Carrying on: Birth of a self-made man

March 13, 2013

The thought of being my own boss is surreal. Taking on some kind of entrepreneurial endeavor, making my own hours, being responsible for a group of people, and doing things my way—it’s a dream, and something I certainly desire in the future.

My entrepreneurship professor went over a number of financial benefits to starting your own business, focusing mainly on the favorable tax stipulations afforded to entrepreneurs, especially over their nine-to-five counterparts.

But while it sounds great, I couldn’t help but think of how risky it is. What’s more, the financial backing needed for such an endeavor could be high. All that is assuming I’ve had a few years of work under my belt, like the majority of entrepreneurs.

Then I did a little more thinking, back to freshman year and one of my closest friends at Georgetown, James Li (MSB ’13). He has always forged his own path, despite the lure of the traditional MSB route that promises a stable future. For a student to become an entrepreneur amidst classes, internships, and the like is pretty difficult.

With his startup, Encore HQ, Li took a risk and ran with it. His application features a slick platform that allows nonprofits and social impact organizations to create quick and effective newsletters to showcase their stories.

It has taken his entire time at Georgetown to get it right—at least in my estimation. Li feels he always has work to do, a characteristic he shares with my like-minded roommate, Joshua Leslie (COL ’13).

Leslie started Himalayan Spirit 8848 and debuted his first line of clothing this past winter. The fashion company, like Li’s, is socially conscious, as it looks to provide organic clothing and helps provide jobs and other benefits to residents of Leslie’s native Nepal.

The impact these businesses have on their lives is similar to balancing two internships in my own life. There’s a big difference, of course, as the two of them are accountable to themselves while I have authority figures to please. Long-term, I would be far happier with the former. In the present day, though, I don’t know if I have the savvy to work through the speed bumps that come along with starting a business. Experience is key and it’s why Li and Leslie are the exceptions rather than the norm.

Both friends have done tremendous work in that regard—they suffer along with the company’s growing pains but rise up with successes. For now, as students, it’s a strongly vested interest. Check back after these two graduate, though, and the stakes could become higher, as start-ups like these often mark one’s livelihood.

What’s especially impressive to me is how Li and Leslie have advanced their companies without much help from Georgetown. In the past, the University was not so advanced with its entrepreneurial offerings. The typical finance jobs had a pretty clear-cut path and were an easy stepping stone for students from the business school.

Feeding students into that Wall Street setting is an area where Georgetown has always thrived. It’s possible that Georgetown believed pursuing more entrepreneurial endeavors would hurt its pristine hiring statistics.

The other, more positive spin on things is that they realized the creative minds they had, especially in MSB. It’s a route I often thought of taking before realizing the lack of liberal arts exposure was not up my alley. A strict accounting or finance regimen, for instance, doesn’t teach students to think outside of the box, a tool that’s crucial to starting and maintaining a business.

Back when Li was a freshman, the University did not have many resources for entrepreneurs. That has changed for the better; today they have multiple business plan competitions, a summer startup incubator, an entrepreneurship fellows program, a group of mentors called entrepreneurs-in-residence, and multiple new classes on the field as indicators of the University’s commitment.

The amount of start-up ideas, from Leslie’s to an app that alerts parents of troubled teens when they post suicidal tweets, really struck me. There’s no saturation of good ideas out there. Nor is there one way to approach the craft. There’s no outright bad idea—it’s more a matter of execution and dedication.

“There’s nothing more exciting than having the chance and full control to be able to build something from scratch, solve a real problem you perceive in your world, and work on something you love every day,” Li told me.

Finding that passion was a task that Li and Leslie realized early on. Others, like me, are still searching. And that’s fine—because at the very least, we have evidence that hard work can get these businesses off the ground even in a restrictive college environment. It’s up to these two to keep it flying upward.





Kevin Joseph
Kevin Joseph is a former Sports Editor for the The Georgetown Voice.


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