Backwards approach to entrepreneurship

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In a recent campaign for youth entrepreneurship at the State House, I spoke briefly about what makes someone an entrepreneur. Lately, I’ve also been thinking a lot about how someone may discover that they are an entrepreneur. Entrepreneurial tendencies arise due to a number of factors. These include personality traits, economic climate, and the environment/culture around them.

I was raised in a fiscally-conservative family, where building a nest egg was a priority. When I had my first internship at Lockheed as a Graphics Illustrator at age 16, my mom had me put most of it in an IRA account. Whatever left over amount (beyond the maximum I could put in an IRA), well, my mom said I could do whatever I wanted with the money. I was 16….it was an internship….I think I had only enough left over to buy a cassette tape. (A cassette tape is something that had recorded music on, and you could pop it into your boombox or something). Needless to say, I took that conservative thinking with me through college. I studied Accounting, because no matter what industry is “hot” or “not hot”, there are always going to be jobs in the accounting field. You can be in Accounts Receivable to accountant to CFO, and anything in between. It was all about job security…and most likely at a large company. At my job interviews during my senior year, I’d ask about what their 401(k) programs were like. The recruiters used to chuckle, as they weren’t used to 21 year olds asking that question. My goal was to find a secure job in a large company…build up my retirement fund….and save enough money to buy a house and make other savvy investments.

In my early 20’s, I started to realize that large corporate environments weren’t for me, and I soon became restless. I didn’t know I was an entrepreneur at heart yet, so I kept working in baby steps towards figuring out what I got the most satisfaction out of. First, I was drawn to the chaos of smaller companies struggling to grow. Ok, I liked problem solving, and seeing that my analysis and execution could make an impact. That eventually evolved into my favorite coffee or dinnertime conversation with friends — “how would I fix this problem, what process would I do differently because I don’t think the existing one is very efficient”…to “wouldn’t it be cool if we created xyz, because it’s something we would totally want to use”. Eventually, I just did it. I first started a consulting company on the side 15 years ago while working at a corporate job full time. Then, in my late 20’s, I started a company full-time. Since then, I’ve started a number of other ventures, because I constantly have the same discussions (either in my head, or with other fellow entrepreneurs) as I did early on….I see a problem, and I cant help but dream up a million possible solutions.

But it was a slow self-discovery process for me. I had no entrepreneurial role models…I didn’t know what entrepreneurship was (in college, “mom and pop” types of pizza joints were examples of entrepreneurship was, and that wasn’t for me), so I kinda just stumbled across entrepreneurship. That’s why I started Youth CITIES in the first place….so that there could be examples and role models and real-life experiences for teens to explore the world of entrepreneurship. Some barely know what entrepreneurship is when they start our March-to-May bootcamp….others already know they are destined to become an entrepreneur.

I’ve been a mentor for MIT’s Venture Mentor Services for over 8 years now, and I learned of another way some people discover their inner entrepreneur — after they’ve tinkered with a technology. All of a sudden, it’s like “hey, I have a pretty cool product here. I wonder who else might want this?”….and the entrepreneurial journey begins. The reason this path to entrepreneurship isn’t my path is because I’m not a technologist. Sure, I love gadgets, and I consider myself an early adopter. But unlike my parents, who were computer scientists and engineers….and unlike the brilliant technologists and researchers at MIT, I’m not going to accidentally invent something while tinkering with technology. I see problems, and I try to find solutions. But many technologists end up creating a “solution” first, and try to find a target audience that has a problem.

Creating product first. It’s kinda backwards, but sometimes it works. And sometimes, inner-entrepreneurs are awakened that way. That’s the logic behind the “Tech Tinkering Track” for Youth CITIES. The plans are still in formation, but the idea is to create an environment for guided tinkering…whether it’s hardware, software, or simulation design in specific contexts. Since I’ve been in the videogame industry for 12 years, the initial Tech Tinkering Track will focus on making videogames. We’ll probably start small, and have the Track only be 6 weeks (once a week). I’m trying to figure out how to tailor this Track. I have access to amazing people to teach….and consistent with the Youth CITIES March-to-May bootcamp, it will be a different instructor each week…and all will be veterans in the field. But what I’m curious about is whether the students that sign up will be the ones who’ve been writing code since they were 8 years old……or will it be a mix of people who may play games and are interested in games, but may have never programmed before.

Over the next few weeks, I will be solidifying what the Video Game Tech Tinkering Track will be like. Ideas and wishlists are welcome.

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