Student entrepreneurs share why 'nothing is ever a failure'

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Success in entrepreneurship is often preceded by stories of innovation, persistence, and lessons learned. These themes held true in the words shared by student entrepreneurs during a recent class in Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST).

A group of six student entrepreneurs addressed their peers as part of a panel discussion in IST 237, a class focused on digital entrepreneurship. The students engaged in sharing their experiences in starting a business, touching on topics such as common pitfalls to avoid and how they secured seed money.

“This panel is popular every year because it shows other students that someone their own age can start a business,” said Alison Murphy, an assistant teaching professor of IST and the course’s instructor. “The panelists’ stories inspire the students by showing them what is possible.”

The featured startups ranged from a student who developed clear bags that adhere to new security standards for stadiums, concert venues, and other public places; to a student who sells bidets. Despite the varying interests and levels of success, each student had plenty of advice and wisdom for the burgeoning student entrepreneurs in the audience.

Morgan Kolonauski, a senior majoring in IST and a former intern at SURGE Business Development, stressed a lesson she learned from her personal mentor: Never let a failure go to waste.

“Nothing is ever a failure,” she explained. “There’s always a way to pivot your idea.”

It was an important message for the class, which hosts many students from the Digital Entrepreneurship and Innovation cluster in Penn State’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation (ENTI) minor. Throughout the semester, students in the class receive a broad overview of entrepreneurial thinking and innovation in advancing IT-focused businesses. 

Kolonauski remarked that the best part of her SURGE experience was the creative freedom it allowed, which included solving problems on her own. The biggest challenge she faced was when differing opinions and occasional personality clashes interfered with the ability to move a project forward.

“Find people you work well with,” Kolonauski suggested. “Avoid personality types that clash or have very different values so you can avoid pointless arguments.”

Many of the student panelists credited their success to one place: Happy Valley Launchbox.

Founded in February 2016, Launchbox is a signature program of Invent Penn State, a Commonwealth-wide initiative to spur economic development, job creation and student career success.

The innovation hub provides no-cost support, resources, services and facilities that entrepreneurs need to build and grow a successful business. Many of the student entrepreneurs encouraged their peers to take advantage of the Launchbox’s many resources.

The panel also focused on creating a successful pitch, a common stumbling block for many entrepreneurs. Even if nerves can be contained, the students shared, it can be hard to know the best way to sell your idea.

Maria Diamani, a business administration and management major and ENTI minor, founded KinderMinder, a mobile health application that uses gamification to help children with asthma keep up with medication regimens. Diamani stressed the importance of communicating your passion instead of the functionality of your product in a pitch.

“Focus on why you do it,” Diamani said. “Share a story on why you do it so people can relate to you.”

As the course’s instructor, Murphy first offered the panel in the fall of 2016 and recognizes the benefits that young entrepreneurs bring to the conversation.

“They have a wealth of practical knowledge that really complements the concepts we discuss in class, and their stories and advice really bring the startup experience to life for other students,” Murphy said.

Murphy has her students fill out a background survey to see if they have experience interning with a startup or starting their own company, which she then uses to select the panel’s participants.

Added Murphy, “Panelists have told me that it makes them feel great to have an opportunity to mentor other students.”

Although the primary focus of the class is entrepreneurship, it also provides an opportunity for students to step out of their comfort zone.

“This class requires students to research a problem space, do a lot of idea generation, talk to real customers, constructively critique ideas, and pitch their own ideas to the class,” Murphy added.

“I tell my students that whether they choose to be an entrepreneur or not, those skills will help them in any job.”

Last Updated December 12, 2017