cardinal principles, and we actually take leadership courses. But I’ve also learned a lot about leadership by watching my brothers interact with one another, and through my own actions. No one has to elect you to office for you to be a leader. If you truly want to be a leader, you’ll be one.
If you think you’d be interested in becoming a brother in Alpha Phi Omega, or simply want to learn more about the organization, check here to see if your college has a chapter! And if it doesn’t, start your own!

Transformational Leadership in The November Project

Transformational Leadership has five behaviors: challenging the process, inspiring a shared vision, enabling others to act, modeling the way, and encouraging the heart. I don’t know if Bojan Mandaric and Brogan Graham knew about these behaviors when they started November Project (NP) but they use each one to lead. As I related each behavior to NP, it clicked in my brain why the movement has been so successful and why I felt so empowered after each and every workout.

Okay, let me back up- many of you are probably asking, “What in the world is November Project?” It’s a  free fitness community that started in Boston and has spread to 21 cities in the United States and Canada. For more context check out their website: http://november-project.com/

From day one November Project has been cultivating and inspiring a shared vision. The vision is simple: a free fitness community for all fitness levels. The workouts are fierce, fun, and inclusive. This vision is known and consistently repeated by leaders and members a like.

The leaders of November Projects are able to keep the workouts fun and fierce by challenging the process. They challenge the notion that hard workouts are all work and no play. I’ve jumped over trashcans and wheelbarrow-raced, all in the name of free fitness. Not every experiment is a success but the leaders know how to shake things up which makes members hungry for more free fitness weirdness.

And it is the members that the NP leaders are focused on. It’s not just about free fitness, it’s about a free fitness community. They enable others to act by fostering self-development with their focus on tracking times and celebrating improvement.

All November Project leaders have to be some of the fastest and fittest in the tribe. Not to be exclusionary, but so that they can lead by example. These workouts are tough and the best way to lead is to show everyone how it’s done. The leaders don’t just model the way at workouts either, they talk about their racing gains and show how their hard work is paying off.

The number one behavior seen at NP workouts is encouraging the heart. All workouts start with hugs and telling each other “I’m glad you’re here”. Leaders cheer on the fast members and are often seen jogging along with the slower ones or chatting with those who are struggling.There is just so much love pouring out from the community because of how much heart the leaders put into every workout.

Transformational leadership takes in the individual needs of followers and inspires them toward a particular purpose. That is exactly what November Project does and will continue to do. Give people who need a community a place to grow while becoming fitter, happier humans. It’s a style that empowers members to do their best, be their best, and support each other. And isn’t that what all leaders want from their followers?