By Kimberly Preston
A 20-year old in a suit stands in front of his peers, radiating enthusiasm as he presents his business venture and how it will positively impact society. Dwayne Griffith, a Watson University student from St. Maarten, grew up noticing the xenophobia and intolerance around him and decided to do something about it. The source of this issue he says? Mainstream media.
“What mainstream media needs to do is stop obsessing over a single dominant perspective, and start to revel in the multiplicity of opinions,” he said. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have the solution. The solution is – HumaniTV.” His venture, which he describes as a next generation media company, is focused on tackling xenophobia and cultural intolerance by producing content that provides education and appreciation for the world’s many cultures.
As we all know, the world’s youth will carry us into the future, and be faced with dealing with the problems and challenges handed down to them. Luckily, there’s already a community of young people, with a strong entrepreneurial spirit, who are taking charge and working towards solving the problems they see. Last Friday, October 21, Impact Hub Boulder welcomed fellows from Young Leader of the Americas Initiative (YLAI) and students from Watson University as they shared their work and visions for the future.
YLAI was launched by President Obama to expand opportunities for young social entrepreneurs, ages 21 to 35, in Latin America and the Caribbean, to help them accelerate their ventures and be successful in their home countries. Candidates must have at least two years of entrepreneurial experience at a startup business or social venture, and if chosen, get to travel to the United States for the four-month program.
Watson University, located at Chautauqua Park in Boulder, is also focused on supporting and accelerating the work of young social entrepreneurs by offering students, ages 18 to 23, the opportunity to grow their ventures while also earning a degree. While some students attend for a semester long program, students can also choose a two-year track where they can earn a Bachelor’s of Science in Entrepreneurship with a focus in Social Change.
Jack Corbin, a 20-year old student at Watson University, says social entrepreneurship is simply what business is supposed to be. “A business should be solving someone’s problem, and I think a lot of times, we’ve gotten away from that in modern business practices.” Jack’s venture, Raydiate, is centered on improving solar power generation and technology that helps combat environmental factors that limit sun exposure to panels.
Violeta Martínez, a YLAI fellow from El Salvador, is the creator of a luxury leather accessory brand, VAIZA, that is meant to empower and support artisan communities in El Salvador. All of the products are handmade with local materials to support local economies, and the goal is to give artisans in impoverished areas the opportunity to have success in the international market.
Since she started the company, she said she has been able to see the improvements and recovery in the communities, and even seen how the business has allowed families to get their kids into school. Violeta started promoting the company on social media, and now ships pieces all over Latin America and to the United States. She was also the first Latin American woman to win the top award in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards and $20,000 for the company.
So what sets these young adults apart from the status quo and others their age? Some may think it’s their luck or hunger for success – but one thing that stands out is a perspective on failure that most people may not hold. “I would say failure is a really good thing,” said 21-year old Aidan Gold. “If you’re not failing it means your doing things you know you can succeed at and that you’re comfortable with doing. The most successful entrepreneurs in the world fail, and they’re learning and they’re doing things that have never been done before.” Aidan, a CU Boulder student, is a venture analyst at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, a lead organizer for Startup Weekend Boulder, and is also in the process of starting his own company.
Like Gold, Jack Corbin said that he looks at his failures as a learning tool instead of something negative, and admits he experienced failure in a certain situation when he decided he wasn’t “capable of pushing it through.” Looking back, he says he thinks he was wrong, and he could have made it work if he had been stubborn and kept working at it. “I think the really big failure there was that I gave up on myself. I don’t think there’s anything ultimately that you can’t do as long as you really are pushing it forward.”
These young adults have found value in surrounding themselves with likeminded people and say that some of the skills needed to be successful with their ventures can’t come from within a classroom. “There’s soft skills and hard skills. Entrepreneurship; so much of it is soft skills, and that’s developed through action, networking, and speaking with people,” said Ethan Levy, 22, a Watson University student and Tulane University graduate.
Although their skills and ideas may not come directly from a classroom, there’s still a range of resources available and ways to grow as a young entrepreneur. Danny Walsh, co-director at Spark Boulder and Watson University alum, said students should take advantage of their university’s venture accelerator programs and local co-working spaces as soon as possible, and surround “yourself with people on a similar journey. Otherwise, you might feel like you’re insane.”
What’s their advice for young social entrepreneurs? “Don’t settle. If you have an idea for a business in the way that you want it to help the world, don’t settle for something for something that’s going to make money and sell out on your own original plan,” said Walsh, who is also a Northeastern University graduate and is pursuing an MBA. “To be able to work on your own ideas is a privilege, and to sacrifice short-term career development for the potential of a much more impossible dream either makes us all self-deluded by our own confidence, or insane, or just exceptionally self-motivated, and I think most entrepreneurs need to be all three.”
So perhaps there is something dramatic that sets these young adults apart from their peers, but Ethan Levy said we shouldn’t over glorify the work and struggles of entrepreneurs that make up “more than just sexy quotes.”
The obstacles and lows may be unglamorous, but these young entrepreneurs seem to understand that it’s how one handles those struggles that really earn success. “You’re going to run into a lot of problems, and a lot of challenges, and a lot of things that are going to stress you out,” said Corbin. “Try to think of all of them as a challenge or a stress that you would have loved to have had six months ago. Because six months ago, think about how much worse those were than the ones you have now.”