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Nervous. Ecstatic. At the brink of a major change.
When I was going through my day on Tuesday, November 8th, all these feelings were circulating through my mind. Just a few weeks before, I had planted the thought that I wanted to try out an “idea seed” at Women In Entrepreneurship’s first pitch competition, WE Innovate. It wasn’t until I told the rest of the WE-board and those in my cohort that I started to put in motion.
Throwing my idea out there and giving it to others made it more than just a thought. It made it more tangible and a concept that others could hold me accountable to following through on. While I thought putting my business idea out there and my goals would be the scariest moment, I was pleasantly surprised that my friends, mentors, and peers had good feedback. More than anything, they saw the potential in it and they saw the potential in myself. They could tell it was an idea I was invested in and aligned with my interests. They could tell that my idea wasn’t completely driven by a desire to make money. I believe businesses that start with making money as the only goal don’t make it past the test of dedication that inevitably happens to every business.
Through the process of applying, I was asked crucial questions that began to evaluate what the motivation and goals of my business were. Questions included:
Why are you pursuing this idea? What excites you about it?
Tell us in less than 10 words how your product would impact or affect your customers
If you were given $3,000 to spend on your idea/ company, how would you use it?
My idea started to become a business when I started thinking through these questions and evaluating how I could make it happen. Upon getting accepted into the pitch competition, the next step was in presenting my idea. I had to share the idea in a succinct way to a room full of people who don’t really know me or my background. YIKES! I know I wasn’t the only one experiencing this feeling either. Luckily, W.E. knew that too. All the pitchers met the Thursday before the pitch to go through what makes a pitch successful and how to showcase all the important pieces of our businesses. Led by an entrepreneur with quite a bit pitching experience, W.E. President, Zoe Zappitell, had us all go through our rough drafts and give and receive feedback on our content. While the advice was helpful, I got more out of the experience of being in the room with my competition and realizing that regardless of the outcome of the pitch, we are supportive of each other’s efforts.
The morning of the pitch competition, I realized I no longer felt the coldness of competition dividing us but instead the feeling of encouragement. We were all getting ourselves outside of our comfort zones and sharing our businesses with a larger audience. I woke up that morning knowing that, regardless of the outcome, each of us would be motivated forward by the experience of this competition. It would change each of us to continue working. It would prove how much passion we had for our ideas.
And that passion is what showed in our presentations.
I was beyond nervous upon arriving to Dublin at 6:30. I felt a bit unprepared. I was shaking with so many emotions. I couldn’t stop talking one minute and then would sit down and get so micro-focused on a single thought. I didn’t feel myself because I had never been in this sort of setting before. No matter how many times I had given a presentation or danced on a stage, this experience of displaying my plans for a business idea against a panel of judges who had so much more experience than myself freaked me out. But, I got up there and took a breath. And I shared my passion with them.
Upon finishing my pitch, a huge weight was off my shoulders. In the in-between time while the judges were deciding on the winners, I was approached by friends and peers who mentioned the confidence they saw from me. I couldn’t help but laugh because I was definitely faking it while having ‘nervous knees’. When the judges came, among all the competitors, we were just proud of each other for getting this far and chasing after what we wanted to do.
I was captivated when I got called up for 2nd place. As all the pictures after the announcement show, I was part shocked and part enthusiastically charged. I went to bed that night knowing that this was the start of a journey. I am psyched, nervous, and unsure all at the same time, but I’m moving forward to get my idea rolling. I came away that night seeing that someone believed in me, but ultimately realized that this was my time to get to work.
I have the funds to get started, but I am about to face so many more challenges on this entrepreneurial road. However, I've got the support of a community behind me and a fire within myself to get going. This was only the beginning of a chapter. The rest is being written each day.
Women In Entrepreneurship got the opportunity to chat with Carrie Dorr over lunch at the Kellogg Center on Friday, October 28th. Carrie opened up about her journey through teenage years and now into her entrepreneurial years. After graduation from MSU in 1996, Carrie decided to pursue a law degree and was an attorney for two years until she decided to completely follow her passion.
Every since she was little, Carrie had a passion for dance and choreography. This translated into teaching exercise classes on campus at MSU and incorporating her own style into her classes. Always maintaining a healthy lifestyle, Dorr found she had a huge potential to create her own exercise classes of barre and pilates. She began a small studio in 2001 in Detroit and really came in at a time when no one knew what pilates and barre was. She jokes that people would pronounce them “pilots” and “barring”.
Zooming forward a few years, Carrie was continuing to push on with the business despite several setbacks from fellow instructors leaving and lawsuits on brand location limits. For several years, Pure Barre was her life and caused her to travel all over the states. Trying to open different locations, Dorr finally starting franchising Pure Barre in 2009 that took a half year to complete. With nearly 400 current locations, Carrie saw as it was growing the power of word of mouth in creating the communities around Pure Barre. We talked a lot about the importance of novelty in a business’ fitness technique but also not unreasonably priced because you want to appeal to a variety of people. We spoke about the difficulties of the current trend in which everyone wants variety in their fitness routines that they aren’t loyal to one style of workouts. Carrie spoke about her current work and how Pure Barre has been doing since she handed things off in late December 2014. She passed off the business to get back into the creative side of things she loved since the beginning of the business. Carrie described the transition as difficult but she is still involved in the things she loves. Since then, she has founded the Soul Day Foundation, SOUL TOTE, and just recently launched her own blog called LIFE SMART.
One of the biggest discussions we spoke about was the importance of fighting and being tenacious. Carrie told countless stories of how people were trying to take her down along with all her business ideas and she continued to fight back. She described how her entrepreneurial journey wasn’t all that intimidating at first because she had been on her own since teenage years. She jumped right into the business opportunity after paying off student loans and had no expectations Pure Barre would turn into the franchise it is today. The word expectations was a theme among our conversations because the truth about owning your own business and most of life is that you don’t know how everything is going to work out. Carrie found love while she was least expecting it out in Denver and it really changed her course of action for her career. While you can spend so much time planning out the fine details, there is a peace knowing that things have a funny way of working out in the end.
To put it simply, Gina Rizzi is changing the world positively. Starting from the small, farm town of Ortonville that she loved so much, Rizzi had her first job cleaning the famous dairy farm’s trucks of manure. In the midst of a tough and rather stinky job, she says “it was a really good experience learning what I didn’t want to do the rest of my life.” Flashing forward, Rizzi graduated from Michigan State University in 1995 as an Advertising major. While there, she worked at the State news selling retail advertising space which gave her very “hands on experience” that got her thinking about what she wanted to do with her career.
She noticed among her peers, most Advertising students wanted to work for an ad agency, but Gina had seen the possibility in opening her own company down the road and kept her sights on that. She started her 14 year long road trip to entrepreneurship at 3M where she went through a 2 year long training period before being hired full time. Not long after, AVIS Rent a Car gave her the call to bring her into sales and business development in AZ and then promotion led to the move to Chicago. She recalled that this transition time in her life was when she was working until 10pm most nights and was really intrigued in the business. All the while, she began training for a marathon of which changed her perspective.
Rizzi told a story from her training days while out on a 16 mile run. She recalled a run when she was absolutely miserable and wanted to quit. By setting little goals along the way, “I’m going to make it to this point up there,” she realized that even though no one was around to praise her for her hard work, she found the motivation from within to push through a breakthrough moment like that. A big contributor to her drive to complete the marathon was that she was running on behalf of children who were abused and neglected and having already been connected with a child and having their name on a bracelet gave her the reason to keep going. Today, she felt that moment looking down at the child’s name and digging up the courage to finish the fight on that run was a pivotal moment in her life.
“When you really feel like you can’t keep going, you can. You got to.”
Gina wanted to continue her education while still pursuing her career and went to graduate school at the Notre Dame extension in Chicago all while pushing her career to the next level. Shortly after beginning grad school, she developed an ear disorder called cholesteatoma. After surgery, she was left with only approximately 30% hearing in one ear. It was another time when she realized more of an understanding of others and sought to let this influence her entrepreneurial journey. She spoke about the importance of “weaving everything together” that you like. She realized there is a way to perform in business and help others at the same time.
Gina also spoke about a very humbling experience for her when put into a situation looking at a promotion for AVIS. Arriving to Rhode Island in short notice, she was faced with one of the most positive moments in her career: being surrounded by 12 men and her, she was put in charge of creating a whole new business unit. Among the men, she got paired up with Roger Penske to work together in planning and monitoring performance of the new sector. This was Gina’s moment to really try out her business model development skills and she wasn’t afraid to put things the way she liked it. While she loved learning the operations side of the business, working with charities and communities, when the big recession hit, Gina was put in a situation of a promotion. But, she ended up turning it down.
It was at this time that Gina evaluated if she really wanted to finally form her own business, she needed to invest in herself now. She says the best question she continued to ask herself was “If I was given a million dollars, would I bet a million dollars on myself or on a fortune 500 company that just laid off a bunch of people?” She was determined that she could do it from here and started up ARCUS Marketing Group.
Rizzi left WE with several pieces of advice that involve being supportive of ourselves and each other:
LinkedIn and being consistent in reaching out to someone that she hasn’t talked to in a while at least once a week.
Living in a business world mainly “run by men”
Data and confidence will be essential in showing your tough skin and knowledge undoubtedly.
You must love what you do.
Working weekends and evenings as an entrepreneur isn’t just expected, but is the proof that you love the work you are facing. Work must be fulfilling but also give you the space to balance physical health and time with others.
The “What If?s” are always going to be there.
You can spend a great deal of time reflecting on how things might have gone if you had taken one path vs the other, but in the end, you are where you are today because of every decision you made before. Don’t keep looking back on what could’ve been and continue to work towards where you want to go.
Mentors and inspiration feed much of what entrepreneurs do.
Every entrepreneur has a story of someone they looked up to that inspired them to take on their own business. For Gina, her mom was both as she became an entrepreneur of a tutoring center in the midst of a divorce, while working two jobs, and attending school to receive a teaching degree.
It’s better to lift each other up.
So often, women especially are seen to undermine one another in order to compete. Truthfully, we’re going to do better if we give credit to the right people and realize there is room for all of us to chase our dreams. Let’s work at supporting each other.
Find the intersection.
Think about what makes you most happy- doesn’t have to be work- and about ways you can intersect and bring your passions together. Get creative and push the boundaries.
Take your vacation time away from your worries.
Make sure some of the much needed time off you get every so often is spent away from worry also. Often times, freeing your mind allows things to flow into the right place on their own.
Women In Entrepreneurship kicked off the new fall semester with a previous MSU Alumni, Ari Washington, on Monday, September 19th in the Hatch. WE all came with loads of questions for Ari about her experience starting a Public Relations firm representing over a dozen professional athletes, called Double Coverage Group, right out of college. In addition, she recently opened her own boutique called Soñador Boutique in Chicago. There was no doubt that Ari had a lot of experience to share with the round table and everyone came with many questions to ask. Here are some of her answers!
What did you do in your undergraduate years at MSU that led you to your interests today?
Coming in wanting to do journalism, Ari switched into Communications soon and then her interests shifted to PR after doing a few internships, especially with the Miami Heat. Also, she has always loved fashion and already had the clientele to open up the men’s and women’s boutique in 2014. “It just made sense,” she said.
What’s it like being a woman in the sports industry?
She told stories of how lots of people often don’t give her respect when doing business because “they don’t think you’re going to speak up” when needed. It’s a shame that she still experiences some doubtful businesspeople, but she told us some stories of how she has kicked the disrespectful assuming people into breaking their stereotype of women in business. “Now that I’ve been in it a few years, I feel I have earned the respect of typical people.” There is a need to be a bit mean to earn respect in the male dominated place, so “stand up for your ideas and stay true to yourself!”
Got any advice for us undergraduates on career and beyond college?
“Think about the entry level job of the career rather than just the end job that you want.” She came in thinking she wanted to do broadcast journalism and realized that she wasn’t in love with the entry level jobs before she could make it to the big job and that caused her to rethink careers. “Get some experience in what you think you want to do.” Ari got to intern with the Men’s Basketball team as Student Secretary which led to more internships and the desire to keep working in that industry.
What was it like starting your own business out of college?
Coming from a family where both parents were entrepreneurs, Ari wasn’t wanting to be an entrepreneur after seeing how much they were always working and traveling. Nonetheless, she joked “but it felt like it was in my blood.” She was honestly “thrown into the fire” left to figure it out as she went, but she says “the leap of faith to go on my own was worth it knowing that I would be doing all the work and get paid for all of it rather than giving a percentage back to the firm.” Starting with just the money from graduation, the timing was pinnacle as she got her first client during spring break of her senior year and the client took a chance with her too. They are still working together today.
Networking Tips/ Advice on Personal Brand?
“Having the right connections are what gave me the confidence to start!” Also, PR is often just based on word of mouth from current clients, so it was necessary she represented herself positively. Also, “You are always on the clock as an entrepreneur, you got to be conscious of owning your brand.”
Do you have a mentor? Are you finding yourself in a mentor position now?
Other agents were often her mentors to ask for advice when first starting. But, she found out most of what she knows by experimenting and learning from failures. As she brought along interns, she feels she is “definitely in a mentor position now because I didn’t have much mentoring in my beginning steps”.
Biggest challenge you’ve faced in your entrepreneurial path?
“Getting paid!” because when starting from the ground, she was continuing to put everything she made into growing her business. This side of entrepreneurship is often overlooked, but Ari gave us a perspective of how her firm took a while to reach the success it currently has.
What is your average day like? How do you balance work and other parts of your life?
“My average day starts at waking up at 6:30, getting into the office by 9:30am and checking emails, pitching ideas- there is always something coming up.” She de-stresses often by working out, yoga, and red wine which we could all relate to. Also, Ari spoke on the importance of having good friends surrounding you that are supportive of what you do because you have to dedicate so much of your time as an entrepreneur to creating and improving your idea.
What’s next for you?
“I’m currently enjoying where I am,” Ari says, which is something that surprised us because we always see entrepreneurs as working adamantly towards the next big idea. Ari said she has a dream job to work for an individual team and be the head of PR for the whole team.
She left us on this note of advice:
“Be careful who you share your dreams with because they might make it into their own. Just do what you are doing and continue to work hard on those dreams.”
And that is exactly what we are doing.
Coming from our own university, Tyler Oakley came back on February 17th to do a presentation and a question-and-answer session with the audience at Pasant Theatre at the Wharton Center for Performing Arts. As a segment to Innovate State’s lineup of speakers, students have been able to connect with professionals looking into entrepreneurship and innovation. A key part of Tyler’s talk was about his journey that began with vlogging in his dorm room as a freshmen to share his experiences with friends easier and not caring what others on the internet thought. He had no idea he would turn into the YouTuber he became upon graduation.
Tyler’s main presence on the internet is an LGBT vlogger to connect with his viewers in funny and sometimes serious ways to show them support and encouragement to be themselves. Graduating for the College of Communication Arts and Sciences, Tyler had lots of experiences in the field over summer internships and shared how he made his own path after graduation. He brought out his best friend Korey Kuhl, who he met at MSU, to host the talk show together.
4 Stories Tyler Told Us:
It’s All About The Details
Tyler highlighted how he was invited to the White House to speak with Michelle Obama recently and talked for at least 5 minutes about how he forgot a hat to put the questions in so he got a basket for the interview. Only, the basket was not approved to be in the video by the white house security guards a the time so the basket had to be put off the camera as to not upset anyone. Tyler said how much he was freaking out about the basket being an issue that it made meeting Michelle Obama not as scary as her security guards.
Sometimes You Gotta Pick Up and Leave
Tyler headed off to California shortly after graduating from his undergraduate. Coming from Jackson, MI and attending MSU just a short distance away, it was a big and scary move for himself. He talked about his first visits with Corey to San Francisco during Spring Break of Senior Year and trying to find a condo and just being shocked at the prices. But, nonetheless, he made the move and found work shortly after.
The Key to Winning is To Start
Through the Q and A session, Tyler actually picked up one of my questions that said “I want to become a YouTuber, where do I start?” And to this, he just said “Get going.” He emphasized how the only way you can improve and get better at your craft is to practice and just get started. It is important to not care much about what others think and just do what you enjoy.
While much of his stories seemed like tangents and rants, he really made an impact on the audience because we build up YouTubers to be celebrities in our minds because we love what they do. They help out so many people and we sometimes just feel like we are just one fan in millions. And while this is true, he also showed that he is a normal person too and he followed his passion. At just 25 years old, he is touching so many kids and young adults lives through his positive, funny, and honest personality that he gets to share each week online.
On Wednesday, February 10th, Andrew Norman returned back to East Lansing with his wife, Angie, to talk about how his journalism master’s project took an unexpected turn for the better. A native Nebraskan, Andrew graduated from Michigan State University in 2010 with a M.A. in Environmental Journalism from the Knight Center. A slew of environmental issues surfaced at this time as well as the documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth”, which really inspired him to pursue turning the issues into stories and caused him to land at MSU. For much of his time here, he worked with Great Lakes Echo covering environmental science news which gave him a real love for the Great Lakes and the environment’s health. For his master’s project, an idea thought up on a cocktail napkin at a local Lansing bar turned into the couple’s entrepreneurial venture. Hear Nebraska is the product of their love for Nebraska that resurfaced in their time in Michigan.
Hear Nebraska is a nonprofit music organization with the mission to connect and encourage fans, artists, and music in Nebraska to thrive. Together, they wanted to see the state display more of its growing arts and music scene and become a cultural tourism destination. When first walking in the room, Andrew and Angie’s smiling faces did not give away the countless months of development and struggles they have faced with their team of seven now in starting their business. It started like a blog featuring singer/songwriters which then grew into articles about events, musician video interviews, and has now evolved into a multimedia website promoting music and arts events all over Nebraska. Andrew himself could not believe he went from covering environmental news to shooting music videos, owning a family business, and much more. He spoke on how much his team meant to the progress of Hear Nebraska and how thankful he was for his interns present in the first few years going unpaid and just sparking so much inspiration and hard work to the company. Just last summer, Hear Nebraska launched their first music festival tour through 9 cities in the state in 9 days. It was called the Good Living Tour featuring 27 bands made in Nebraska. The tour is expanding this year to add even more cities. The dedication to cultivate their home state’s music community through multimedia journalism, events, and education was amazing.
Andrew gave a wide list of what factors went into the creation of the business. Some tasks and some components to their progress this list was:
- Talked to great sources
- Networked- A LOT!
- Got to work- all the time
- Made it their life
- Found a great designer
- Developed their brand + logo
- Made a good website
- Kept a consistent + real voice
- Got involved in after school programming
- Became a social presence
- Took risks
- Created a strong board of team members
- Showed their team love
- Got money through grants
- Launched new programs
- TOLD A STORY
With high aspirations for Hear Nebraska, Andrew and Angie Norman are just getting started in their business ventures and it was amazing to hear their story. Andrew began and finished his talk with the important advice: “It is all about building those relationships.” Good relationships with others is so crucial in business but also in everyday life and as the Normans found out, those relationships can connect us all really, especially when we celebrate what we have in common, like our home state love.
Check out Hear Nebraska on Facebook and hearnebraska.org for their latest news and events.
When reconvening and sharing each other's ideas, it was evident that every lady’s perspective on an entrepreneur was a bit different, but undoubtedly everyone was right. The overall theme seemed to be that ‘an entrepreneur was confident they had value to add to a cause they had passion for and they wanted to work towards their goals’.