Spending my summer starting a business

BlairPircon_Chicago Ed Pitch Fest

By Blair Pircon

The best way for work to not feel like work is to own what you do. I think that’s why the best organizations and managers seek to instill a sense of ownership in their employees. The entrepreneurial endeavor takes ownership to the extreme by combining intense personal responsibility with complete impact. Everything that is accomplished depends, in large part, on you.

This summer, I led the launch of an edtech startup, The Graide Network, and discovered that deep sense of ownership for myself, along with many other lessons about business. And I got hooked.

The Graide Network started as an idea pitched at a Kellogg social impact event. After six months of research, a few classmates and I realized that the pain point was real, wide-spread and important. Teachers and students are paying too great a price for the way classrooms are structured. Teachers simply don’t have enough time to give their students high-quality feedback, which is the factor shown to have the greatest impact on learning.

To solve this, the Graide Network sources qualified teaching assistants and provides an online platform where they help teachers grade and provide feedback on student work. If disruption is about breaking down the compromises we make, The Graide Network aims to break down the compromises made between time and learning.

Foregoing a traditional MBA internship, I spent the summer incubating The Graide Network at Leap Innovations, an edtech R&D center within the startup hub of 1871 in Chicago. With the help of grant funding and an outside technology team, we designed and built our beta web application and launched our pilot in September. We are currently matching teachers from ten public middle and high schools with teacher candidates from eight universities, with more signing up every week.

In the spirit of the learning community of Kellogg, I would like to share a few things I learned about entrepreneurship from my summer experience:

VISION

The vision is your startup’s reason for existence. You will spend most of your time communicating this vision to other people. You need to know and believe in this vision deeply if you want your prospective customers, partners, suppliers and investors to believe it, too. Maybe it’s just human nature, but I have come to believe that adversity sharpens passion. Being told no (a lot) and hearing about all the obstacles merely serves as added motivation.

PERSISTENCE

Be relentless. It takes tenacity to accomplish many things in business, but especially in a new business. If at the end of the week, you feel like you have spent it knocking down walls, it’s because you have been. DO NOT GIVE UP. The barriers between getting someone’s attention and getting their action are high. It is rarely your first try that works, so follow up.

REFLECTION

It is surprisingly easy, addictive in fact, to get lost in the details of running a startup. Everything is urgent and important. But I found that I could be much more productive when I took the time to think about our goals, the skills of the team and prioritize. I am beginning to think this practice of reflection is the secret to good management as well.

I hope to continue learning from The Graide Network as we bring much needed support to more and more teachers each year. Check us out at thegraidenetwork.com and please share with the teachers in your life!

Blair Pircon is a second-year student in Kellogg’s Full-Time Two-Year MBA program. In addition to being founder and CEO of The Graide Network, she also serves as Co-President of the WBA. Prior to Kellogg, she worked in equity research at Robert W. Baird covering education services and softline retail.

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