The slow rebirth of the young entrepreneur

When you are fresh out of school, you often lack the rich professional network that comes from years of working with people and building relationships in a corporate environment.

The solution for an uncertain student is usually credentials: get that PhD and you can secure a comfortable spot in a lab somewhere, with better starting pay than a medical resident (not that that says much).

I chose instead to dive right into founding a business. Or rather, it chose me. I could not afford to not pursue this venture – it would kill me in 10 years, knowing that I never even took the shot.

Starting a business right out of grad school comes with disadvantages (weak network and trial-by-fire hiring) but also some advantages:

While I have yet to prove myself to the professional world, I have nothing to lose.

Moreover, a background in science cultures a interdisciplinary mindset, strong problem-solving skills, methodical troubleshooting habits, comfort with uncertainty, and bulldog-like tenacity – all key traits for founders. The ability to set your jaw, and continue forward…

I always thought the concept of a ‘spirit animal’ was some new age nonsense, but lately it has started making a lot more sense.

 

spirit animal

 

My partner Janna calls me a rhino. When I need something done, and come up against roadblocks, I lower my head and charge.

I’ve been doing this long before I ever started my business. It’s who I am.

Allow me to illustrate:

As soon as I discovered its existence, it became my goal to attend Singularity University (SU).

Instead of going to med school, I accepted my lab’s offer to continue my research and get paid to complete my Master’s. This meant I had the opportunity to apply for a scholarship to SU, as a graduate student. Like most of my interests, the goal of attending SU quickly became an obsession.

 

2013

While attending the University of Georgia, I won a full scholarship to SU.

At SU, I led a team working on in vitro meat, while simultaneously getting half of our class’s smokers to quit. I decided med school was off the table; I belonged in Si valley.

 

2014

I put in vitro meat on hold. Legal cannabis would happen faster – it was the more pressing opportunity. There were bigger, more attainable gains to be had, sooner.

I will return to tissue engineering, and I will be able to accomplish more with fewer resources in 10 years.

 

2015

On a bartender’s wages, while paying student loans, my partner and I moved from rural Georgia to the third highest rent in the nation (Oakland).

Some hustle lands us our dream loft: rent controlled, exposed brick, high ceilings, and full of artists and entrepreneurs.

With no formal engineering background and no capital, I create hardware and software prototypes and engage with academic researchers at the University of California San Francisco.

 

2016

I pitch thousands of people from stage and pop my fundraising cherry, raising more than $100k.

After some networking hustle, my partner lands her dream job with Lagunitas brewery.

 

2017

Pre-launch, Gram brings in more than $50k in revenue. Our hand-assembled, low-volume hardware prototypes have 90% margins.

Gram technology is used in 3 formal clinical trials with 10 more scheduled for 2018.

My partner is recognized at a company wide meeting: she is the #1 performing sales rep in the entire company.

 

2018

I’m tempted to write about what’s in store for this year, and next, but that’s for a future conversation.

I hope this brief history illustrates a trend – one that remains largely unseen, if we have not yet personally connected.