Schooled: 3 Lessons from Undergraduate Entrepreneurs
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I had the privilege of serving again as a judge for the Entrepreneurs’ Organization’s Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), this time for the U.S. National Competition, in which the winner received $10,000 and round trip airfare to compete against 49 other country champions in the Global Finals in Bangkok, Thailand in May. I recently interviewed the winner and top two finalists to learn about their motivations, the networks they developed, and how they overcame obstacles that are part of any entrepreneurial endeavor.
U.S. National Champion Peeyush Shrivastava is an Ohio State University student and CEO of Genetesis. His company has developed a diagnostic tool involving functional, 3D mapping of each patient’s personal electrophysiology, which can optimize the detection, characterization, and ultimately the treatment of cardiac rhythm disorders. Second-place finalist Tyler Ebert, a University of Minnesota student, is CEO and co-founder of AdrenaCard, which has developed a credit card-sized epinephrine auto-injector (EAI) to help patients with severe allergies. Third-place finalist Madison Eddings is a UNC-Asheville student and CEO of Pro(TECH)T, LLC, which has developed wearable technology to fight campus sexual assault.
1. Craft a compelling story.
For Gentesis CEO Peeyush, it was his grandfather and role model, who provided the inspiration for his company. During a visit to the U.S., his grandfather had to be admitted to the hospital for what turned out to be a variety of medical problems that had gone undiagnosed for decades. After 21 days in the hospital, despite the best efforts of his medical providers, he passed away, and Peeyush set on a journey “to change how technology empowers physicians to provide the next generation of quality, personalized care.” AndrenaCard CEO Tyler told the judges that his inspiration for his device was reading about a high school athlete who died after suffering an anaphylactic reaction after being exposed to peanut dust after hugging a teammate who had just eaten a peanut butter snack bar. The athlete normally carried a competitor’s epinephrine auto-injector, but didn’t have it with him because of its bulky size. Pro(Techt) CEO Madison and her business partner, Ben, have always been passionate about humanitarian issues, especially sexual assault and rape culture because so many people close to them have been victims of this crime or directly impacted by it.
2. Cast a wide net for mentors and advisors.
For Peeyush, creating a scientific advisory board has been instrumental to the firm’s success by providing expertise, advice, and the maturity that investors are looking for in a company led by a CEO in his early 20s. He found some of his advisors through cold emails/calls, and through connections via the very advisors that have been a part of this team from its early days.Tyler stated that, “as a medical technology company, we thrive based on the clinical results we get from patients and care providers we serve. We have found these mentors and connections leveraging the University and our own professional networks.” For Madison and Ben, it was UNC-Asheville’s faculty and administrators who were very responsive to their idea, and who granted them access to administrators at other universities across the country who provided advice and access that were critical in developing their product.
3. Focus on the end-user to overcome inevitable obstacles.
For Peeyush, a key obstacle has been his youth, where inexperience and age are de-valued in the medical technology field. He has addressed this by bringing on board experienced scientific and medical advisors to his company. Tyler also had to work hard to get established firms to partner with a new company led by a student. “Medical technology is complex. At first, it was difficult to get industry players to work with us. We overcame that by focusing on the patient and demonstrating that we had a quality product that got results.” Madison and her business partner needed to learn the technology behind their planned product. “Neither of us come from a technical background, so we taught ourselves the basic workings of GPS functionality in wearable technology and how it can work independently from a cell phone.This was a huge learning curve for us, but we felt that it was imperative to at least grasp the basics of a product we wanted to sell.”
It is inspiring to see the next generation of entrepreneurs using their personal stories to create new businesses that will make a difference in the lives of so many people.