On May 24, UMGC students and alumni attended LinkUp for Start-ups: On Your Own, but Not Alone. This webinar is part of UMGC’s Alumni LinkUp Webinar Series, which is designed to provide alumni with fresh perspectives and relevant information from fellow members of the UMGC community to help them boost their careers.
“At UMGC, a lot of our alumni are entrepreneurs,” says UMGC Associate Vice President of Alumni Relations Nikki Sandoval. “This webinar gave us a chance to showcase some of our alumni entrepreneurs while also helping our alumni who are considering launching their own start-ups.”
Meet the alumni panel
In this webinar moderated by Carl Brown, Jr. ‘97, a panel of UMGC alumni experts discussed the first steps every start-up should take, how to act on ideas and what the journey to success really looks like.
Carl E. Brown, Jr. '97 is the host of The Small Business Report on Sirius XM Radio, Channel 141. He currently serves as the State/Executive Director of the District of Columbia Small Business Development Center (DCSBDC) and is also a Supervisory, Contracting Officer for the District of Columbia. Brown is a former small business counselor at the Howard University Small Business Development Center and previously served as the Executive Director of the Center for Minority Business Development.
Jon Bassford ‘17, MBA, JD, CAE, is the Founder and CEO of Lateral Solutions, LLC, an operations management company. His organization is dedicated to giving time and resources back to the founders and owners so they can focus on their core business, helping more business owners succeed. Bassford’s expertise is in creating streamlined and efficient operations to reduce administration. He is a speaker, consultant, and entrepreneur, having launched several of his own businesses in addition to the many organizations he has supported.
Jaemellah Kemp ‘14 is a mother, nonprofit founder and expert in all things nonprofit management. Her passion to help single parents and youth inspired her to found IT TAKES TWO, Inc in 2012, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that awards scholarships to students living in single-parent homes. Kemp also founded Jaemellah Kemp Consulting, a nonprofit startup firm that assists new and aspiring nonprofit founders to build successful organizations. She is a co-author of the book The Nonprofit Legacy, is a former Programming Committee VP for the UMGC Board of Directors and a 2015 Achiever's Award Recipient.
Qyana M. Stewart '12 is a tech, social and EdTech entrepreneur, social justice advocate, educator, speaker, and philanthropist. She is a certified Software Product and Project Manager and CEO & Principal Consultant of GlobalForce Tech Consulting, LLC. She is also President of GlobalForce For Girls, Inc., a nonprofit. Stewart is a Mentor in Residence, New Venture Competition pitch judge and coach, Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program adjunct instructor and mentor, and a mentor for several other programs at GWU. She also serves as program director of the Entrepreneurship Development Network DC.
You decided to launch a start-up. Now what?
For most entrepreneurs, a new venture starts with an idea that lights a fire within them. The prospect is fun and exciting at this phase, especially to people who may be dissatisfied with their current career path. However, it’s important to understand the realities of business ownership and to know if you have the level of dedication required to make a go of it.
Stewart, a seasoned entrepreneur and consultant, says that one of the most important things to do at the onset of starting a business is to pause and ask yourself some questions before you take the leap.
“One of the things to really think about is your why,” she says. It’s also essential that you understand what you’re bringing to the table and what you offer your target customers.
“Really do some investigation into what are the specific problems you feel uniquely equipped to solve,” she advises.
Another critical step is to get to know the space you are considering entering, which is especially important if it is new to you. Stewart suggests volunteering or doing an internship, if possible, to learn more about the ins and outs of an industry or field before you launch a start-up in that arena so you can gain a clear understanding of the market and business requirements.
“So yes, you can start a business or strategy with little or limited experience,” she notes, as long as you know exactly what you’re getting into.
Bringing your ideas to life
It’s one thing to have an idea, but it’s another to turn it into a profitable business. Bassford founder and CEO of Lateral Solutions, LLC, explains that successfully launching a business requires more than a great business plan and marketing strategy. But what exactly does it take, then?
“If I had to boil it down all into one word, I'd say the difference is action,” he says.
Moving beyond pen and paper can be overwhelming, though, but it doesn’t have to be like that.
“Build a network of experts to help you,” counsels Bassford. “Start now. Don’t wait until you need one.”
Take an honest look at the skills you need for your business to be successful, which ones you possess and which ones you’ll need to outsource. If you do partner with consultants, you may consider giving them a bit of equity in the business in exchange for their professional services if you’re starting out and money is tight.
“Make it worth their while to be a part of the journey and to have some say in [the process],” he suggests.
What the journey is really like
The life of an entrepreneur is notoriously harried, and with good reason. To create a business out of thin air takes hard work, dedication and sacrifice.
“You may have to miss out on family events, happy hours, vacations – you know, forgo some personal things,” says nonprofit founder Kemp.
When the long hours and cash flow concerns begin to take their toll, she says it’s critical to double down on your commitment to your vision and the purpose that inspired you to launch your business in the first place.
“When people are not showing up, the money's not flowing, that loan didn't come through, your board members are not showing up, you know, it's the passion that gets you up every single day to keep doing this thing,” she concludes.
Looking for more inspiration?
- Watch the full recording of LinkUp for Start-ups: On Your Own, but Not Alone.
- Check out these helpful resources for start-ups:
Read more alumni news.