Neem Pillai from the IACT19 Committee sat down with Sasha Whittle, IACT15 alumnus and current Community Manager of Square One ANU, to reflect on ‘being an entrepreneur’.
Luxury cars lined up in a garage, designer suits and flashy watches, skyscraper office views over a bustling city, white yachts and private villas, these are some of the glorified perceptions of the lifestyle of an entrepreneur. Our entrepreneurial role models like Mark Zuckerberg, Evan Spiegel and Kylie Jenner do perpetuate the idea that the entrepreneurial journey will lead to success before the age of 30. However, it is important to correct the image of the entrepreneur in our minds, so we can understand what is involved, and thus be better equipped for the sacrifices and challenges involved in leading a business from the ground up. Since entrepreneurship is key to economic growth and social change, the faster we close the gap between our perceptions and reality, the brighter our collective future will be.
These days, due to social media and movies, many people are being embroiled in what comes with the title ‘entrepreneur’ but seldom, does the daily reality of endless work, stress and inevitable failure get highlighted by the media. In fact, IACT15 alumnus Sasha Whittle shared that prior to her involvement with InnovationACT, she “sort of hated the entrepreneurial culture a little” but she explained that through her participation in the IACT workshops and After Hours events, through her then-project ‘Blushift’, she “realised that she was a part of this” and that what truly sold her was the community aspect of the program. Sasha’s initial view that entrepreneurs were “obnoxious shmucks” completely changed once she realised that her fellow participants were just like her, a “bunch of hard working, passionate, keen beans who are willing to support you no matter what”. She good-humoredly remarked that she was now “one of the schmucks”.
As we are only into Week Two of the IACT19 program, first time participants would likely still be experiencing the rush of inspiration and motivation that comes with the opportunity to pitch their business ideas to, as Sasha describes, “a room filled with people who always listen to your ideas and always clap”.
She shared how much she valued that aspect of the workshops and how it was surprising to her because she did not realise that it could be very isolating to work on a project by yourself. She reflected that when one is engrossed in their project, they “are in this small corner of the world thinking it’s fantastic, and continue working on it, unsure of where it is going or who to approach for advice”. The key point here is that everyone needs help to close the gap between a great idea and a commercially successful idea. This takes skills, tools and networks, and that’s exactly the role that InnovationACT fills. Sasha shares that although “the initial steps on your first project can be quite slow, since you are still learning everything, but there is support out there and there are people who want to help. You just have to reach out”. She highly recommended putting your all into the workshops, which “help you to gain traction in terms of pitching your ideas to potential investors or customers with a succinct business model”.
Being an entrepreneur isn’t about building a multi-million-dollar business, it’s about being innovative, creative, and collaborating with like-minded people, to improve the quality of life (whether that be for your own personal benefit, or for the greater good of society!). No doubt the entrepreneurial journey is difficult, with “competing avenues of time and career paths,” as Sasha points out, however, she believes that “the have-a-go attitude is much more important than success”. Basically, there will be obstacles, but overall, the whole process of InnovationACT will help prepare participants for their future projects, since they will be able to anticipate, and better tackle, the hurdles.
Sasha has since taken her learnings from InnovationACT, and used them to benefit other young entrepreneurs in the ecosystem, by managing The Australian National University’s very own student co-working space, Square One. But, as Sasha points out, even for those who “don’t stay within the innovation ecosystem, it’s a good learning opportunity to take to one’s different ventures in life”. These are priceless skills, tools and networks that stay with you. This is only the beginning of your entrepreneurial journeys.