Wear the student banner: advice for diving into entrepreneurship

by Mia Kweskin

Dedric Carter, vice chancellor for operations and technology transfer, offers six tips for getting the most out of the WashU innovation and entrepreneurship community.

  • Open your mind.

“If you’re just getting to WashU, there are  some things that got you here that you’re excellent at doing. Be willing to venture out of those things, because the excellence that got you here may not sustain you moving forward. Be willing to open yourself to a new way of thinking. Entrepreneurship is about being open to new and different perspectives. Make sure you are willing to let someone help you pivot in your life experience.”

  • Create opportunities for spontaneous collision.

“Create opportunities where someone jolts you into a new environment and forces you to think differently. These things don’t work so well when you plan them–if you say I’m going to go out and meet someone today and they’re going to change everything–then you become that eager, almost creepy person. If you’re open to new and different things and decide to go to this happy hour or this open house, then you bump into someone and they take you to places you would never have even thought about. This happens by creating a density of people that are open minded and willing to try new and different things.”

  • Surround yourself with smart and interesting people.

“Hang around smart people, because smart people say smart things. Hang around interesting people, because interesting people do interesting things. And when you’ve got a collection of smart and interesting people, they will be intellectually curious in a way that is always solving a problem. You don’t want to be the sharpest tool in the group, you want to make sure that there are others that can relieve you and allow you to sharpen yourself.”

  • Venture out in St. Louis.

“There’s a reason St. Louis was voted the #1 startup city by Popular Mechanics in February 2015. If you look at the things we have here: a great quality of life, really good cost of living, excitement and enthusiasm about innovation and entrepreneurship, and a great research university. Brilliant people come from near and far to spend time here, and they stick around for awhile afterwards. Some of them have bumped shoulders with really smart and interesting people during their time here and they bring that residue with them to their new venture. Dive into the entrepreneurial support network that is here.”

  • Take advantage of being a student.

“Try new things and do something different under the banner of student. People love to spend time talking to students. There’s a smile that comes to your face when a student comes to talk to you and says ‘I’m thinking about taking this next step in my life.’ Someone spent the time to talk to us about what that step should be, good or bad advice–in Walt Whitman speak, ‘You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self.’ People like to have those conversations. Even more than that, if you mess up royally during this time, your resume is going to say ‘student.’ You’re suppose to do that and learn from it. Failure is a bit of feedback.

“During this wonderful umbrella period of being a student there’s so much that you get a chance to do and try. You can open doors that I would have difficulty opening. I want to impart on students that there’s this great runway you have when you’re a student. Don’t waste your time as a student. Don’t miss the opportunity to be a student and to wear the title of student, because you can grow in ways you never thought about growing or in spaces you’ve never imagined.”

  • Hold onto the magic.

“The magic of being a student sticks around a little bit. There’s probably a six-month life where you’ve just finished and you can maybe milk that for another year. Part of it is continuing to keep ties for advice, guidance and support, but realizing when your student time is up your student time is up. It’s making the connections that last. It’s making sure there are a handful of people who will pound the table for you, and by that I mean people who know you well enough that they can help wave you into that next period. I think it’s making sure you have a really solid springboard from which to bounce off. When you jump, you’re not as afraid to jump into something different. It’s the willingness to say there’s a period of time where I could go try this thing. If it’s working, great, if it’s not working ask why didn’t it work and what did I learn and turn that into your grad school application. It’s thinking about how you roll that one to two year experience that’s inconsequential into a five year experience, a ten year experience that really does put you in the right path.”