Entrepreneurship: Baby Steps

by: Michael Esposito - Lehigh ’12, ‘13G

Childhood was a truly astonishing time.  No matter where you lived, who you grew up with, or how many pets you had (I once had 23 - at the same time), your childhood was the most creative period of your life.  I’m sure you can remember some of the beautiful, mesmerizing, and sometimes ill-conceived creations of your younger years - surely my tire swing made from twine and an old towel was a poor decision. Regardless of these slightly painful ventures, some of the most successful inventors and artists spend decades of their professional careers trying to regress their mental status to this blissful state of childlike innocence to design masterpieces, and few truly achieve it. 

As a recent graduate from Lehigh University in Pennsylvania, and current Master’s student in their Technical Entrepreneurship program, I’ve been faced with the challenge of trying to create my own venture, and start a business based around something I’m truly passionate about.  As I ponder, walking down this metaphorical road, I remember a famous architectural sentiment from my undergraduate studies – before you can create something beautiful, you must first learn how to play. Creating something from nothing is no easy task, yet it is something that each of us possesses the ability to achieve at some level.

Learning to play is what drives the core of entrepreneurial society.  Where would we be without the drive of Bill Gates and Larry Page, the humorous antics of Jon Stewart, or the wild imagination of James Cameron.  All of these household names began their careers delving into uncharted waters, and all have proved immensely successful. Some of the most solid companies and ideologies society currently holds on a pedestal began as entrepreneurial ventures into risky waters.  These “geniuses” learned to play with what they were passionate about – Gates with the computers at Harvard, Stewart with the then ludicrous idea of satirical news, and Cameron with astonishing filming techniques – and changed the lives of billions. 

Even if you’ve mastered how to play, there is the cacophony of questions that will inevitably rattle your brain into an almost drunken stupor.  How do you start a business?  How can anyone make money off an open-source project? Is it possible to create a need for your idea? These are just a few of the questions that serve as a foundation to my current Master’s program at Lehigh, and I’ve learned one thing so far – there isn’t a tangible answer to any of them.  But that is the genius of the program; to inspire students of all ages to pursue their dreams through genuine innovation.  You might start in fashion and end up redesigning UPS’s worldwide delivery route, or begin programming a binary clock from an old Connect 4 set and end up developing the next shoe from Nike.  But it doesn’t matter, because the entrepreneurial community will always provide a path if you’re dedicated enough. 

Walking down this road is wrought with havoc, pain, ignorance, and failure, but I know the light at the end is worth every single risk I will take.  My first projects (just recently posted on Instructables and Make: Projects), though lacking a polished quality or monetary gains, have made me feel more alive than ever – because I can play again. I think back to my blissful childhood experiences – the warmth of the sun on a bright summer’s day lounging under a weeping willow, the cool breezes of October readying for trick-or-treating, and the joyous memories of playing a long-since forgotten board game sitting hidden among a trove of baseball cards and dust; everyday I wake up, thinking what new idea my brain might spawn that could inexorably lead me to fame or failure based off those primitive memories.  And everyday, I smile a little more.

Though I’m still a beginner myself, if there’s any piece of advice I can offer budding entrepreneurs, it’s this: learn to play.  Remember, it all begins with baby-steps. 

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