Netia McCray, Executive Director of Mbadika
The WeThrive Alumni Series of our Student Entrepreneur Series was created to highlight entrepreneurs who are not only currently in the trenches, but have also proved successful when they started their companies during college. Through this medium, we aim to provide students with a range of additional tools, advice and guidance as they create and grow their own entrepreneurial ventures. Our Student Entrepreneur blogs highlight the most relevant details others can learn from. Know an entrepreneur we should highlight? Have an additional question we should be asking? Send it all to firstname.lastname@example.org
College: Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Current Venture: Mbadika
Years out of College: One
Favorite class: MIT D-Lab Scale-Ups
At MIT, I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite class.
However, I love being able to work with my hands and learn a wide variety of concepts and techniques. Therefore, my favorite class is a special course offered on MIT campus by D-Lab (MIT’s Development Lab initiative) that introduces MIT students to concepts and techniques necessary to scale ventures focused on international development.
During this course, I was able to brainstorm technical solutions for international development ventures working in Nigeria such as Wecyclers with Apple engineers and designers. In addition, I learned manufacturing concepts and techniques, welding (yes…welding), as well as rapid prototyping. It was like being a kid in a candy store.
Least-favorite class: Differential Equations (18.03)
Don’t get me wrong, I love mathematics. However, it was something about this course that simply elluded me and it took several attempts before I felt comfortable with the concepts introduced in this class. Luckily, I’m not the only person this class stumped cold for years.
Why bother with entrepreneurship?
Sometimes, entrepreneurship is portrayed as a high stakes gamble in which very few lucky players win the jackpot. In my experience, I feel this “high stakes” image of entrepreneurship discourages students with the potential to become impactful entrepreneurs from pursuing business ventures. However, if you desire to make an impact on the world, there is no other method that magnifies your efforts like entrepreneurship.
Entrepreneurship is not just a career choice for those who wish to obtain large amounts of wealth fairly quickly. Entrepreneurs develop solutions to address challenges facing the world in order to improve the well being of humanity. If you desire to change the world, entrepreneurship allows for you to develop and distribute your solution in order to change it. If you look at any company, whether you are a fan or not, you will quickly realize every founder had a vision for the world and their company is the vehicle in which they are able to change it.
For example, Tristan Walker encountered the challenge first hand of the lack of personal hygiene products for men of color whose skin was more sensitive to certain ingredients than their counterparts. He launched Bevel, a shaving kit designed with men of color in mind and it has become one of the most successful companies in Silicon Valley.
Did Mr. Walker hit the jackpot with Bevel? Yes. However, he used entrepreneurship as a method to develop and distribute a solution to a challenge that not only he faced but thousands of men of color face everyday. Bevel allowed for him to address a small but important challenge he saw in the world and address it.
If Mr. Walker didn’t take the leap into entrepreneurship, I can personally testify that my boyfriend would still struggle to shave in the morning and would witness a drastic decrease in the number of kisses he receives on his cheeks.
Tell us about your venture, and where you are on it?
Mbadika is a social venture looking to foster young innovators and entrepreneurs by providing a platform for them to develop their ideas into solutions that can impact not only their lives but their communities as well.
Since 2011, we have conducted workshops in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa for 250 young innovators and entrepreneurs in order to launch 35 startups. Recently, we have started developing a line of DIY or do-it-yourself kits in order to help young innovators and entrepreneurs in South Africa learn how to design and develop hardware-based consumer products.
We’ve just finished testing a prototype of our inaugural DIY kit, a Solar USB Charger Kit, in South Africa and are returning over the next few weeks in order to establish distribution and manufacturing partnerships for our official launch of the kit in 2016.
Where’s your favorite place to do work?
My room. It may seem strange, but I’m an introvert and working in a library, a student center, or a coffee shop doesn’t help me concentrate but rather un-nerves me.
No matter whether I am at home, in the dorm, or abroad, I must have a comfortable chair or sofa where I can sit alone with my pink Hello Kitty coffee cup and my iPad (or computer) and work.
What’s one way students can start today?
Given the internet…
3.) Gather Feedback
via Skype or Google+ Hangout
This requires minimal resources and gives your idea credibility when you start pitching your idea to potential partners, investors, or even simply family and friends.
If you come to me and pitch your idea, I can guarantee I will take you seriously if you show me your research that shows the idea has potential even if I don’t understand your idea.
What’s your best tip for other entrepreneurs in college?
The people whom you surround yourself should not only be a source for a good time but a source of support. Being a student entrepreneur is challenging but rewarding. However, finding success as a student entrepreneur is difficult if you lack a source of support for when you hit a rough patch in the journey. If I didn’t have a strong support network, I’m not sure if Mbadika would have even left my notebook.
When did you found your company and with how many others?
In 2011, I launched Mbadika as an experimental international exchange program for MIT students. Initially, Mbadika was a solo effort as I was unsure if the concept would be feasible and I wanted to have a successful pilot program under my belt before bringing other colleagues on board the project.
Luckily, I found success with our initial pilot program in Brazil and was confident enough to bring my colleagues on board as we expanded into six other countries. Now, we have a small team of 10 individuals located not only on MIT campus, but also in Latin America and Sub-Saharan Africa.
How do you manage your week?
On Sunday morning, ideally I spend at least an hour planning out my week via Google Calendar in order to ensure I have an idea of important deadlines, meetings, and homework assignments I have in the days ahead. Since I usually find myself with a full schedule, I ensure that each task has a Google Calendar SMS alert in order set reminders throughout the day or week of upcoming tasks. In my experience, this is the only way to help me relax and ensure that I keep my stress to a minimum.
Throughout the week, I spend at least 5 minutes going over my schedule while drinking my morning cup of coffee in order to remind myself of the day’s tasks and edit my schedule as needed with last minute tasks, meetings, or events.
Sometimes life throws you a curveball and there is no amount of planning in the world that can salvage your schedule. However, plan for the ideal situations and prepare for reality.
What’s the most important lesson you learned as an entrepreneur so far?
Embrace failure. Just like in academia, you must learn from your mistakes in order to obtain success.
When you are launching your venture, you are going to encounter numerous failures. If you don’t, then you are not working hard enough. However, how you encounter those failures will determine whether you will be able to build your empire.
Initially, it sounds very abstract to embrace failure as a necessity because no one likes to fail. Nonetheless, if you give yourself time to understand why you failed and to overcome the failure, you will realize your success would have been impossible without embracing the failure as a lesson.
What resources do you recommend others take advantage of?
No matter where you are attending school, the resources and opportunities available to explore your interests, especially in terms of entrepreneurship, while you are on campus are essentially limitless.
Many entrepreneurship programs at the moment are geared towards student entrepreneurs and your campus provides you a very low risk environment to brainstorm, develop, and test your idea before going into the real-world. In addition, the academic and human resources available on your campus allows for you to tap into numerous sources when brainstorming and developing your new venture. For example, Mbadika was able to use a laser cutter and technical expertise of several Professors in the product design and development workshop on MIT campus in order to prototype our DIY (do-it-yourself) Solar USB Charger kits. We were able to develop professional prototypes for further experimentation as well as presentation in business plan competitions…at no cost.
Hence, always keep your ear on the ground. Sign up for every mailing list, Facebook Page, and Twitter Account for academic departments and organizations on your campus as well as renown university-focused organization and programs, such as Clinton Global Initiative University (CGIU) and Millennium Campus Network (MCN) in order to ensure you are aware of any opportunities and resources available that can assist you in pursuing your interests and achieving your entrepreneurial dream.
What’s your sleep routine like?
Honestly, it’s been a challenge to obtain and maintain a “normal” sleep routine. Depending on the type of week I’m having, it can range between 4 hours to 10 hours. My advice; develop a healthy sleep routine and stick to it.
It’s fine to get off track in order to meet an important deadline or jump on a last-minute Skype call. However, do not make it a habit. Otherwise, you will pay for it in the form of an extremely hectic (and stressful) work schedule.
Fill in the blank: I’d love to see Patrice Madurai, The Cupcake Revolution answer these same questions.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My mother claims that she is not an Oprah fan, however she is always quoting or referring to her. However, the best advice I’ve ever received came from my mother in the form of an Oprah quote;
“Think like a Queen. A Queen is not afraid to fail. Failure is a stepping stone to greatness.”
At the time, I was in my Freshman year and having a very difficult time adjusting to MIT. This quote put things in a different perspective for me and has become my motto, especially as a female student entrepreneur.
Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers and fans?
Do not be afraid to reach out to individuals whom you feel will help you in pursuing your interests or launching your business venture, especially as a mentor.
In my experience, even individuals running Fortune 500 companies will take the time to respond to an email or a tweet from an aspiring young innovator and entrepreneur because someone was kind enough to take them under their wing when they were starting out.