"I mentor an amazing young woman from Gherla, Romania," said George Deriso a serial tech entrepreneur who attended GlobalMindED this June. Amazing, indeed. Mara at the age of 8 realized that at school and at home money was almost never discussed. Living in a post-communist country, Mara knew instinctually that this was a deep-seeded uncomfort that had to be addressed.
At age 16, Mara created a financial literacy platform that took her insights to classrooms around Romania. She developed iXperiment, the first start-up accelerator for high school students from Romania. The platform works with students to experience all the stages of a launching a start-up, with the help of top entrepreneurs from both the national and international level.
Here are some questions I had for Mara and her prescient responses:
Q. How did your first know that you were called to help others understand financial options and entrepreneurial skills?
"Mom, dad, are we rich?"
This is the question I was asking my parents when I was little. Not because I wanted to buy some new toys, but because this was the only question that they never answered, always avoiding the subject of money or resources management. Afterwards I got into school, and whenever I asked my teachers questions about personal finance, I was told that that was not the right time to talk about money. I was only supposed to study hard, get good grades, go to a good college, get a safe job and only later on think about money and finance.
I knew this was wrong. All this prevarication around such an ordinary subject made no sense. So I started approaching the subject, reading about it, talking about it, and doing something about it. This is how my journey in the world of financial education started, which was the "trigger" of my entrepreneurship experience. Once I got into this new universe of continuous challenges, trying to develop tools through which young students would better understand money through gaming-based learning, I realized that entrepreneurship is another key skill that is not properly addressed in schools. Therefore, I chose to also offer youth the opportunity to be entrepreneurially educated and I launched iXperiment, the first startup accelerator for high school students from Romania.
Q. You say that entrepreneurship is an attitude. How might other young people develop an entrepreneurial attitude that they can apply through school and life? What ignited that spirit within you?
I just started. Initially I was scared because I knew nobody in the field of entrepreneurship, but I started attending all kinds of events. Then I started mimicking the entrepreneurs that I admired - not in a sense that I lost my own originality, but in a sense that I developed different traits that I was missing. I became more confident, more determined, more resilient. It was a whole process that is still continuing through the people that I meet and work with, through the challenges I face, through my failures and successes.
It's really hard for me to offer advice to other young people, because I am still growing and I am part of a continuous experience that can hardly be summarized. However, one of the most valuable lessons I learned was to be open to do counterintuitive things. In entrepreneurship, unlike in school, nobody tells you what it takes in order to get an A*. No one tells you what's good and bad, because in entrepreneurship (and real life), the apparently bad decisions can lead to great successes and the apparently wise actions can cause huge failures. Just start, experiment and learn. Be open to do what you would normally not do.
Q. What is about at iXperiment that has powered your business and fueled your passion for teaching young people about finance?
Through iXperiment, I try to shape students' mentalities. I don't want to convince them become entrepreneurs, because entrepreneurship is far from being the ideal option for all youth. What I'm aiming to do is get them realize that the jobs we see today will not be here tomorrow and that we are staying on an exponential curve, all the progress around us happening at accelerating paces.
Therefore iXperiment empowers students to be adaptive and aware of the technology and social trends, by offering them different tools and approaches (lean start-up approach, design thinking) through which they can launch their own initiatives, in any context, in any situation (entrepreneurs/intrapreneurs/explorers).
Q. If this work can surpass your wildest expectations for success, what would it look like in 5 years, In 10 years?
iXperiment is a scalable program that could be easily implemented anywhere in the world. Thereby, if my wildest and craziest expectations for success were surpassed, each and every high school student from around the world would be part of an iXperiment program, working at a start-up, creating social impact and innovation in her community.
Q. If/when you speak at the globalminded.org conference, what would you most want to say to the students attending and to the 600+ educational leaders?
I would most probably talk about entrepreneurship and finance education in the context of an exponential future.
Q. Over the course of your lifetime, how would you like to make the biggest difference with your unique gifts and talents?
I would love to create something that is used by millions of people. The thought of building a tool/service that is attractive, useful and impactful enough in order to be part of people's lives is more than exciting. Most probably, it would be an educational technology tool.
Mara is a young, global entrepreneur who is opening doors for others through financial guidance, entrepreneurial know-how and expansive vision to improve the world. Now that you know her story, what do you want to do to improve the world?