Jackie Yeh, a Lavin Entrepreneurship Program junior studying Business Administration at the Foster School of Business as well as Microbiology, authored the following guest blog for the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship. You can learn more about Lavin at lavin.washington.edu or by e-mailing Alex Eli at [email protected]. The application deadline for freshman to join the program is October 21.
I learned quickly to throw out my assumptions on what entrepreneurship means, or what being a student entrepreneur is supposed to be like. My own brand of “startup life” will involve opening a dental practice someday and becoming what I like to call a “dentalpreneur.” Sure, it’s not traditional, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a part of my life that I want to bring entrepreneurial problem-solving to. I know that’s possible because of what I’ve learned through the Lavin Entrepreneurship program.
Last year at the annual Lavin retreat in Edgewood, we competed in something we call a “Pitch Competition.” We could create any product that related to the theme of “transportation.” But first, we had to identify a problem we wanted to solve. One of the team members in our group, Michelle, mentioned to us that her boss is blind and she accompanies him to and from the bus stop every day. He is happy to have her as a safety guide along paths that make getting around even more difficult, like rain-soaked rocky sidewalks, traffic-laden intersections, and busy bike paths. Helping solve a navigation problem like that could be possible with the right product. We called it @Ease (pronounced at-ease).
We devised @Ease as a “smart” walking stick that allows the disabled community, specifically those who are legally blind, to navigate effectively on the streets. Using cellular data, it would allow the current navigation systems to offer the “safest” routes for the blind to avoid traffic-congested intersections. With these features, Michelle’s boss would be able to feel more confident about walking to and from the bus stop without assistance. As we liked to say, “in the future, we hope to work with a company like Waze to develop accessible, safe routes for the disabled community to help them feel more @Ease.”
That pitch helped us place first in the competition and receive the opportunity to meet an accomplished entrepreneur, Mike Fridgen. Mike is currently the Managing Director of Madrona Venture Labs, a startup studio housed at Madrona Venture Group. He is a strong supporter of the Seattle tech community as a startup advisor and board member, and University of Washington entrepreneurship advisor and lecturer. Meeting someone who actively works with startups on a daily basis really capped off what was a thrilling and rewarding competition experience.
It was also an affirmation that I’ll take the spirit of entrepreneurship imbued in me through Lavin wherever I go. The program has taught me much—but specifically, there are three primary lessons that I will carry with me always.
Second, Lavin has taught me that collaboration and diversity in ideas are the keys to creating new innovations. I plan to take this lesson with me, especially when it comes to learning how to run my practice and advertise strategically. I plan to work with my dental staff to come up with diverse and collaborative ideas. If I want to create a silly dental podcast, I can. If I want to create a new type of floss made out of grass, why shouldn’t I? Even though the ideas might not work, they might be worth looking into!
Last, Lavin has taught me that even though the entrepreneurship life might include many late nights and frustration, it’s worth the effort as long as I believe in myself. Owning a dental practice means staying focused on every little detail: insurance, patients, treatment planning, strategic management, marketing, sterilization and everything in between. Essentially, I will have to be my own marketing director, dentist, manager, CEO, CFO, COO and sterilization tech. Frankly, without this important lesson, I might become too overwhelmed to undertake such a task. However, being in the Lavin program helped me realize that dreams don’t become reality with a snap of a finger. They become reality with hard work and dedication.
One of my long-term goals is to be able to create a startup or non-profit like Medical Teams International, who works to better the lives of those who don’t have access to dental care. I know that as long as I am persistent, and stay true to these lessons, my goals will never be out of sight.