Encouraging Entrepreneurship through Student Leadership
By Erin Winick
Throughout college, students are told to get student leadership positions to beef up our resumes for applying for jobs and internships. For me, student leadership served a different purpose. It prepared me to start my own company.
My freshman year at the University of Florida I joined the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) as the historian. By my junior year, I became president of our chapter of SWE. The lessons I learned during this year were invaluable for starting and running my own company my senior year. During October of my senior year, I started Sci Chic, a company that makes 3D printed science and engineering inspired jewelry paired with educational resources.
I learned five lessons from SWE that I now apply in my own company.
While serving as president, I oversaw an executive team of five engineering students and over 20 chair positions. While the executive team was elected, the chair positions were all chosen by the executive team and me. This is in an incredibly large team to essentially “hire” within weeks - and just months after starting my new leadership position. Through this baptism by fire, I learned more from the mistakes I made than from my successes. However, I feel much more prepared for hiring in “the real world” after going through this intense process. I am excited to bring more people onto my start-up team in the coming year and will constantly be reflecting on my SWE hiring experiences.
2. Managing and Leading
Student leadership is not easy by any means. Unlike managing people that work for you, students understandably have another main priority, school. You must learn how to motivate a group of people purely by getting them to want to be a part of what you are creating and building. There is no monetary compensation or requirement for them to be there beyond their own drive and goals. There are clashing personalities and opinions, as well as the influences of the national organization and corporate sponsors. Learning to balance all of these things has helped me operate a start-up with very little money and get people on board with my mission.
3. Fighting Fires vs Working on Long Term Goals
In any size organization things never run smoothly all the time. This includes a college SWE chapter. It is important to learn how to balance solving problems that pop up that are time sensitive versus the ones that can wait. Room reservations fall through at the last second. Sponsors that promised money do not donate it. People do not show up when they promised. Figuring out how to deal with all of these issues on a daily basis while while running a business and making strides towards reaching our long term goals has served me well. I have felt more comfortable adapting and taking the hits without becoming discouraged.
When serving as the president of a student organization, you get invited to many different university events, forcing you to step out of your comfort zone and mingle with crowds of people. These people range from alumni and donors to other students and important members of the university. My ability to feel at ease at these type of events and request one-on-one meetings with the people I meet has been crucial to my success in entrepreneurship. All of the best opportunities I have received came from the network I established through SWE and Sci Chic.
5. Executing on Ideas
Ideas are wonderful, but great ideas do not make success. The ability to execute on these ideas creates success. Through SWE, I gained the confidence to take a high-level idea, make it happen in the real world, and then get other people to support it. In the creation of Sci Chic, I am making something that never existed before now. It's incredibly empowering and at the same time nerve wracking to hold yourself and your new creation up for scrutiny by the whole world. SWE let me start small by running events and programs. This was a trial run for launching Sci Chic that I am grateful to have had.
I encourage all students to take full advantage of their time in any student leadership roles, and then take more time when it's over to reflect on what they've experienced. Think about what you learned, especially the parts of the role you liked best and want to continue to do in jobs in the future. There are so many possible paths in this world and chances for you to explore the things you enjoy. Let student leadership be one of many ways for you to discover your place in the world and how you can truly make an impact.