Month: June 2014

The Reward of Learning: What’s Broken In Our Education System

I was recently inspired by Daniya Kamran’s TEDxIIT talk on “Ideation as a Reward in STEM” (you can watch it for yourself here). Daniya is a very intelligent and passionate female leader and her talk went straight to the heart of why education is failing, in particular for STEM-based fields – science, technology, engineering and math. Essentially, she explained that the process of learning, exploring, and discovering needs to become the reward of pursuing education; students need to “fall in love with the idea of creating ideas.”

Listening to Daniya’s talk really resonated with my experience and beliefs as to how entrepreneurship is and should be taught. Entrepreneurs are typically classified as having an extreme amount of passion, tolerance for risk and uncertainty, a unique vision of the future and most importantly the tendency to break rules and go against the norm. However, if we are to teach students to be and act like entrepreneurs, why do entrepreneurial courses force these students to stick to rigid curriculum structures bound by typical grading scales that train students to think within the system? Where is the innovation and creativity? If we expect students to become entrepreneurs, then we need to train them to act like entrepreneurs, and this requires creating environments in classroom settings that don’t treat them like average employees. As Daniya said about STEM, it is the process of learning, creating, and actually doing that needs to be taught. By giving students ownership of this process, they will be excited to learn and excited to pursue their career, which in turn will lead to passionate people being internally inspired to impact the world.


The Entrepreneurial Spirit of Soccer

American Outlaws Edit jpegWith the World Cup in full swing, soccer (aka the rest of the world’s fútbol) has never been more popular in the US, as Americans are embracing their patriotism and rooting for #USA in each action packed and nail biting game.

What these professional athletes have trained their whole life for represents more than just winning the most prestigious international title – it represents an intensity, drive and passion for the game and to win. Here are 4 ways that entrepreneurs can learn from the success of these  fútbol players and apply their strategies to win in their own business.

  1. Be Persistent – Soccer players push themselves to run back and forth across the field for 90 minutes each game. No matter what happens, they never give up and this persistence is what can change the outcome of a game. Entrepreneurs need to have this same tenacity to turn their vision into a reality, no matter what obstacles they face.
  2. It Takes a TeamOne player cannot win the game on his own; winning requires teamwork and everyone applying their strengths to strive towards the same goal. The success of a startup or company also relies on teamwork. Even the success stories that we typically view as solo-entrepreneurs like Steve Jobs, Mark Zukerburg and Richard Brason, all had help from other people. Knowing your strengths is key and relying on others to help make you stronger can be the difference between a loss and a win.
  3. Stay On Your ToesThe game can change at any minute, as we saw in the recent US vs Portugal game when Portugal clinched a tie with about 30 seconds left in the game. With how quickly innovation occurs, industries can change quickly and affect your business. As an entrepreneur, you need to be aware of what is going on around you, what your competition is doing, and where new opportunities appear. Always stay one step ahead.
  4. Embrace SupportThe World Cup is a great representation of the impact and power of a country’s fans. They come together to show support, root for and encourage their team and their country. In the same respect, a customer base is extremely important for a startup company – these are the individuals that will use and talk about your business, getting the word out and helping promote your brand. Embrace your customers as your fans and give them opportunities to get involved and show their support.

Why High Schools Should Teach Entrepreneurship

Entrepreneurship has become cool and trendy in popular media, but to the majority of teenagers and high school students, its meaning is still pretty much non-existent. When I was in high school, the only class that even mentioned the word entrepreneurship was an intro to business elective that discussed it for one week over the semester. We watched a video all week about a cartoon caveman who started a business and built up his community. Besides the fact that we had to know how to spell it correctly on our final exam, this defined the extent of my entrepreneurial knowledge.

Meanwhile, in between juggling homework and after-school sports, I started to tutor younger kids in my neighborhood. It was great to get paid for something that came so easily to me and that I actually thought was fun. While my friends were complaining about their retail jobs, I was so proud that I didn’t have a “real job” — no boss, no stipulated work hours, and no real “work.” Little did I know that I was acting as an entrepreneur, that I could be successful and pursue a path that would never feel like “work.”

It wasn’t until my sophomore year at Bradley University that I finally learned what entrepreneurship really was, when by chance I happened to come across it as a major. Who knew that I could study entrepreneurship and pursue it after school? When I attended my first National Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) Conference , I joined over 1,200 other entrepreneurial-minded students from around the world in a setting that proved the realities of being a young business owner and hit me with the entrepreneurial spirit. I only wish I had known at an earlier age that the traditional idea of work doesn’t have to be a reality, and instead of growing up thinking you need to mold you talents and interests to fit a company or employer that will want to hire you, you can do what you love and work to make yourself happy.

Here are some reasons why high schools should teach entrepreneurship: 

Early Exposure. Just as students grow up wanting to become a doctor or teacher, being an “entrepreneur” should be taught as realistic of an option. Entrepreneurship allows you to dream your own destiny and craft a job that you can excel at. Whether it’s a small coffee shop or the next Facebook, entrepreneurs design and build businesses that support our nation through job creation and a sense of community. Why aren’t students encouraged to start their own summer business rather than get a summer job? The hands-on experience that you gain as an entrepreneur can help you not only test your limits and teach you about yourself, but the real world can be a better classroom.

Pursue Passion. If you’re going to spend time doing something, why not spend time doing something you love? Rather than waste time, turn a passion or hobby into something that will create value and earn you money. Teens shouldn’t feel like they are wasting their time working just to get a paycheck, and when you are doing something you love, time flies and it doesn’t seem like work.

Resume Builder. What looks better on a resume — someone who started a lawn-mowing business and made sales as a teenage or someone who worked as a cashier in a local supermarket? Whether it’s a lawn care business, a tutoring company, or a jewelry making business, building a company is more impressive that working a minimum wage part-time job. Whether it’s on a college resume or even for a position at another company, the characteristics and skill sets required by an entrepreneur are in high-demand in our society and reveal a lot about an individual. Being an entrepreneur demonstrates a work ethic and level of hard work and commitment that can make someone successful in any situation.

High school is the perfect time to explore opportunities for the future. Don’t think that students need to wait until college or that they need experience first. Don’t wait to take action! If you are a high school student, find a mentor or someone that can support you on your entrepreneurial journey. Set your goals, create a plan of action and get started! There are many great books that can teach you, but hands-on experience is the best teacher.

Re-posted from Yahoo Contributor Network

Taking MonkeyBars Beyond The Playground

Interview with Young Entrepreneur Taylor Harvey

Taylor Harvey is an entrepreneur and CEO alum who is revolutionizing access to innovation. As co-founder of MonkeyBars, Taylor has gone from an entrepreneurial CEO member to a full-time entrepreneur who is helping companies take advantage of the creative minds in the Chicago tech scene. In an interview with Taylor, he shared how he’s gone from a student to a startup founder making an impact. MonkeyBars means more than just fun for kids on the playground, it now means fun for tech loving adults!

General Information

Co-Founder Name: Taylor Harvey
Company: MonkeyBars
Co. Description: MonkeyBars creates innovation and growth process consulting for small to mid-size companies through the use of evolved hackathons.
Number of Employees: 4
Year Founded: 2012
Twitter Handle: @MonkeyBars_Chi


Katie Sowa: How did you come up with the idea for MonkeyBars?
Taylor Harvey: We were all just sitting in a room after one of our hackathons talking about where we wanted to go with this concept. Playful, fun and community oriented is what we were going for and the concept of a playground kept popping up so we started rattling off playground equipment and MonkeyBars just stuck.

Katie: At what point did you realize that MonkeyBars was more than just a good idea, but that it could be a successful business?
Taylor: Once we saw that someone got hired from an event and our mentors were saying that we had something really interested, I think we all felt this had a shot. However, there was a lot of debate about where to take it once we decided it should be a business and we ended up losing a co-founder in the process.

Katie: Being that MonkeyBars is a Chicago-based company, how would you describe the tech scene in Chicago? What is the best way to get active in the tech community?
Taylor: Chicago’s tech scene has a lot of problems and I think that is what makes it such a great place to be. You hear at CEO over and over that entrepreneurs should go to were the need is. I think so many people have seen that need and have been mobilizing over the past few years to create some really interesting solutions. The opportunity is what makes Chicago so attractive right now and we have so many new startups every day and events that support creative people who want to build things.

A good way to get active is to have an idea and pitch it at events, competitions and gatherings. People are really supportive in this community and it’s a great way to meet mentors, collaborators and to learn about the opportunities the scene has to offer.

Katie: What has been most important to building the brand of MonkeyBars?
Taylor: Focusing on the participants at our events. We have people coming back to our events over and over because we do our best to facilitate their creative process. We are paid by companies but our participants know that they are the most important to us because we center our entire process around them.

Katie: Based on all of the hackathons you’ve been involved with, what 3 pieces of advice would you give to participants looking to have a successful experience?

  1. Don’t psyche yourself out by asking yourself “what if…I don’t find a team mate…people think my idea is stupid…I’m not talented enough”. The best stories I’ve heard and the happiest participants are the ones that came despite a fear they had.
  2. Work on a project you will be happy about making even if you don’t win. You can’t have a bad time if you enjoyed what you were working on. The prize is great but you probably will find the most value in the skills you learn and the connections you make.
  3. Don’t give up! I’ve seen teams walk out when they ran into problems within the first 5 hours or so and it’s frustrating because I’ve seen team switch ideas half way through because something wasn’t working and win the top prize. Or have a crazy breakthrough at 4am and win top prize.

Katie: Whether in a hackathon, business development event, or from your personal experience, how important is having the right team? Any tips for finding the right team members?
Taylor: Oh man…team is everything. I was a part of an amazingly talented team at a hackathon that had easily the most developed and unique idea but it broke down half way because of mismatched priorities. I’ve had a team within MonkeyBars that was too heavy on the business side and it was choking the company because of limited resources. I’ve also been on a team where I wasn’t feeling inspired.

We become entrepreneurs to love what we do and if you don’t have an inspiring team, or a team that isn’t on the same page or an imbalanced team, it just won’t work. Startups are too fragile to withstand poor team dynamics. At the end of the day, all companies are groups of people.

Tips: Be honest with yourself about your team dynamic. Resolve issues early and often. Find people that you connect with on a fundamental level personally; your startup will change over time and so will your team. Fundamental differences can make your team grow a part.

This is all easier said than done and sometimes you just have to make the mistake to learn. I know I do. Every time.

Katie: You were a CEO member at IIT. How did being involved with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) affect your entrepreneurial journey?
Taylor: For starters, I thought I would be a psychologist or a teacher before I learned about CEO. CEO showed me that I could make a living following my dreams and I owe everything I’m doing now to that realization. I’ve met my most important mentors through CEO. Even founding 2 CEO chapters has been a conduit to help me learn team dynamics among other valuable skills. I think one of the most important things is just being around people that think entrepreneurially. I wish I could spend more time surrounded exclusively by entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs.

Katie: How did you go from the transition of being a student to a full-time entrepreneur? What continues to drive you to be an entrepreneur
Taylor: I made a decision one day with my friend to just do it. The scariest thing is jumping, but after that, we just kept pushing. The hardest thing is to keep going after you lose the initial rush of starting something and you run into lots of discouragement. Startups are EXACTLY like romantic relationships. If no one has done it by the time I’m rich and old, I’m making an artsy movie about this.

What drives me is that I know I can’t live any other way. Entrepreneurship is in my veins and it’s either sink or swim. I prefer not to drown.

Katie: What do you contribute as being most valuable to your success?
Taylor: Hard question. I come from a rough background with a wealth of social capital gained over the years to supplement me. For that reason alone, I have to say my mentors. The number of successful people that want to see me succeed is the most valuable thing I have. They have refused to let me give up, offered to pay for a 40k/year tuition, offered jobs, given me business leads, shared their painful pasts and put their reputations on the line for me.

However talented I think I might be, I am just another guy in the crowd without the support of my mentors.

Take Taylor’s advice and get several mentors to help you on your path to success. On your journey, be honest with yourself and your goals, as Taylor said, “It’s ok to want the world and it’s ok to want very little, but all desires have a cost. Know how much you’re willing to pay for them.” And then go after your dreams.

The Break Up

“Sometimes you must forget what you feel and remember what you deserve.”

They say that breaking up is hard to do, and at times, that’s an understatement. I’m going through one of the hardest breakups of my life, and this breakup is with my company.

Ending your relationship with another human being is just like ending your time at a company. Many businesses take on personalities, as entities themselves, and you can end up spending years loving what you do and what it stands for, falling in love with the business. For an organization that I’ve spent years growing (and growing with), nurturing, agonizing over and promoting, strengthening and protecting, although I’m not a founder, a part of me views it as my baby. I’ve grown fond of the company, everything it represents, and it’s potential.

Yet due to a myriad of reasons, it’s time for me to leave and move onto the next chapter in my career. I’ve come to the realization that I cannot control everything, nor can I fix everything, and in my current situation certain things are negatively affecting the organization that I care so deeply about. Months and years of repetition have made me realize that change is not in the near future, and I need to focus my efforts on opportunities where I can actively make the most impact. I recently heard an entrepreneur speak and he made a startling comparison that a dying organization is like cancer, and putting a band aid on cancer will not cure it.

So it’s time to break up. As hard as this may be, it has to be done. I’m not quitting, but simply refocusing my efforts into a new channel that will make a difference. Onto a new opportunity and a new adventure.

“Everything happens for a reason.
That reason causes change.
Sometimes the change hurts.
Sometimes the change is hard.
But in the end it’s all for the best.”


Be an MVP….

Be an MVP.

I was fortunate to attend #MCON14 the last few days in Chicago. This conference explores the social impact that is being shaped by Millenials. So many inspiring, enlightening and smart people came together to share their thoughts and experiences.

This quote in particular was said by Martin Edlund (@MNM_Martin), a founding member and CEO of Malaria No More. When asked about how he got to where he is today, he said it wasn’t so much a career path as a career hack. Martin’s advice for how to have a successful career came down to this – “Be an MVP.” He didn’t mean be the most valuable player, but he meant it in the Lean Startup sense of the word – be the minimum viable product. In the Lean Startup way of thinking, an MVP has only the essential core features that are needed for something to go to market. Martin explained that you can’t prepare yourself for future career opportunities that you may not know exist or that currently don’t exist, as life constantly changes. Instead, you should learn as much as you can about what you are currently doing so that you can be successful where you are now, and when you get to the next job or next stage in life when it presents itself, become the MVP for that.

I personally am someone who is constantly planning for and thinking about the future, but I was very impacted by Martin’s sentiment. In reality, there is only so much that you can prepare for and being the MVP of your life simply means living in the moment and being the best you can be now. 

Great Things Come in OneBowl

Interview with Young Entrepreneur Justin Herd

If you’re anything like me, when you’re hungry, you just want to eat, not turn it into an extended process. Justin Herd had the same wish to avoid all the inconveniences that go with dishes, and being a college student, space and time were his biggest constraints. He realized that others must encounter the same issues, and instead of just daydreaming about a better world, he turned it into a reality with OneBowl, a simplified all-in-one way to cook, strain, eat, and store your food.

Justin Herd, OneBowl Founder

Justin is an inventor, entrepreneur, college student at GVSU and a CEO member. From an idea to solve his problem to now launching a Kickstarter campaign to bring the OneBowl straight to your kitchen, read the interview to learn Justin’s story and entrepreneurial influences in the interview below.

General Information
Founder Name: Justin Herd
Company: OneBowl
Description: Cook, strain, eat, and store food all in OneBowl
Year Founded: 2013
Twitter Handle: @theonebowl
Kickstarter Launch: June 17, 2014 at


Katie Sowa: How did you come up with the idea for OneBowl?
Justin Herd: Like many other college students, I ate a lot of noodles. More specifically, I ate a lot of Ramen Noodles, Mac and Cheese, and Spaghetti. Whenever I made noodles, I had to get creative when I strained them because I did not have space in my dorm room for extra dishes like a strainer. So, one day while I was using a fork to strain boiling hot water out of my noodles, I thought to myself, “There has got to be a better way.” That was when I had my “Eureka” moment and started drawing out my original OneBowl sketches.

Katie: At what point did you realize that the OneBowl was more than just a good idea, but that it could be a successful business?
Justin: The moment when I realized the OneBowl could be a successful business was after my first idea pitch competition. My university, Grand Valley State University, was hosting an idea pitch competition where contestants had 90 seconds to pitch their idea to a panel of judges. I was fortunate enough to take second place at this competition. After the awards were announced, I was approached by several different people that wanted to help me with marketing, manufacturing, distribution, etc. This is when I realized that I had all the pieces to my puzzle of a successful business and all I had to do at this point was put them together.

Katie: How did you go from student to inventor? What are your top 3 pieces of advice for aspiring student ‘treps with a new innovative product idea?
Justin: It’s difficult for any student to balance his/her education, hobbies, personal life, and entrepreneurial ventures. However, it is not impossible. In order to do so without losing your sanity, I recommend these 3 pieces of advice:

  1. Look to your hobbies – When inventing a new product, it will pay off immensely if you can create a new product that pertains to a hobby you have. If you spend day and night developing a product that relates to a hobby you have, the chances are that you will know a lot about it, be more passionate about it, and have more fun when you are working on it.
  2. Network – Never miss a chance to network. The reality is that every entrepreneur needs help from others to reach their goals. I’ve found that when I put myself out there at any given networking event, I run into someone who has the answers to my burning questions.
  3. Draw the line – Keep your personal life and business life separate. If you are anything like me, your idea for a new product is always on the top of your mind. I’ve found that if I talk about nothing else when I am with my friends and family, I can start to sound like a broken record player. My advice is to use the time spent with friends and family as a chance to take a break from your relentless brain child.

Katie: Congratulations on your upcoming Kickstarter campaign! What has been most important to the pre-launch of this campaign?
Justin: The most important pieces to the pre-launch of the OneBowl on Kickstarter have been the video and promotion. It is recommended that a video is included on a page when launching a Kickstarter. Don’t underestimate how much work goes into making a video! I also recommend working with people who are skilled in video production. Try a film student at your school to get excellent quality for a more affordable price. The other important piece is promotion. It’s important to make sure people will know about the Kickstarter campaign you worked so hard for once it goes live. Using social media and relevant blog sites can help tremendously with promotion.

Katie: What made you decide on launching a Kickstarter campaign? Any advice to others who are considering crowdfunding?
Justin: I chose Kickstarter because I love the community they have built around their website. It’s clear that the people who use Kickstarter to help fund others with new products are truly interested in seeing them succeed. I also like the “all or nothing” funding principal. If the predetermined funding goal for a project is not met, all pledges are cancelled. In my case, this is to ensure that everyone who pledges to get a OneBowl will actually get one. Kickstarter is not the only crowdfunding platform. However, I recommend it since it is the most well-known and may just attract the most people to your project.

Katie: Last year you made it to the top 12 in the 2013 National Elevator Pitch Competition. How did being involved with the Collegiate Entrepreneurs’ Organization (CEO) and attending the National Conference affect your entrepreneurial journey?
Justin: CEO has been a huge part of my success so far with the OneBowl. I joined the CEO club at my university to get help with my idea when it was still a napkin sketch. The content of the meetings, setting goals, and having access to mentorship from experienced leaders are the reasons why I am where I am today with the OneBowl. I also highly recommend attending the National Conference. Aside from participating in the National Elevator Pitch Competition, I was able to learn a ton of relevant information from the breakout sessions. I went into the conference with a list of questions and had them all answered by the end of the conference. Many of these questions were about crowdfunding!

Katie: What is your biggest obstacle that you’ve unexpectedly faced so far?
Justin: The biggest obstacle that I have faced so far is the inevitable tooling costs of mass producing a plastic product. It can be surprisingly expensive to bring a plastic product to the masses. In order to overcome this obstacle, I have done some research and found that there are several great resources for funding (like Kickstarter!).

Katie: What do you contribute as being most valuable to your success?
Justin: I contribute my success to the phenomenal advisors and mentors that I have been so fortunate to meet since starting my OneBowl venture. It is so important to find people who have done what you are trying to do already so that they can help you avoid the mistakes they made.

Katie: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Justin: My goal is to be a serial entrepreneur. First, I would love to see the OneBowl make life easier for college students all over the world. In the future, I hope to pursue other ideas I have for innovative products.

Go to OneBowl on Kickstarter now to buy the one bowl does everything to take your abilities as a chef to a whole new level.