Play, Compete, Meet and Learn. Four key pillars of Entrepreneurship were truly on display this week throughout the South Bend- Elkhart region. As I sit down to write this blog post after a fantastic IDEA Week 2019, I am blown away by the creativity and innovation shown by so many exceptional local entrepreneurs. From drone delivery of pollen and defibrillators, to the reinvention of the midwest manufacturing industry through automation and digitalization, it is evident that innovation is not limited to the coasts; it is thriving here in Indiana.
With ESTEEM classes put off for this week, I was delighted to have the opportunity to volunteer for IDEA week so I could dive right into the events and have the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. In addition to volunteering, I attended multiple talks in the opening days about blockchain, AI and manufacturing. It was fascinating to learn about how innovation in the local manufacturing industry is not so different to early stage entrepreneurship. Every improvement starts with identifying a problem, ideating a solution and then validating the fit between them. Good to know our BMC and Design Thinking classes have us on the right track!
On Tuesday night, several of my ESTEEM classmates and I were invited to attend the 1st Source Bank Commercialization Awards, where faculty and student ventures from the University of Notre Dame and Indiana University School of Medicine were honoured for bringing their technologies to market. During the ceremony, it was brilliant to hear from Jon McNeill, Chief Operating Officer of Lyft, especially after their recent IPO. Jon spoke about his journey from Northwestern University, to Bain and Co, Harvard Innovation Labs, Tesla and eventually Lyft. The common trend: serial entrepreneurship. The fact that business people of this calibre are visiting South Bend speaks volumes of the strides that are being taken to develop a startup ecoculture here. There may also have been a casual ‘Elon’ name drop which received a great reception from the crowd.
Unfortunately, I was unable to attend the IDEA Week events on Wednesday, but I did have the opportunity to meet with a prospective ESTEEM student for lunch. It’s always great to speak with people interested in this program, and next years class looks like it's going to be an excellent group! ESTEEM has been a life changing experience for me and provided so many amazing opportunities. My projects this year included my thesis with Amicus Therapeutics examining the gene therapy markets for rare disease patients, multiple healthcare projects with the Problem Validation Team at the IDEA Center, a lung cancer awareness project with the Harper Cancer Research Institute and establishing my first company, Honey’s Balm LLC, a locally produced, all-natural lip balm which aims to alleviate seasonal allergy symptoms using regional pollen. ESTEEM Class of 2020, you are in for a great year!
Thursday was a busy day for many ESTEEM students as they pitched at the McCloskey Business Plan Competition Semi-Finals, with ESTEEM start-ups Vital View and Greener Globe making it into the final seven teams. After the pitches we enjoyed some light refreshments on the Innovation Park balcony under well received sunshine. Later that night, we attended ‘A Fun Evening With Bill Nye the Science Guy’ on campus, which was excellently moderated by our classmate Susie Lira-Gonzales.
Finally, after a busy week on Friday I had some time to catch up on work for my projects but not for long with the ‘Startup Showcase’ and McCloskey Finals taking place that afternoon. Overall 16 prizes were awarded worth over $400,000! It was a super day for ESTEEM with six current ESTEEM startups and two other startups led by ESTEEM alumni being awarded prizes in excess of $100,000. Huge congratulations to all!
IDEA week was full of extraordinary stories, events and people. I am sure that many attendees were inspired to think differently and pursue their big ideas thanks to a newly developed entrepreneurial itch. Although I did not get to attend the Tim McGraw concert on Saturday night, I capped off my week at the Annual Pig Tostal party and it was also great to see Tiger Woods win the Masters, Mayor Pete declare his 2020 presidential candidacy and the return of Game of Thrones for its final season. A great end to an inspiring week!
With only 5 weeks left until I graduate from ESTEEM, I look back on what has been great year. I am excited to be moving to Chicago in August to join Deloitte Consulting but I am certain that the skills I have learnt this year will inspire me to build my own business some day. As they say in Ireland, “Is maith an scéalaí an aimsir!”.