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Northwestern University

Entrepreneurship’s Key Ingredients

Alumni entrepreneurs define the skills and mindset necessary to ride in the startup lane

Five Northwestern University alumni entrepreneurs, including two from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences, detailed the promise and perils of the startup life at the latest installment of the Weinberg Student Alumni Engagement roundtable on Feb. 25.

The 90-minute program was filled with doses of real-world wisdom, as the five alumni outlined their professional journeys, shared candid lessons and detailed key components to entrepreneurial ventures, including:

Start with others, not yourself

“Begin by asking yourself who you want to help. So often we get preoccupied with what we want to be ourselves. If you instead start with who you want to help, you’ll be in a better place to find solutions.”

— Claire Lew ’11, a learning and organizational change alumna currently serving as the CEO of Know Your Company, a software tool that helps business owners overcome company growing pains

Accept the challenge — and the risk

“If you see a problem and a need that has worth, then pursue it with passion. Test it out. Get mentors and feedback. But also understand that you have to be okay with failure … and that you cannot be confined by tradition.”

— Matt Wilcox, a 2014 mechanical engineering alumnus who serves as the chief technology officer at Luna Lights, which produces a tech tool to help prevent nighttime falls

Ditch your ego

“Ego is inherent in all of us, but few of us realize how disruptive it can be, especially in the early stages of a startup. Oftentimes, you have to put ego aside, to bow out of conversations and let others lead. This is what allows a company to grow.”

— Ishan Daya, a 2013 Bienen School of Music graduate who co-founded Crafty, a happy-hour service for offices and events, with fellow Northwestern alumni Nathan Rosenstock and Jimmy Paul

Silence out the noise

“You have to trust yourself because everyone will be in your ear telling you to do this or that. You need to shut that all out and define what it is you want to do. … There’s always a time to stick up for yourself and the company and to be firm in your decisions.”

— Sarah Levy Imberman ’03, founder of Sarah’s Pastries & Candies, which has since expanded into airport concessions as S. Levy Foods

Know your scorecard

“A big mistake among entrepreneurs is not saying ‘No’ enough. We can easily spread ourselves too thin. … We all need to be able to set up our vision, to find our higher purpose and find a way to pursue it.”

— Blair Kessler ’12, currently an associate at Healthbox Global Partners, a business accelerator for the healthcare industry

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