Editor’s Note:Just as we each have our own reasons for giving up, taking the easy route, and dwelling on our failures, we have individual reasons for sticking with it, relishing a challenge, and practicing resilience. Steve’s story illustrates just how personal these choices can be, and the kind of difference they can make in your life.
As a young boy, I realized that I would have to cope with the ramifications of a personal physical disability, Legg-Calve-Perthes, which affects the development of the hip structure. Though I could not participate in sports and physical activities, I did not want my disability to define my life. Rather, I wanted to define my life by believing in myself and what I could accomplish.
How I Hustled to Start My First Business
Our school’s invention program intrigued me, so I spent four years studying and creating new inventions. My first experience occurred in grade six when the intermediate grade-level teachers implemented an entrepreneurial program. Entrepreneurial classes allowed us to develop our own innovative ideas and to collaborate with others.
The initial teaching about the world of an entrepreneur focused on the key qualities of entrepreneurs: entrepreneurs would look at either a new or existing product; entrepreneurs could start a business or a non-profit service or some type of community-service project; entrepreneurs could create an event or a product that makes the world a better place regarding such problems as poverty, hunger, violence, etc.
I had the opportunity to experience the entire entrepreneurship process, from beginning to end, including the idea generation/brainstorming stage, the development stage, and, finally, the implementation stage. After completing the invention process, I decided to create a portable sign business, which I would call “Steve’s Signs.” I would make portable signs for special occasions that people could put on their lawns, which announced a special occasion in their family.
I enjoyed the challenge of creating something on paper, but I especially looked forward to making the product. I borrowed $30 from my uncle to acquire the supplies to make a prototype: inexpensive plywood sheets, several small cans of colored paint, some wood bolts and some 4-foot tall metal fence posts. My next task involved the drawing of colorful 3-foot cartoon characters onto the plywood and then painting the eye-catching features of each character. Each cartoon character would be pointing to a saying on the sign that announced a birthday, an anniversary, a new baby, congratulations for a job promotion, etc.
Also, I completed a market survey to find out if the public would use my product. I received a lot of encouragement to rent my signs. Because of the positive public response, I decided to advertise my new business 1) by placing ads in our local newspapers, weekly shopper magazine and in grocery stores and 2) by designing business cards. Because of the popularity of my business, I also needed to make additional signs that I would deliver for the reasonable three-day fee of $15.
My customers would call my home and request the type of sign they wanted displayed in their yard, the dates they wanted it displayed, and when I should pick the sign up.
Reflecting on How Managing My Business Has Influenced My Life
Managing my sign business for over three years taught me a lot about the business world and about myself. I did not get rich or famous, but I did learn many life principles that I have continued to implement. These skills have greatly influenced the direction of my life.
My own business as a youth gave me an in-depth perspective of what it takes to become an entrepreneur/business owner. My valuable experience etched in my mind all the great qualities that I learned and continue to use: creativity, persistence, problem solving, and risk taking.
It is important to realize that owning your own business benefits you in many ways— not in just managing a business. When students apply the entrepreneurial mindset, research shows that students excel in whatever career they choose to pursue. According to the Office of Disability Employment Policy, because a student continues to apply the entrepreneurial principles, his or her academic performance, problem-solving and decision-making skills continue to improve.
I know that my business experience has helped to shape who I am today. First, my business experience has taught me persistence. As a student, I drew upon the determination that I had learned in the business world, distinguishing myself through academic engagement and taking pride in my academic accomplishments. I worked hard and maintained a 4.0 GPA, was an Advanced Placement scholar, and earned the distinction of being valedictorian of my high-school class of 400 students.
Second, it has taught me to be a risk-taker. Disabled students are far less likely than their peers to attend a four-year college. However, I not only earned my undergraduate degree in political science, graduating magna cum laude, but I problem-solved how to pay for my college expenses. I am from a lower socio-economic background, so having money for college was a definite problem.
However, after spending countless hours on scholarship applications, I was able to pay for much of my college expenses with scholarships that I received for academics, business management, leadership, and community service.
Currently, I am studying for my Juris Doctorate degree at William Mitchell College of Law, which I will earn in 2015. By continuing to apply the entrepreneurial mindset, I fully intend to excel at representing the legal rights of society’s most vulnerable people: those who suffer discrimination because of race, color, poverty, or disability. As a lawyer, I will be trying (hustling) to make the world a better place for the disadvantaged.
And maybe someday in the future, I will have the opportunity to start my own law business using the entrepreneurial skills I learned from my past business adventure.