Reflection: Keystone

“Simply dedicate yourself to solving problems. It’s solving problems that matters. Instead of saying ‘our goal is innovation’ … say ‘our goal is to solve THIS problem for THESE people.’” – Scott Berkun

Having completed I&E 352 with Kathie Amato, I gained many of the hard skill required to assess and develop a business. Far from a traditional lecture class, learning was done in a variety of ways, from cold-calls to group presentations, to personal pitches. Much of the course mimicked real-world experiences in that professional from industry often lectured and delivered their own perspectives on entrepreneurial experiences. Moreover, many of the assignments were hands-on and content-creation based. Instead of simply listening to lectures and placing topics in a “bucket” for later problem solving, we analyzed problems and developed skills from the problem solving process itself.

In terms of straightforward financial skills, I have learned how to read financial statements and understand what the cash flows insinuate for any type of business. Many of the same aspects of analyzing a simple business or startup can be applied to a large corporation in order to better understand where the majority of revenue and costs come from and, on that note, where to optimize business practices. Through disciplined hands-on analyses using excel and powerpoint, I developed my own process for dissecting a business and understanding how it works. In this way, I have gained the confidence to apply this type of analysis to any startup or company I come across whether I am internally or externally-based.

Teamwork and mentorship was a highlight of this class, as I worked within a core group of three people to develop slide decks that assessed various businesses such as “Lit Motors” and “Rent the Runway” using qualitative and quantitative analysis in order to provide pinpoint recommendations. These slide decks were completed each week. At the same time, my team and I developed the interpersonal skills of communicating outside of class, as we collaborated to make deadlines. These interpersonal skills manifested when we video chatted with our industry mentor, Mike Handelsman, a Duke graduate and entrepreneur. It was refreshing to speak with Mike about his experiences and career path that lead him to become and entrepreneur. Understanding his motivations and decisions gave me a better understanding of how my career could unfold, as well as how I could align my passions with a career in order to provide value. This was especially pertinent to me, as I am trying to merge my background in healthcare and biomedical engineering with my love of story-telling and writing.

On the subject of story-telling, we were encouraged to use narratives to market and sell a product through an in-person pitch. The assignment modeled a “Startup Funding Competition” in which the best pitch takes home a large sum of funding. I prepared a 4-minute pitch explaining how my company, “Better World Books,” can create social, environmental, and economic impact if invested in. This was an incredibly eye-opening assignment because it compelled me to apply creativity and my own experiences to a company that was not my own and, in addition, organize my presentation for fluid delivery.

Having completed this course, I truly walk away with increased awareness of the rigors of innovation and entrepreneurship, however that does not deter me from pursuing this field because I am enticed by the creativity and control awarded to entrepreneurs. While the work is difficult, I think the ability to practice the processes of lean startup strategy and divergent thinking are extremely rewarding and exciting. The most important takeaway form this course was an instilled confidence in my abilities to function as an entrepreneur and key contributor in a business.