Being a tech entrepreneur doesn’t have to mean sitting at a desk coding all day or running from one meeting to the next. For me, taking the time to share my ideas with others is a natural extension of innovation and discovery.
Since starting my company almost 20 years ago, I’ve experienced success and failure, I’ve had hard times and prosperous ones, and I’ve survived two economic crashes. Looking back at my experiences, I felt a strong urge to share them to help the next generation of innovators enter the startup world with confidence.
Being offered the title of entrepreneur in residence at Columbia Business School gave me the perfect opportunity to satisfy that craving. Not only has the position been one of the most personally enriching experiences of my career, but it has also invigorated my business by pushing me to think creatively.
The Astounding Experience of Being an Entrepreneur in Residence
Like many top schools throughout the country, Columbia Business School actively engages alumni and business professionals. Its Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center gives students the benefit of real-world experience.
I got involved with the program by chance. I was on a panel to judge student presentations for the school’s entrepreneurship program, and Clifford Schorer, a professor I had worked with, asked me to be a guest lecturer for his class.
He said there was no better feeling than helping a person succeed — and he was right. Columbia honored me with the title of entrepreneur in residence, and I now hold seminars and thought leadership lectures for the university. I have office hours and coach students, which gives me a unique opportunity to interact with the next generation of innovators and truly make an impact.
Each interaction I have with the MBA students is incredibly uplifting. As I help prepare them for life in the tech world, they inspire me with their drive, energy, and hopefulness. Working with students motivates me to try harder, take more risks, and think outside the box. This has had an undeniable impact on my business.
As much as I teach students, they also teach me. Their perspectives are refreshingly unbiased, and they can provide feedback and ideas that I would have never considered. Being asked to explain my experiences also helps me think critically about my career, and that is helpful at any stage in the entrepreneurial journey.
How to Get Involved in Shaping Tomorrow’s Innovators
I’m not the only entrepreneur who sees value in teaching. Many well-known entrepreneurs are now using their expertise to inspire the next generation. For example, Peter Thiel, co-founder of PayPal, has taught Computer Science 183: Startups at Stanford University.
You can give back, too, by connecting with a nearby institution and offering your unique skills and experiences. You don’t need millions of connections to do it — just a willingness to teach and learn. Here’s how:
- Take a critical look at your career. How much time do you have to devote to teaching others? If your schedule is already packed, mentoring or lecturing might not be a good idea for your company or the students. But if getting involved with the community fits with your business goals and your schedule, go for it.
- Reach out to local institutions. Initiate a conversation with deans at a nearby institution to find out how you can help their students. You should ask questions such as “What types of speakers or activities have been especially valuable to your students?” and “What are some of the biggest challenges your students face as they embark on their future careers?”
- Volunteer to help students. After you’ve identified a program that could benefit from your experience, offer your time and services. You could volunteer to be a guest lecturer or a one-on-one mentor. Or you might offer to run a booth at the career fair or let students shadow you for a day. The possibilities are endless.
Becoming an entrepreneur in residence has been one of the highlights of my career. I became an entrepreneur because I was inherently curious and had a deep desire to innovate. Helping students allows me to share my passions, and it’s exhilarating to stand in front of a group of young innovators bursting with exciting ideas for the future.