March 1, 2012

StartUp Scramble

Post by:
Phan Huynh
MS-MBA, 2013

If I ever got a tattoo, it’d say “fortes fortuna adiuvat."  Fortune favors the bold. 

A fortune. I don’t pursue goals, I pursue fortunes. And I don’t mean gold. I mean vast amounts of freedom – the freedom to scoff at forty hour work weeks, the freedom to teach unpaid at a community college, to master the Theremin, to write short comedies about my folks, to fly cross country in a hot air balloon. And to earn my keep, I’ll happily build and manage community social enterprises (for-profit entities with for-profit claws but a nonprofit soul, like Grameen Bank).  

To favor. Different from a promise, because lady luck still calls the shots. But she can be wooed.  

The bold. People may not like them or think they’re smart enough, but that’s neither here nor there because the bold are too busy not giving a crap. And the bold are always smiling, as if their magic eight ball actually works.  

My ongoing pursuit towards boldness more or less began my first semester at Boston University School of Management. I cautiously pushed my comfort zone, sometimes sacrificing study time for networking events, clubs activities, and business competitions. I even took time during finals week to submit my pet project (a website that generated social gatherings to build community) to a startup competition.
 By the second semester, I was itching to up the ante. My opportunity came in the form of the Startup Scramble. First, it was a commitment of two and half days. Second, there was a small fee. And third, I’d have to forfeit that weekend’s homework. The Old Phan nagged, but the Bold Phan ultimately put his foot down.

Scramble Day 1: Stephen Douglass (Scrambler founder and Master of Ceremonies) had us shed our shells by pitching our worst business ideas. He had also brought in speakers from Microsoft and Highland Capital. That day I met Rey Faustino, a Harvard Public Policy student by day and a social enterprise hero by night. I was instantly sold on Rey’s proposal: One Degree, the Yelp of social services.

Scramble Day 2: I attended three hour-long presentations on business entities, accounting, and web development, which inspired me to learn Dreamweaver. Rey and I brainstormed revenue models and market assumptions, machine-gunning our ideas onto whiteboard after whiteboard. We left after our admittedly crappy “dirty pitch”, but we were pumped about at our progress. 

Scramble Day 3: Rey and I spent most of the day improving our dirty pitch, with the help of six mentors from local companies. We consumed many more whiteboards. The day ended with the ten teams pitching to a panel of four judges. Most of the presentations had evolved leaps and bounds. One Degree was announced the winner and Rey went home with a Microsoft Kinect trophy.
Fortes fortuna adiuvat. The Startup Scramble was a bold move for me, and I was rewarded handsomely. One Degree became the concentration for my semester-long entrepreneurial class. Now I’m upping the ante again by working with my new buddy Rey to enter One Degree into the Harvard Business Plan Competition and the $100K Mass Challenge. Next, I’m considering a move to San Francisco this summer to help launch the pilot across several schools. I’ve still got a way to go before hot air ballooning, but at least for now, I can postpone that tattoo.

Phan grew up in California where he earned his engineering degree (UCSD '06).  In 2009, he kissed his surfboard and career goodbye and moved to Boston to be a PM for the EITC Antipoverty Campaign.  Phan is now pursuing a MS/MBA, with a Public Nonprofit concentration, so that he can help nonprofits put on for-profit armor. 

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