Merriam-Webster defines an entrepreneur as “one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise.” While an entrepreneur is often lauded for their individual achievements as, per the definition, “one” person, they would assure you that they could not achieve what they did without a strong community of support.
Jordan Ross (‘05) has experienced this firsthand as the founder of PetsEmpower.org. Ross noticed that as many as 65% of domestic violence victims cannot escape their abusers out of fear of what would happen to their pets if they were to leave, especially since most recovery shelters don’t accept pets. PetsEmpower.org helps by fostering these pets temporarily, and while Ross has led the venture, he strives to build relationships to further it.
“I meet with mentors, distribute flyers at veterinarian offices and dog stores, post online for volunteers, write website content, and reach out to DV organizations to build relationships,” Ross explains. “[Each day], I speak with members of our Board of Directors and Board of Advisors, communicate with our public relations student team at the Boston University PR Lab, and attend entrepreneurship networking events.”
Reuben St. Marc (‘17), the owner and performer behind DJ BenZ, agrees that building a community of support has been essential to his success.
“In the beginning of my career, I shadowed a DJ who was doing a lot of gigs with the graduate students at the Johnson School and the bar scenes. I was also able to DJ alongside him at a few places,” St. Marc remembers. “After I got that experience and was able to connect with managers, I extended my network of potential clients who wanted to book me…Then, I began to get gigs by word of mouth.”
More formally, a board of advisors can provide the talent and resources necessary to complement the founding team behind any great venture. Jim Li (‘17) serves as the chief operating officer for TravelSee: a data venture looking to help cultural institutions, such as museums, rekindle their connections with their audiences. Li cites building a strong advisory board as one of the most important components of the company’s success.
“We see it as finding people who fill needs in your organization and are passionate about your cause,” Li states. “We’re still looking for more people, but one of the benefits of the advisory board for fundraising is these people are really well connected.”
How can an entrepreneur build these relationships? Vispio co-founders Shaan Franchi (‘18) and Stuart Wang (‘18) have enjoyed a lot of success in facing this challenge. Using content from partners like the Rand Corporation and the European Council on Foreign Relations, Vispio creates interactive games, quizzes, and activities to help educators integrate current events into their classrooms.
In cultivating these relationships, Franchi advises other entrepreneurs, “It’s learning as much as you can, and contacting as many people as you can whom you think can help you. It’s a lot of cold calls and emails, and a lot of our partners didn’t expect us to reach out, but they’ve realized it’s a goal of theirs as well to teach secondary school students.”
Ultimately, however, Franchi suggests that the biggest factor in building a network of support is the belief an entrepreneur has for their idea. Franchi summarizes, “If it’s an idea that you think will help people, then you can convince other people.”
For more on the entrepreneurs that were featured in this piece, click on the links to their ventures for Entrepreneurship@Dyson’s full coverage.