When I entered the auditorium, the palpable feeling of ambition and passion were undeniable. It so filled the room that I couldn’t help but to stop and marvel at all the young, yet brilliant talent at every corner.
The Lulu eGames
has quickly become a hallmark for the young and vibrant NC State entrepreneurship community. Backed by the Entrepreneurship Initiative, which has grown to nearly 700 student members that span across colleges, the university has inspired students to believe, now more than ever, that they can be entrepreneurs and make a difference.
The afternoon started with the testimonies of three exceptional young entrepreneurs, all products of the Entrepreneurship Initiative. The panel consisted of Sharon Bui
, the co-president and marketing director of sorority fashion startup Frill LLC
, Tyler Confrey-Maloney
, CEO and co-founder of the maker of date rape preventing nail polish called Undercover Colors
, and David Shaner
, founder of Offline
, the app that helps people find things to do in their city.
As I begin to scribble down notes I can’t help but note the common thread between the group, the fact that each founded their companies while in school. That adds some gravity to all they've accomplished relatively quickly in their short careers. It also makes them new role models for the aspiring entrepreneurs at NC State—proof of the endless career possibilities when they step out on a limb and chase their dreams.
While there were many valuable takeaways from the panel, three points stuck out to me as valuable for both new and seasoned entrepreneurs.
Point 1#: It’s not where you start, but where you end up.
Frill and Offline never made it past the first round of the eGames. Both Sharon and David spoke on the effect that the failed experience had on the trajectory of their businesses. It not only motivated them to get better, but also helped to propel them forward. Sharon swiftly noted that, “It taught me to really know the ins and outs of my business.”
Pitching was a problem because her knowledge about her business was too limited. She learned to do her homework and so when EI helped to connect her with Forbes for a story, she was ready. It was at the moment that she realized that things had become “real”.
Frill eventually made it to Shark Tank
, where the lesson she learned from her failed pitch especially came in handy. She and co-founder Kate Steadman
confidently took the stage and earned a $100,000 investment from two sharks, Barbara Corcoran and Kevin O’Leary. Her big takeaway for the audience was to study, study, and do some more studying of their businesses and market opportunities. Know everything and even if you don’t, know where to find it quick.
David’s approach to his failure was much different in that it altered the way he saw opportunity. He noted, “There is no reason for you not to try. I mean, if you fail, what is the worst that can happen? You won’t die or anything.”
David stressed to the attendees to stop making excuses about “problems” but to go out and find the opportunities to fix them.
The pair may not have advance passed the first round of the eGames but they ended up using those quick exits as lessons to propel their businesses.
Point #2: Entrepreneurship is a mindset
As David’s five-minute pitch wrapped up it become abundantly clear that he was not going to mention anything about his company Offline, but what he did mention was far more valuable. His point was that “Entrepreneurship is a mindset.”
In a calm, yet calculated manner he spoke about the importance of your thoughts.
He didn't become an entrepreneur when he founded Offline—no one becomes an entrepreneur by founding anything. It is a continual motion of little steps upward that, at its pinnacle, equates to being an entrepreneur.
“In the same manner, I knew I was an engineer when my mother asked me to mow the lawn and I immediately started thinking about the most efficient ways to do it. It’s really about seeing solutions where others see problems," he said.
This point was later touched on by Tyler who said, “The day-to-day little things is how you can improve.”
Point #3: Know your Why
Tyler, reminiscently, explained to the audience that last year's eGames made a huge impact on his life. There have been struggles and hardships building a new company, and one of the biggest decisions he had to make along the way was turning down a full-time job to pursue Undercover Colors. When asked what keeps him going despite all of the struggles of the startup life, he answered without hesitation, “I had an engineering internship and it was awful. In a lot of ways, I was running as much away from that life as I was running towards entrepreneurship, but I love what I do. I get to spend time among friends and do work that I believe matters.”
He went on to say that it is about finding a path that you like, finding something that drives you and trusting that you will make it.
Tyler carefully noted at the end that knowing your why is critical to bringing you out of the deep depths of despair that tag along with the life of a startup.
This point was clearly displayed by two of the biggest winners in this year’s eGames, Bee Downtown, a Durham-based nonprofit that provides educational programming to promote urban beekeeping and community involvement within metropolitan areas and Royal Falcon Art, a startup that turns the reflections of everyday people into extraordinary three dimensional art. (Here's our preview story on the most interesting eGames competitors)
Bee Downtown won first place in the Design & Prototype Challenge as well as second place in the New Venture Challenge and Royal Falcon Art won a free one-year membership at HQ Raleigh as well as third place in the Arts Feasibility Challenge.
As the final claps rang throughout the auditorium I turned around and looked into the eyes of aspiring entrepreneurs around. There is an undeniable culture that has begun to form deep roots here. As I'm about to close my notebook I hear the words of keynote speaker Andy Albright, the co-founder and president of National Agents Alliance whose family name is on the Entrepreneurs Village on Centennial Campus.
“Take a good look at these folks because soon they are going to be something special. You’ll be able to say I knew them when they were nothing. I saw them before the became something, because I can promise you they will.”
Here's the full list of winners:
HQ Membership Winner:
1.) Royal Falcon Art 2.) Warpspec Diagnostic 3.) Awear headband 4.) Snap Pack
5.) Inventive Artist
1.) Bee Downtown
Judges choice: Split between all winners
Arts Feasibility Study
1.) Inventive Art
3.) Royal Falcon Art
Judges Choice: Brushwell & Minimail
Verizon Student Challenge
2.) Campus Tradition
3.) Walk Potato
Choice: All 4 participating companies got money
New Venture Challenge
1.) Warpspec Diagnostic
2.) Bee Downtown
3.) Purple Sticker
Judges Choice: Bee Downtown, Impact Tech, & Awear Headband