This is summer, I interned at a startup consulting company doing cleantech work in India. Cleantech work in developing countries had been a strong passion of mine – I spent my entire freshman year as a member of the founding team at One Degree Solar, a former VIP company dedicated to providing affordable power solutions to low-income, developing-country households. Although this team eventually fell apart, I was still passionate about this idea, and as I was exploring my summer options, a friend of mine doing similar work approached me with an offer to be the first employee of this founding team. This friend had been featured in countless media headlines for an extraordinary solar invention, and this person’s vision of focusing on the developing world was very much in line with my own. I felt that I needed to gain some industry and field work experience before I could really add tremendous value to this startup, and this was the driving force behind my choice of summer internships.
I was introduced to the founder of this company through a speaker from a PennSEM (Social Entrepreneurship Movement) event. This speaker was known in India for modernizing the country’s stock exchange, as well as his work in a wide array of social enterprises. I reached out to him and expressed my desire to work with a cleantech startup in India, and within minutes he forwarded my resume to three of his former colleagues involved in my area of interest.
While my time with this company was less than ideal, it was an incredibly valuable experience that made me finally realize that it did not really make sense for me to focus on developing-country entrepreneurship at such a young age. The pace of activity and level of expertise in developing countries is nowhere near that of the U.S., and there is no point in sacrificing both learning experience and pay to work in a country that you have limited connections with.
So yes, it was a less-than-ideal experience, but I am extremely glad that it prompted me to discover my true entrepreneurial preferences sooner than later. The value of this experience can be directly reflected in my newest entrepreneurial venture: a hyperlocal crowdfunding platform for existing small businesses to raise capital for business improvement projects. For one, the local focus sharply contrasts with my previous international focus; for two, it deals directly with the bonds we have with my Neighborhood FavoritesTM – the beloved small businesses we frequent on a daily basis. As an international student who has never lived in the same country for more than 5 years, I have often overlooked the importance of local communities. This summer provided me the wake-up call I needed!
To summarize the main takeaway, I will paraphrase my favorite quote from Steve Job’s 2005 Stanford Commencement speech: “Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was [in India], but it was very, very clear looking backwards [two months later].” On the entrepreneurial rollercoaster, there will be times when you wonder why you even got on in the first place, when you could have easily taken the path of lesser resistance and recruit for major firms like most of the peers around you. But “again, you cannot connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future; so you have to trust in something – gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference.”