$300K Entrepreneurs Challenge: In Search of an Idea

Having made our way to the hallowed halls of Stern, I imagine we all have a bit of that entrepreneurial spirit somewhere within us. But for me—a writer and editor by trade—my startup savvy is buried pretty deep. My earliest childhood business ambitions teetered back and forth between being the owner and purveyor of a local candy store and a bookshop. My penchant for innovative business ideas hasn’t much advanced since.

Something I have long known but struggled to pin down has become increasingly tangible to me since starting at Stern: I am not the ideas guy. I’m impressed by the wunderkinds who poop unicorn visions and eat banalities for breakfast. I get wind of something like the $300k Entrepreneurs Challenge and I think, “How cool. That’s the dream. Someday I hope I wake up with the kernel of an idea strong enough to bring to that table.”

I mentioned this realization to my mentor and former boss over dinner recently, and she helped frame it differently. “True,” she said, “But you’re a fixer. You make sure the job gets done right. You’re Sheryl Sandberg, and every company needs one of those.”

Armed with this new way of looking at things, what could it hurt to attend the kick-off meeting for this year’s $300k Entrepreneurs Challenge and find out for myself? Is there a space for a weirdo like me in this competition—me, who is as green as they come? I don’t know. Maybe not. But you don’t find out by staying at home, so screw it, let’s find out.

My hope, going into the kickoff, was that being one character in search of a big idea does not render me irrelevant, but that it, instead, gives me an opportunity to lend my skills to others. My dream is to find the starry-eyed visionary with the blueprint scribbled on the back of a napkin, so I can take that crumpled up, Worcestershire sauce-smeared scrap of paper and use it to build us a palace.

At the kickoff to the competition on September 12, the auditorium was standing room early. Me and hundreds of my closest friends heard from leadership at the W. R. Berkley Innovation Labs, involved faculty, and past winners, all of whom echoed the same refrain: You don’t need entrepreneurial experience to get involved. All you need is an idea and a willingness to work hard. Well, I have one of those things, anyway.

Obviously my notions about how this will unfold are romantic. Obviously there’s hard work to be done, but hard work doesn’t scare me. In the words of our good friend Cory Booker, Bring it.

Wherever this journey goes for me personally, I’m looking forward to diving in and learning from others as they tackle the challenge of implementing a new idea from the ground up. So stay tuned all school year long as writers from The Oppy peek behind the curtain to hear stories from some of Stern’s greatest innovators and find out what it takes to make it big in the universe of the start-up.

Have your own great idea? Registration for the $300k Entrepreneurs Challenge is open until midnight on Wednesday, October 10, 2018.

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