Guest blogger: Kaitlin Mogentale graduated from USC in 2015 with a B.S. in Environmental Studies and minors in Urban Policy & Planning and Social Entrepreneurship. She is currently developing Pulp Pantry, a progressive health food enterprise she started while at USC.. Check out Kaitlin in Blackstone LaunchPad at USC's #StartupSecrets.
Unexpected Entrepreneurship: Tips from an Unlikely CEO
Some students know they want to build a startup from the first moment they set foot on campus. I wasn't one of them. When I started as an Environmental Studies student at USC, I envisioned forging my path as a marine biologist or scientist. Startup CEO wasn't a title I forecasted for my professional future, but falling into the role over the last few years has been an organic and exciting adventure.
I built Pulp Pantry after identifying a basic need. It was a simple a-ha moment: after juicing vegetables, I noticed that the nutritious leftover pulp was discarded, both by at-home cooks and commercial juiceries. Pulp Pantry would savor the pulp and turn it into delicious, healthy food products.
Since embarking on this unanticipated journey, I've learned a lot. My mentors at USC's Blackstone LaunchPad supported my mission, all of them ready to guide students and provide them with the resources to pursue their dreams. I may have been entering unfamiliar territory, but Blackstone LaunchPad was there to help map my road.
When you first enter the world of entrepreneurship, the challenges can be daunting. With the right advice and mentorship, however, the advance toward success can be a stride rather than a struggle. Here are 4 tips I believe are essential for the unlikely startup CEO:
TIP 1: Passion trumps Payoff
Our product is a direct result of a passion for sustainability and a desire to spread the mission and vision for a more equitable and efficient food system. Connecting with people who are also passionate about making a difference in their community has been by far the most rewarding aspect of all of this; there is so much power in the collective impact our actions may have with some directed and focused energy.
TIP 2: Engage and Inspire Customers
I'm having fun thinking about how to engage with customers in a way that inspires them to think about issues of waste and consumption in their own lives. Those conversations and relationships, with "foodies," or generally anyone who takes what they put into their bodies seriously, are also incredibly meaningful. It's very powerful to see firsthand the way that food connects us all, especially as it becomes a medium for discussing larger issues and ideas.
TIP 3: Test and Prototype
Test your ideas and prototypes early on and in front of potential customers, don't be afraid to share your work openly and with the courage to accept feedback (be it negative or positive), continue to transition and redefine your products as you collect consumer feedback. This way, you can make sure that your products are truly filling an unmet need. I have created some crazy things in my kitchen and I am thankful for the many USC friends and roommates who came back to try my iterations over and over again.
TIP 4: Know Your Network
Mapping out the people and resources in your network is also incredibly helpful, because quickly you'll feel less overwhelmed knowing you can draw on them for support. Actually, it's been great to start thinking about going through life in that way--to really consider the different skills and resources we all bring to the table and then try to connect those things to create something meaningful. Sometimes the answers aren't obvious, but by asking the right people the right questions, things come together magnificently.