Category Archives: Meet a Leader

A Life Changing Experience that Gave This Founder His Most Important Skills

Mack Profile

Ask Mack Kolarich about his most significant memory of his time as a backcountry ranger in Washington state and you’ll hear the torment in his voice as he debates between two of them. The first, a hazy smoke filled sunset walk in the woods and the eerie howl of the not so distant wolves, the terrifying beauty of it being something he’ll never forget.  The second, was a trek to Horseshoe Basin where a couple thousand waterfalls, snowpacks and glaciers provided the most incredible connecting to nature experience.

Cascades Park Photo credit: Mack Kolarich
Cascades Park
Photo credit: Mack Kolarich

Embarking on 8-10 day long treks to maintain a national treasure, is something Mack’s dad always wanted to do. In true millennial fashion,  Mack took the hint to avoid living life with regret and spent a college summer putting out fires (literally) and underwent worldview shift that resulted in a stronger sense of self reliance. That self reliance has served the Political Economy major from Carleton College as he is now building his third startup company, Scenesquid a D.C. based company that handles posting event information on the behalf of its clients.

The founding organizer of DC Start Up Weekend, is by far one of the greatest advocates for young people striking out on their own and starting their own business. As we have seen how “the man” has become increasingly less reliable and less caring of their employees, starting your own business has become somewhat more reliable. In a world that is becoming more competitive as exceptional talent from other countries come online, having the control of your own destiny is becoming increasingly necessary.

scenesquid landing page

Although a stress inducing idea, Mack is optimistic about the outlook for millennials. “The number one edge millennials have is growing up in the digital world. It’s important for our generation to grab onto tech skills, know basic coding. We need to have that baseline of tech savvy as that is where our world is heading. As they say in hockey, don’t skate to the puck but skate to where the puck is going.” With those skills and flexibility, no matter where the economy goes those skills build much needed resilience.

However, millennials face several serious challenges. Student loan debt increases the perceived risk for an already risky endeavor and motivates many to find more stable jobs until they can pursue other projects. Competition is only going to become harder as India and China produce more graduates than ever before. Short attention spans and armchair activism generates a level of complacency that could impede creativity.

But, for all of these drawbacks millennials possess several qualities that are creating a demand for a drastically different lifestyle from our parents. The insatiable curiosity and willingness to try new things will naturally push our generation to constantly innovate and allow for new companies, products, etc. gain traction much faster than in the past. As Mack said, “that is our most valuable edge.”

Would you agree with what Mack has to say about Millennials? Post your comments below.

How to Improve Access to Energy in Haiti One Finish Line at a Time

A little while ago, I had the chance to meet up with a new friend Bradley Bulifant. This business management major from the University of Florida has had quite the adventure. From being a recording artist to managing large scale events to finally, developing The Solar Games; a mobile racing game aimed at supporting solar panel grids for rural villages in Haiti. But how does one go from majoring in business to launching a triple bottom line mobile app? By paying very close attention.

Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.
Bradley Bulifant of the Solar Games.

Once Bradley left his band, he went to work providing reconstruction solutions in the wake of national natural disasters, like Katrina in Louisiana and Charley in Florida. In between disasters, Bradley capitalized on the free time to pursue other projects. First, it was aiding the development of a sister city relationship between Gainesville, FL and Jacmel, Haiti as a response to the 2010 earthquake. Over time, Bradley became increasingly involved with all things Haiti with somewhat regular travel and interacting with the artisan community. When he was state-side he began to notice that apps and websites were making some serious money through ads and partnerships. Seeing the desperate need for energy paired with incredible revenues generated from mobile business, Bradley with some early members of Grooveshark began to pursue a mobile game that could connect a player to solving a social problem.

Since 2010, the development of the startup has faced many challenges. But the dominant issue, as it is for any startup, has been funding. Without a salaried team, Bradley has relied on help from friends and students who were looking for real world experience, and bit by laborious bit, the Solar Games is becoming a reality. Tapped to be a member of the Clinton Global Initiative with their commitment to action, Bradley’s work with the Solar Games is truly a disruptive way to funding development projects.

As any founder can attest to, you cannot come away from building something without a few nuggets of wisdom. In Bradley’s case, planning and goal setting have been crucial to his success. He urged that it doesn’t have to be a 50 page document, but rather a realistic timeline to keep the project on track. Developing a community to market your project too has to be included in that planning process. That community is what will help you during crowd funding, constructive feedback, and the marketing phases. In addition to community, having a solid pitch, and putting your ideas into concise wording will only help you refine what you are looking to achieve.

GoodXGames photo
GoodXGames photo

With the formal launch around the corner, Bradley and his team are racing to meet their goals. If you are nearly as excited about this game as I am, like their page on Facebook to keep up with the team and get an exclusive look at what goes into building this app.

Millennial Interview: Luxury Boutique Hotel owner in Haiti.

When you first think of a hotel in Haiti, something like this might come to mind:

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Although similar places can be found, a visit to Haiti could land you somewhere like this:
Cafe36DiningRoom

Starting a boutique hotel in a poverty stricken country takes serious guts, commitment, and a stockpile of patience. I found these qualities in Lorraine Hudicourt owner of La Lorraine, the most recent addition to Port-au-Prince’s luxury hotel scene. Lorraine’s laid back ambition and perfectionism boasts from every detail.

Beyond the open walkway encased in linen drapes, you will find the popular restaurant Cafe 36, where I met with Lorraine.  Every inch of decor adds a sense of privacy and a sense of protection from the harsh realities of living in Haiti. All of the daily stress melted away once I arrived at the dining area that provides a Caribbean urban oasis.

The after work crowd starts to settle in as a popular D.J. sets up his kit on the humble stage. I look around for Lorraine and catch her as she is attending to the needs of an ongoing conference and smoothly transitioning the dinner crowd to the happy hour that’s about to begin.

Nothing alters a plan quite like a 7.0 earthquake.With a crushing demand for hotels in the area, Lorraine stayed on to manage the hotel. Coincidentally, a parcel of land that Lorraine had dreamed about for years also came onto the market. With encouragement from her mother, Lorraine did the crazy, risky thing and bought the land to achieve her dream of owning a hotel.  After three years of negotiating, patience, and perseverance, La Lorraine opened her doors in November 2012.

After a little over a year, the wild success experienced by the hotel has encouraged Lorraine to think of how to improve and expand. Although being a millennial hasn’t been a challenge, what has been difficult has been finding quality employees. With a significant portion of the population unable to read or write, finding people who will at least meet expectations can be extremely difficult. But ask her about her big travel dreams, she laughs and responds with: “They are extinct, but I’m happy here.” As Lorraine has shown, life has a funny way of changing our plans, often for the better.

 

ECSSA: Turning Haiti’s Trash into an Economic Lifeline

ECSSA Operation Center

When visiting Haiti as a child, I was always baffled at how the streets housed so much trash. It seemed like every side road had a mountain of garbage where just about anybody had to pick their way around. Many years later, though trash heaps still fight to claim areas where creeks or rivers once were, the roads are becoming cleaner and the cleanup has created hundreds of jobs that were not there before. How did Haiti’s capital city, Port-au-Prince, turn their massive trash problem into a treasure trove? One millennial, Edouard Carrie of Haiti, took on the challenge while studying entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa. As a student he asked the question: how can we employ local people while clearing the streets of Haiti? Well as they say, timing is everything and as Edouard was developing his business plan two key events took place: the devastating earthquake of January 2010 and an internship.

While the 300,000+ population of Port-au-Prince was stunned by the havoc left by the earthquake, Edouard immediately started crafting ways to help his country work its way out of the rubble. Initially, he considered cement recycling. There was so much rubble and it needed to be cleared before recovery efforts could be pursued. It proved to be too big and too complicated, especially with experienced companies already working in the area. That’s when Edouard started to look at recycling other materials, specifically plastic.

How It Started

With Haiti on his mind, Edouard networked his way to an internship at a recycling facility in Connecticut. As an intern, he interacted with leaders of the recycling industry who came to know about Edouard’s desire for recycling in Haiti. Moved by his determination, a mentor discounted his extra compactor to help bring Edouard’s dream to a reality. Paired with an old generator from his dad’s factory, Edouard had the machinery needed to found Environmental Cleaning Solutions S.A. (ECSSA). But, as any entrepreneur knows, getting the equipment was just the beginning of the challenge.

Post-earthquake Haiti was flooded with businesses, non-profits, governments, and individuals all trying to help with the effort; creating very confusing market conditions. Banks weren’t lending and donations were earmarked for immediate relief items like tents and water, not capital for aspiring businesses. Not to be deterred, ECSSA quilted together capital from international grants and other funding sources to open their doors in the fall of 2010. After opening day, it has been a roller coaster for ECSSA. Success has been celebrated by earning Entrepreneur of the Year Awards every year they have been in business from his alma mater, University of Tampa (2010, 2012) and mega cell phone provider in Haiti, Digicel (2011). Challenges have arisen in the form of accessing equipment and handling supply. Through it all Edouard has built a social venture in a very risky market and made an impact in his community.

Nuts and Bolts

ECSSA aspires to do three things:

1) Eliminate waste in Haiti

2) Teach the Haitian community the value of waste

3) Educate the community about the importance of recycling

To achieve these goals ECSSA has developed a process where collection centers around the country weigh and pay those who bring in a variety of plastics and aluminum. Then the supply is sorted, processed, compacted into bales, and then shipped to international buyers.  ECSSA covers the transportation of the material as well as the collection bags to encourage as much participation as possible.

Such a logistics heavy operation requires the help of a dedicated staff. In Edouard’s case, the help of an assistant and his family are doing everything from logistics to keeping up the motivation despite the various challenges that arise in Haiti. Going forward Edouard is leading ECSSA as the largest plastic collector in the country and has learned a couple of life lessons. So what is Edouard’s biggest piece of advice? “Luck is a huge part of starting a business, but you have to go out and create your luck. Don’t get discouraged, because there will be good times as well as bad, but as long as you focus.”

If you want to learn more about ECSSA and the work they are doing in Haiti check out their website at: www.ecssahaiti.com.

A Tech Solution to the Student Debt Crisis?

The Online Platform that Can Revolutionize the Student Economy

Among all of the social challenges facing the U.S. millennial, student debt and career development is by far one of the greatest obstacles for this generation. When I was making decisions regarding where I was going to attend university, I trusted that the economy was going to be there for me to gain a respectable income. Graduation day 2009 presented a completely different reality, one that I know many U.S. millennials are currently living. This crisis has been likened to the housing bubble, and many experts fear that it could have serious impacts on the U.S. economy as millennials are rising to prominence in this economy.

Although the outlook is quite bleak on this issue, I had the opportunity to interview a 24 year old Pittsburgher who is challenging the nature of work for current university students – Mark Heckmann of Student InTuition. His startup provides a revolutionary approach to start chipping away at the student debt crisis.

How It Works

Student InTuition is an online platform that matches students with businesses that have short term projects that current university students can do – and pays them for it. Such a model allows current students to gain real work experience and businesses to hire students without the burden of searching for good talent. Current students simply log-on, create a profile, and Student InTuition does the rest.

How It Started

As Mark tells it, about a year ago he was sitting at a board meeting for his alma mater, Denison University, where the Board of Trustees was exploring the increasingly concerning situation facing university students: increased student debt and lack of actual work experience.

At the time Mark was studying at Carnegie Mellon’s Heinz College obtaining a Master in Public Policy and Management and found himself trying to find a solution to this very serious problem. He then joined a student-run incubator at Carnegie Mellon, IdeaLab, where Mark was able to have access to a solid feedback community comprised of other start-up leaders. Then, he took a Social Innovation course where he was able to develop the framework for the company and apply for a spot at Pittsburgh’s newly established Thrill Mill’s Hustle Den. While at the Hustle Den, Mark was able to get more professional, legal, programming, and office space support that helped create the legitimate social enterprise: Student InTuition.

Mark’s Lessons

Having a million dollar idea is one thing, but getting the timing just right can make all the difference. As Mark said:

A big part of launching a company is timing – are the market conditions right for such a thing to exist? Oftentimes you can have a great business concept, but the timing is incorrect, so you wait for the conditions to become favorable. In our case, investment in Ed Tech companies has been very strong, and the debt issue has been a prominent part of public discourse.

Not only were the external factors in his favor, but he had the rare opportunity to develop his business while in school with the tools his institution had to offer. Using the tools available, can be the support system any entrepreneur needs to get an idea off the ground.

When asked about what are the other advantages of being a young entrepreneur, Mark said:

…millennials understand the importance of being connected. The adages about networking continue to apply, and the companies that truly make change are ones who ask questions, seek feedback and promote their cause shamelessly. Our generation is better equipped to do those things than others.

Connectedness and timing, though crucial, are nothing for an entrepreneur without this element:

…it’s critical to recognize that you can have a voice on an issue, even a big one. There are many people with far more training, work experience and expertise than me out there, but they do not share the same interest, passion and empathy on this issue with me. And that becomes a distinguishable, credible mark for an entrepreneur – which their unique skill set and interest in a sector could create value in ways that have never been thought of before. But you must have the confidence to have a voice on an issue – absent that; you cannot be serious about your business.

If you want to learn more about Student Intituion, check out their website: http://studentintuition.com/ or follow them on Twitter @studentin2ition and post below if you know of any other great efforts on tackling the student loan crisis.

How Soccer (Futbol) Can Save the World

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While governments and corporations have sunk millions of dollars in educating the world about HIV/AIDS, one Pittsburgher, Justin Forzano, has led the Cameroon Football Development Program (CFDP) to apply a different kind of prevention: education through soccer clubs. 

We have all heard of the benefits of participating in team sports: teamwork, leadership skills, and self-confidence. Combine those benefits with group discussions and mentoring opportunities and you have a strong strategy to making an impact on a country that has been heavily affected by the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Cameroon Football Development Program was founded in Spring 2010 by Peter Ngwane and Justin Forzano. Although an uncommon approach, bringing something as natural as soccer together with something so practical, like disease prevention, has had a huge impact on the community of Kumba, Cameroon. Like many developing countries, Cameroon suffers from a variety of issues like corruption, poverty, the implications of its colonial history and a strong nationwide desire to “get out” and find better opportunities. This exodus of talent is known as “brain drain,” the flight of able, intelligent youth in search of better opportunities abroad. The communities left behind deal with skill gaps, fragmentation within their community, and create the right conditions for significant community decline. CFDP’s model is designed to change all of that.Image

Through partnering with local volunteers and identifying key community leaders, CFDP works with Kumba to provide a variety of programs: Leadership Training, After School Programs, a Youth League, and Girls Soccer Camps, in addition to a variety of special events. This year alone, they have involved over 500 youths in the area and engaged with regional organizations like United Action for Children, Play Soccer International, to expand their programs to other regions of the country.

But how does an engineering student from the University of Dayton get involved with helping the community of Kumba in distant Africa? It all started with a summer study abroad trip with his professor and a deep love for soccer. “From the first time I visited Kumba, I fell in love with Cameroon. The people, the culture, the food, the music and the importance of soccer.” Justin’s first visit to Cameroon demonstrated to him just how the United States has such excess, especially when it came to equipment for sports. “We were playing a game of football (soccer) on a dirt field and the locals were either sharing boots, playing with flip flops, or even without shoes. In the U.S. we just throw away these things even if they are in good shape.” Dealing with such an impression, Justin began asking how to connect those in Cameroon with those who have excess equipment in the United States. The following summer, Justin went back with a full set of jerseys and was met with wild enthusiasm in Kumba. Five years later, the set is still intact and is being passed around from club to club. 

What can be the most complicated obstacle for start-up nonprofits; can be making the link between the local community and the recipient community.  CFDP overcomes this obstacle by sticking to their mainstay: soccer. On the first weekend of August, they kicked off their fall season of Pittsburgh based fundraising events with a soccer tournament at the University of Pittsburgh’s Cathedral of learning lawn. With 9 teams participating, CFDP not only organized a fun Sunday tournament, but involved the local Cameroonian-American and African-American communities with kicking off the event with a drumming performance and authentic Cameroonian food.

Even if you were not able to attend their soccer tournament, CFDP has a variety of ways in which you can get involved. Whether it is sponsoring a team or participating in the Play for a Purpose program, check out http://www.cameroonfdp.com/ or follow them @CameroonFDP. 

 

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