This past week, I was a featured speaker for Philly Tech Week’s leading event to represent my company for their leading event, Founding the Future: Empowering the Next Generation of Entrepreneurs. The funny thing is, just one year ago, (1) I had no idea what Philly Tech Week even was, (2) my company was nothing more than a one-liner pitch, and (3) because of that, we didn’t really have too much knowledge about “empowering entrepreneurs.”
With all of this, coming into PTW this year as a panelist for their main event was more than overwhelming. I found out about Philly Tech Week from someone I met through randomly stopping by a startup showcase at Penn. And given that the event was all about startups, I decided to pitch an idea that has been on my mind for the past many months prior.
As he introduced himself and asked what I was working on, I proceeded with “Hi I’m Tiffany,” while thinking about how I would continue with my one-liner elevator pitch. “Fulphil empowers Philadelphia’s university students to solve the city’s most pressing social challenges through creating and launching social enterprises.” (Disclaimer: This is one of a few things we do now since we have pivoted many times since then; see below for what we actually do now!)
“Wow, that’s great! Have you heard of Philly Tech Week?”
“No, what’s that?” I asked very naively.
“It’s a huge event. You should definitely go!”
This was followed up by another encounter at my first event.
“I’m starting something called Fulphil. We empower Philadelphia’s university students to solve the city’s most pressing social challenges through creating and launching social enterprise startups.” I knew only one line. I had no idea how these teams pitched for 5 minutes…I had never pitched in my life.
“That’s awesome!” the man said which much enthusiasm. “Who is we?”
“Um currently just me…. And maybe 3 potential interns we might have joining.”
“Do you have a business card?”
I shook my head with an awkwardly forced grin.
In a sheepishly warm way, the man responded with, “you should probably get some.”
With this, I busted out my laptop immediately after the event that evening to make a quick design and went to print them out at Staples to be ready the next day.
When they finished printing, I proceeded to attend more events and had begun handing them out; and with the help of those cards, a lot has happened since then this past year. I was able to meet my best mentors to date. One of those random individuals is someone I consider a mentor and friend. I ended up competing as a semi-finalist with a team at that “random startup challenge,” up until then, we have competed in various pitch competitions. Those 3 interns transformed into 30. And, I was invited to be featured in Philly Tech Week.
But this year has been a journey. Things have fallen into place in ways that I never could have even imagined, but it truly has been a journey — one filled with triumphant moments but also numerous filled much stumbling.
As mentioned, I was invited to be a panelist for Philly Tech Week’s leading event. While I sat at the front of the room, my eyes darted around the room as I held the microphone in my hand thinking of how to respond to the question on how to empower young people to pursue entrepreneurship. There, I sat at the front, reflective and wide-eyed about why I personally decided to pursue entrepreneurship but more importantly, the values it has taught me—especially since starting off with nothing more than a 1-liner pitch idea and 0 business cards just one year ago. While still overwhelmed about actually being a panelist, the most striking thought that came to mind was, entrepreneurship teaches you to be brave.
So, how does entrepreneurship train you to be brave?
- You choose to be optimistic. There is absolutely nothing logical about pursuing entrepreneurship. Was that what you expected to hear? The stats thrown around are always around how 9 out of 10 businesses fail. Yes. 9/10 is a very significant amount. That’s 9 out of 10 people. However, if you’re an entrepreneur, you have some hope because you know that there is still that 1 out of 10. That is 1 person. 1. Person. I often joke half-heartedly around this and how it’s just a person. How much can a person even do? While there is still nothing logical about this according to the numbers, entrepreneurship teaches you (or rather forces you) to learn how to be optimistic and confident in that optimism and passion.
2. You choose to make yourself vulnerable. With that, you’re doing what you love because it’s an idea that you made into something out of nothing. By being the creative innovator you are the first — and especially in early stages, the only person — to see and believe in this idea. Being the first can often be lonely. But it is lonely because you have a vision not of how things are but of how they could be. There have definitely been more than a preferred fair share of days where I’ve felt horrible about myself because perhaps that one person in the audience was skeptical or because that one company didn’t have the urge to collaborate. The truth is, you won’t ever be able to win over everyone but that is something you must decide to be okay with and live with. Being a visionary and telling people about that vision and crazy idea is terrifying. Ultimately, sharing that idea makes you vulnerable to any criticism but you make the decision to go forward and keep pushing.
3. You choose to train yourself to be curious. Most entrepreneurs most frankly have little to no idea what they are doing, and that is okay because they train themselves to be curious to learn everything they must in order to succeed. They train to become experts in their fields. We as entrepreneurs do not know everything, so naturally, entrepreneurs will eat up any and every resource they can find to advance their knowledge on how to move the needle for their company. For instance, did you know, there are approximately 13 main kinds of high school categories and 90 subcategories in the world?
4. You choose to pull through. And even though times can tough many times. There is a lot of stumbling and falling involved with entrepreneurship but you accept the fact that you will fall but push yourself to always get back up. While always challenging every time since you know that every time you fall, you know situations will only get more complex, you get stronger every time you stand up back onto your feet. Even when it’s extremely discouraging, it’s important to always remember why. That passion is why you started and why you continue to keep fighting on. Frankly, no one starts a business they don’t care about — even though there’s not much logic to entrepreneurship, that simply would not make any sense. But that passion is what makes you resilient to help make every fall worth the fight onwards. Failing isn’t a bad thing as long as you fail fast, fix faster.
Entrepreneurship trains you to make the decision to go against your odds, embrace that lack of comfort, train yourself to always ask questions, know your why, and fail forward. It helps you take the initiative to develop yourself in unconventional and not-so-ordinary ways in the hope that you’ll live a life extraordinary compared to most through following your dream.
Thus, reflecting back to a year ago when I had nothing but a 1 liner and 0 business cards is something that made me realize I had so much more to go but I knew my why, specifically why I wanted to do this. Entrepreneurship pushes people to become a bit braver every day they pursue their ventures: forcing yourself to step out of your comfort zone is no passive task, which truly makes entrepreneurship a journey and all. about. bravery. And perhaps, the bravest and funniest thing about entrepreneurship that you choose to enjoy the journey. Even with the huge recurring sense of discomfort every waking hour of your day, it’s the small victories and the people beside you who help you grow that make it worth all the growing pains.