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by Nazea Khan
On March 7, nine Hillman Entrepreneurs from MC joined UMD Hillman students and many others at the Universities of Shady Grove for an event called the “Skilled for Success: Building an Entrepreneurial Mindset.”  Here is the report from Nazea Khan, one of those students:
“My fellow Hillman classmates and I had an inspiring evening at this first ever event focused on building the skills and mindset to become a successful entrepreneur.  The purpose of this event was to have a conversation about the entrepreneurial hub in Montgomery County and acknowledging the personal roles we all have in this ecosystem of entrepreneurship. We heard from six entrepreneurial leaders in our region who are taking the charge in this up and running ecosystem.
At the beginning of the event, my fellow Hillman classmates and I met up then proceeded for delicious appetizers. We then moved on to the ‘Focused Speed Networking’ and were able to talk with other students and staff at USG. I received a few business cards and was able to make new connections on LinkedIn. We then all quickly sat down in our seats filling up the entire row! I  took out my notebook and prepared to write down my notes for the evening.
The event started with a warm welcome from John Zuknick, the Director of Economic Development and Workforce, who welcomed all the different types of guests ranging from students to staff to employees to professors and even to alumnae. He then explained the list of ‘The 5 C’s’ which includes 1. Connectivity, 2. Collaboration, 3. Coaching, 4. Celebration, and 5. Capital. Each C has an important role in the lives of each entrepreneur and Zuknick told us to remember each one throughout the event to see how we can connect back to our own personal businesses and lives of becoming successful.
The main portion of the night was the ‘Entrepreneurship and the Economy Panel’ with four different and amazing CEOs in our region. I had the honor of interviewing the moderator for the panel last semester for our first Hillman project, Steve Hull, Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of Bethesda Magazine.  It was really nice seeing him up there with the other entrepreneurs sharing his wisdom he also had shared with me.
The four panelists were: 1. Peter Ettinger, Senior Advisor of Aldebaran Partners, Inc.; 2. Shahab Kaviani, Social Entrepreneur, Co-Founder of Breezio, Founder of Launch Academy, Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Startup Maryland; 3. Kelly Leonard, Co-Founder & CEO of Taylor-Leonard Corporation; 4. Tien Wong, CEO Entrepreneur Angel, Opus8, Tech 2000, Lore Systems, and CONNECTpreneur.  Several highlights stood out to me from the panel.
The panelists all spoke about the entrepreneurial mindset.  Ettinger stressed  “Not only through creativity and innovation, but entrepreneurship is helping the consumers in a way no one but only you can.” Ettinger’s statement stuck with me throughout the night because he emphasized that the most successful entrepreneurs are those who listen and keep listening to their customers, taking the criticism and tips to learn. He encouraged us all to go out and hear out as many customers as possible and make our ideas customer-centric.  Leonard reminded us that it’s never too late to start your own business and helped us realize that by pointing out the different people in the ballroom from high school students to board members.  Wong talked about how both of his parents are  immigrants and how hard his whole family had to work to get to where they are today but through their entrepreneurial journey.
Asked “How can education foster the idea and love for entrepreneurship?” Leonard noted that students from MCPS to Montgomery College to UMD all have the passion for entrepreneurship; however, what is lacking is the programs to support the students. And then, she then gave a shout out to the Hillman Entrepreneurs Program for being that bridge and opportunity for students to become successful! My fellow Hillmaner, Samir Kabir, cheerfully waived his hands in the air and then she asked all the Hillman Entrepreneurs to raise their hands! We all did with the biggest smiles on our faces and even got a round of applause. She even gave a shout out to her intern from the UMD Hillman and how she loves partnering with programs such as ours to give back and inspire the next generation.
The panel opened up to audience questions and then we moved on to the next portion of the schedule, ‘Fireside Chat: Building An Entrepreneurial Mindset’ with Timothy Chi, CEO of WeddingWire moderated by Steve Hull.  Chi talked about the three broad buckets of his mistakes and how to avoid them as a young entrepreneur. His first mistake was pride/ego and his advice is to be objective as possible, not to focus too much on the numbers because they are only a small part of the big picture. His second mistake was wasting too much time on thinking what the customers needed instead of asking them for their input. He spent lots of time creating an optimization for his customers to pick slots for their wedding because he thought the regular way of asking by filling in the time slot on the website just wasn’t enough. Turns out that ten years later, the customers enjoy filling the slots for their wedding and don’t enjoy the optimization. It’s a trial and error but you must be smart with your decisions as an entrepreneur because time is money. His last mistake was lack of focus and discipline. Having so much free time was hard but he took classes and changed his ways before his company became more serious. He also said learning how to say no to ideas and pitches that are probably good for your company but isn’t a priority for the business. He gave us a lot of good tips throughout the night and he was very engaging. Hull  has a Bethesda Magazine cover with Timothy Chi on it labeled as ‘The Coolest Companies To Work For” which they showed in the slide presentation.
The event ended with ‘Closing Remarks’ from the Executive Director of USG, Dr. Stewart Edelstein explaining the power of the nine universities and what the next steps in our journey is.
We all grabbed cookies on our way out and discussed what we liked about the program. We dropped our badges in the box, grabbed our coats, and took our favorite Hillman family picture. I learned so much in one night and wrote two whole entire pages of notes. I hope this amazing ecosystem of entrepreneurship keeps growing here in Montgomery County and inspires many more students just like me.”

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