The CNY entrepreneurship ecosystem is why this Jersey girl chose Syracuse. Here’s my story….
Through the art of stumbling, from my dorm room in Dellplain Hall at Syracuse University, I became an entrepreneur at the age of 19. I was a music industry student with many talented friends and a desire to find ways to utilize the arts to make a positive social impact when the 2010 Haiti Earthquake hit. When I heard the news, I walked down to Funk ‘n Waffles on Marshall Street, introduced myself to the owner, asked to host a fundraiser, coordinated all my fellow music students to have a concert, and then donated the proceeds to the earthquake relief efforts. While it was not a sustainable business model, I was hooked after seeing music bring a diverse campus together to contribute to a common cause. I knew the arts could do more than entertain, and wanted to create a business around employing them to achieve community outcomes.
I sought the expertise of entrepreneurship professors and utilized other resources on campus to help me put a plan together. I was introduced to the Innovation and Disruptive Entrepreneurship Accelerator (IDEA) which was hosting their Emerging Talk Entrepreneurship Conference. I interviewed to participate in the conference and got the opportunity pitch my business to a panel of investors. I ended up winning $5,000 of seed funding in the Raymond von Dran IDEA Awards in the social entrepreneurship category. It was at this conference, nestled in the Newhouse School hallways, surrounded by extraordinarily passionate and driven people talking about businesses they created, that I knew I had found my tribe. I also noted the similarities between entrepreneurs and artists and the passion to create something from nothing.
I became an IDEA Connector to promote entrepreneurship and help identify and eliminate barriers preventing students on campus from participating in the entrepreneurship ecosystem. My senior year, I decided to continue my research on how communities could leverage the arts for social and economic purposes, and was accepted to the Janklow Arts Leadership graduate program. While pursuing my master’s degree, I was chosen to lead the IDEA Connectors and was awarded both the Kauffman Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellowship and an Arts and Sciences Entrepreneurship Fellowship. The Kauffman Entrepreneurship Engagement Fellowship stipulated that you had to remain in the Syracuse area for 2 years after graduation, but my master’s program required an internship and I was doing mine at Carnegie Hall in NYC.
For someone who studied music and wanted to work in the creative sector, I thought being in New York City and working at an institution like Carnegie Hall would be the ‘end all be all’ to launch my career. Unfortunately, I found it stiflingly archaic and lacking a desire to change. I found that all the things that I’d learned were wrong in the arts to be true and such an established organization did not want to hear me pitch innovation to them. I decided I did not want to be a useless fish constantly swimming into walls in an enormous and outdated pond. Plus, I owed something to the City of Syracuse and my fellowship that allowed me to get my master’s degree studying something I loved. So, I moved back to Syracuse and stayed well past the two years asked of me.
Syracuse is a medium sized city that knows innovation and entrepreneurship is how we are bouncing back from our industrial downfall. Leaders across industries are easier to get in touch with, and many are willing to meet you for coffee and share their expertise if you ask. Potential is everywhere and change is mandatory. Community issues like poverty, public education, economic development and poor urban planning are all on the civic agenda. I am seeing constant progress and an influx of the young, motivated, and innovative who are deciding to stay. I am one of those people, excited to continue growing and sharing my skills.
Syracuse has a long way to go, but I am grateful for all I have found here and genuinely believe in a thriving future full of creatives, startups, local restaurants, pride, and prosperity. I look forward to helping in any way I can.