Virtuosity 11.11

Where words become worlds…

Archive for the category “Entrepreneurship”

Finding a common link

Two weeks ago, I attended the Misk Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. During that conference, I met my fellow Misk Grand Challenge awardees in person. Out of 3000 applicants, only 15 were chosen for this grant. As I stood in the same room with my cohort of Grand Challenge winners, I felt like I had been elected to an elite group of people from all over the world. I admit it, I felt like an Avenger! Over the two days of the forum, I learned a lot from my cohort and realized that we, as entrepreneurs, had several things in common. I share here three of those characteristics and how they reflected in my life, although I am eager to hear over these next few months the stories from my cohort.

  1. We all have a commitment to change the world. I’m not talking about changing the world by doing little things like recycling or giving my old clothes to Goodwill. What I mean is that all of us have dedicated our lives toward bringing positive change in a global way by empowering our youth. For many of my colleagues, they work directly with youth in their countries. For others, like myself, we work at supporting our teachers and changing the system of education.
  2. We use fear as our compass toward success. From graduate school, I learned to recognize that the goals that scared me the most were the ones I had to face, overcome, and accomplish. We recognize and acknowledge that paralyzing fear that keeps most people from accomplishing anything — the fear of failure, humiliation, and/or stepping on social toes. That fear never goes away. Yet, we do it anyways. I think many of us in our cohort can agree that entrepreneurship is downright terrifying — yet, we would never ask for anything less. We learn to embrace and love the fear, because it tells us we’re on the right track.
  3. We are highly functional, passionate introverts. I remember sitting next to one of my cohort members at dinner, and sharing how there are times when we feel so alone. Entrepreneurship can be a very lonely place when there are no other entrepreneurs to connect with. Most people don’t understand that our mindsets are different — we jump into rabbit holes and break things. Our work is motivated by the passion and fire in our hearts. We work alone first to hone our vision before we seek others for help and support in making our vision even better. During the Forum, I talked about how I wanted to be alone in my hotel room for the evening, until another cohort member mentioned how this was a once in a lifetime chance to network and meet others. I think all of us have learned that being social and collaborative is necessary for our projects to succeed, although our ideas and our work is first done quietly, in the spaces of our heads.

I’m still processing that amazing experience of meeting others who have the shared vision of changing our world. They are all over the globe, and yet Misk found them and put them together. I also remember another entrepreneur who attended the forum but was not a part of our cohort. When he told me about his project, I asked him if he had applied for the Grand Challenge. He said something to the effect that he felt his work was insignificant compared to the work from members of our cohort. Yet, to me, he was also a visionary. I asked him, “Why not you?”


Living the Dream

It’s been a few months since I successfully defended my thesis and received my Ph.D. I convinced my dear classmate, Marcy Berger, to walk on the stage with me as we received our degrees and hoods on May 19th from the University of Rochester.


On graduation day, doctoral candidates are “hooded” by our advisors. Here, my advisor, Professor Jayne Lammers places the hood over my head and on my shoulders, which signifies indoctrination into the academic community.

However, I did not wait until graduation day to pursue my ultimate dream, which is to change the world through education. On April 5th, I started my company, Paragon Learning Research Group. Although the company is new, it represents the culmination of my lifetime of work in biology, education, business, learning theory, and program evaluation. In a nutshell, I built this company to bring science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education to elementary school teachers through a digital community platform. What I’ve learned through my research at the Builder’s Brewery, I am using its best practices to design a new interactive space to help support elementary school teachers with STEM. I will save the long story of this development for another post, because it took me many months (and it is a continually evolving project) to figure out my new identity as an entrepreneur and as a company.

To bring everyone up to speed on my work since April, I am now learning business entrepreneurship at an accelerator program through the ISU Startup Factory. This one year program is designed to help new business owners develop and grow through a network of mentors, events, and classes. Every six weeks, a new cohort begins at the factory. I am in Cohort V. Each week, we present on the work and progress we’ve made to our businesses while receiving a host of mentoring advice on moving ahead.

Thanks to my mentors at the Startup Factory, I was able to have a very successful presentation about my business at One Million Cups in Des Moines. You can see the presentation below, which gives you a good idea of what I’m doing now, and why I’m doing it:

This month represents the sixth month that Paragon has been in existence! Upon reflection, I’ve already made some pretty significant milestones in the company. The large milestone that we’ve accomplished is that last week, Paragon was awarded a Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation- MiSK Foundation Grand Challenges Grant, which helps to kickstart our work moving forward! This has been such an exciting journey, and next month, the MiSK Foundation will sponsor my travel to the MiSK Global Forum in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia!

I hope to be able to free up more time to keep this blog updated on my new adventures, and to share lessons learned on this journey into entrepreneurship! Until next time, live your dreams, and speak your truth. You’ll people there to support you!

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