Summer Entrepreneurial Experiences

During May 2015...

Fitting In

Sunday, May 31, 2015 8:15 pm

Almost halfway through my college and pre-med career, I decided that I needed a change. After 3 semesters of cramming my brain full of organic and inorganic chemistry, human physiology, calculus and the like, I realized that becoming a doctor just wasn’t in the cards for me. The more I thought about making the switch from the sciences to art and design, my true passions, the more overwhelmed I got. I had a clear-cut path; complete pre-med at Wake Forest University, do well, take the MCAT, do even better, get into Med School, graduate and… viola– become a doctor. Easy peasy, right? Wrong…but not for the reasons that you would think. Yes, pre-med classes were difficult and yes the competition was fierce but that’s not what I found challenging. What I found most difficult was maintaining interest in medicine in the face of the seemingly irrelevant and arduous pre-med courses. Lacking the passion I needed to move forward, I retrained my focus on a significantly less straightforward career path. Moving away from the sciences and declaring a major in studio art and a minor in entrepreneurship and social enterprise was my first, and only step on this new journey. What was I going to do with a degree in art? I had and still have no idea.

At this point, you are probably wondering how this backstory is at all relevant to an internship with Hanky Panky. Well, two weeks ago, it wasn’t. But after spending the last 14-days working with this wonderful company, I can confidently say that I have added one more stepping stone to my path. Although this step hasn’t gotten me any closer to solidifying a professional focus, I can assure you that it has allowed me to retrospectively gaze at my recent academic decisions with utter happiness.

Coming from a science background with only a semester of college art under my belt and absolutely no design experience, I was horrified that I would be asked to complete many a foreign tasks. And in fact, I was but not without thorough, unassuming guidance. Everyone from the Director of Visual and Branding to the Head of Design instructed each task with clear detail and never hesitated to answer my endless stream of questions. In my two weeks with Hanky Panky, I have not once felt like “just an intern.” My opinion is regularly asked, heard and valued; I am part of a team.

Along with the various small tasks that I will complete, my larger project requires me to work with several different departments. In analyzing Hanky Panky’s ability to interact with the Millennials I will be conferring with the Head of Visual and Branding to improve their use of social media, with Senior Designers to discuss the appeal of new patterns and others to review the success of the website photos. Together we are striving to advance Hanky Panky’s appeal to Millennials while simultaneously staying on brand and accurately representing the company’s refined qualities.

Help for the Hurting

Sunday, May 31, 2015 1:35 am

An estimated 1 in 5 adults in the United States suffers from some type of mental illness, whether it be depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, PTSD, or any other mental disorder. While there are hundreds of thousands of mental health care workers to provide relief and treatment for mental illness, in many cases people are overwhelmed by the simple act of finding the right therapist, counselor, psychiatrist, etc. It can be discouraging, time-consuming, and embarrassing to “put yourself out there” in the midst of a society in which there is still a stigma attached to mental health patients, as well as fear and discrimination.

Enter Bob Mills, a retired Wake Forest University Advancement employee, who is the president of the organization for which I’ll be interning this summer – Transformed Minds: The Consortium for a Christ-like Response to Mental Health. After Mr. Mills was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his 40s, he began seeing a therapist and turned to his church for support. He was then inspired to form Transformed Minds (TM), a Christian-based organization that would consist of a user-friendly website with resources and contact information (of members of the consortium). The consortium will eventually be comprised of 12,000 hand-selected mental health care workers nationwide who agree to be resources for users of the website and potential clients. The goal of TM is to make it easier for mental health patients to get the resources they need.

Presently TM is in its early stages and Mr. Mills, myself, other interns, and volunteers are working to gather information and feedback from mental health care workers across the country. The consortium, when complete, will mimic the layout of the U.S. in terms of people of various demographics, religions, and locations. My focus this summer will be reaching out to minority mental health care workers, beginning with members of the black community.

I am looking forward to corresponding with mental health care workers, learning how to network, and just working with people in general. I expect to learn more about the field of mental health and the workings of web-based organizations. Transformed Minds is an organization with great promise and the potential to help people nationwide, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Hope & Healing

Friday, May 29, 2015 5:51 pm

Although major advancements have been made in the identification and treatment of mental illness, the prevalence of individuals who suffer from such disorders remains strikingly high (around 26% for adults and 10% for children in any given year). These numbers make evident the need for thorough and comprehensive resources that yield useful information and connect victims of mental illness to necessary help.

Additionally, those with strong religious backgrounds are likely to seek console and advice through their church and bring their questions first to a pastor before seeking treatment from a psychiatrist, therapist, or counselor. The lack of knowledge on mental illness in the church can sometimes hinder followers’ feelings of support and understanding from their church, causing them to feel further alone in their suffering.

This summer I am interning for a startup organization called Transformed Minds (TM). The aim of this movement is to create and design a website where those suffering from mental illness (religious or not), as well as their loved ones, can gain easy access to quality, straightforward information regarding the disorder of focus. TM also plans to create a double-blind system that connects the website’s users to the mental health resources/treatment personnel they require (whether that be a counselor, an article informing parents of a depressed teenager how to handle their child’s disorder, or a member of the consortium that has had experience with a specific area of mental illness). The organization plans to accomplish all of these goals through a faith based lens and hopes to become nationally recognized. Although the website will cater to all those who suffer from mental illness, it will emphasize the importance of religion in the journey to recovery and show its users that they are not alone in their battles with mental illness and that there is purpose in their hardships.

This summer I will be working on a team with a Bob Mills, President of TM, as well as other interns and volunteers to help coordinate attitudinal surveys of Christian counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists and similar professions. I will also be observing and analyzing a smaller portion of these individuals through online focus groups. The goal of my work with TM is to increase the understanding of potential consortium members as well as increase their enlistment in the movement.

Bob Mills has a truly inspiring vision for the organization (with plans to reach 12,000 consortium members by 2017)! The motivation behind the TM movement is heartening and shows promise for a future where mental illness is better recognized and treated and where those who suffer don’t feel lost and alone in trying to navigate the mental health system.

Picking Up Where I Left Off

Wednesday, May 27, 2015 8:54 pm

Coming home for the summer was a whirlwind and it has taken me these past two weeks of relaxation to decompress from the stress of school and brace myself for the stress of working full-time for the summer on The Social Petwork.

This experience is a little daunting for me as it is unlike any other work experience I have had before. I have nobody to report to, nobody to tell me what to do, and nobody to evaluate the work I have done to determine it’s quality. At first, this all sounds like a dream job because I have no boss, however, once the reality sets in that I also have nobody to guide me, nobody to answer my questions, and nobody to show me how to do this work, I definitely start to feel a little bit nervous.

So here I am, on the official day I have determined will be the start of work for the summer and I have to sit down and determine my own goals, my own schedule, and assign myself jobs and tasks to make this company successful. Today, it’s time to pick up where I left off.

Fortunately for me, I laid the foundation for the company over the past semester with the help and guidance of my friends and professors so I have a good idea of where I am with this company and where I would like it to be by the end of the summer.

Since early April, I have been working with an incredible Web Development Team, Altera Web, to develop the first phase of the website. Phase 1, launching any day now, will include enough features to make the site functional enough to start enlisting shelters and other animal services in my area onto the site. My overarching goal for the summer is to develop a base of clients using the site to gain data and feedback in order to determine what I might need to change and improve before the launch of Phase 2, which I hope to roll out nationally.

I wrote out a list for myself of my four main goals, strategies and objectives for the summer so that I can make sure I maintain focus when determining my day-to-day activities.

Goal #1: Develop client base of shelters and animal services

  1. Strategies:
    1. Gather initial data using a small base of shelters before rolling out plan nationally
    2. Provide exceptional client service and support to ensure positive word of mouth promotion between shelters
  2. Objective:
    1. Have a client base of at least 15 shelters by the end of the summer semester

Goal #2: Attract a loyal user-base of potential adopters/donors

  1. Strategies:
    1. Launch a creative marketing campaign targeted at younger users who appreciate well designed internet services
    2. Launch a SEO advertising campaign to attract older users who are confused and frustrated by the complicated interface of existing organizations
  2. Objective:
    1. Process at least five donations to shelters from users by the end of the summer

Goal #3: Incorporate as many services onto our site as possible

  1. Strategies:
    1. Continue to work actively with website development team
    2. Request and document all client and user feedback to adapt site to consumers needs
  2. Objective:
    1. Adapt the services to meet the needs of initial client base throughout the summer

Goal #4: Establish partnership with Pet Product Supplier

  1. Strategies:
    1. Leverage contacts at The Pet Smart Foundation and Amazon
    2. Adequately relay the importance and value of the site and benefits to their sales
  2. Objective:
    1. Establish this relationship by July

With these goals in mind, I continue to work with the Web Development Team to produce Phase 1. Hopefully, after this week, I will be able to start making contact with shelters and pet product suppliers so that I can fine-tune the functions of the site.

Stay-tuned! We plan to launch Phase 1 any day now!

The Devil is in the Details

Monday, May 25, 2015 10:36 pm

Can you tell the difference between the colors lime green, limeade, and key lime pie? What’s the difference between an Original Rise Thong and a Low Rise one? 4:59 and 5:00 pm? A chemise and a babydoll? Fabric scissors and paper ones? Good question. The simple answer…? A whole. Freaking. Lot. After a week of working at Hanky Panky, a lingerie company based out of New York, I have learned one very important thing: the devil is in the details. Although I was immediately thrown into the process of sorting through sample sale underwear, choosing waistband linings for new designs and running errands all over New York City, I considered my role this week primarily observational. I observed the importance of detail that is woven unconditionally into every aspect of the company. In this first week, I learned the answers to the aforementioned questions and was enlightened to the necessity of paying attention to even the seemingly insignificant minutiae. My tasks this week ranged from detailed analyses of potential philanthropic partners to dying and cutting fabrics to sorting through and packaging hundreds of pairs of underwear. Although some of these tasks seemed monotonous at first, they turned out to be an engaging way to study the different styles, designs and colors. In the coming weeks, my primary focus will be developing a report based on the current efficacy of Hanky Panky’s social media in advertising to my generation. I will be critiquing several of their platforms and suggesting ways to improve their appeal to the Millennials.

Week 1: All Hands on Deck

Sunday, May 24, 2015 11:52 pm

What is the nature of your internship and the responsibilities you have? What are your expectations for the summer? What do you expect to learn?

My internship is at NanoMedica. NanoMedica is an LLC company that has spent multiple years developing a technology that can be used to identify irregularities in DNA sequences that potentially cause diseases such as cancer. With this technology, their goal is to find the cause of disease on a nano scale which would hopefully open doors to be able to find cures for countless diseases. Nanomedica works with multiple departments at Wake Forest including the Chemistry department and the Physics Department, as well as with Researchers at Biotech Place, where NanoMedica is currently renting research space in the Deora Lab. NanoMedica is currently trying to secure a Phase II Grant, and they are currently working on transitioning the science aspect of their company into a marketable business. The grant is actually due in three days at this point, so all hands have been on deck making sure that every requirement and criteria is met. Therefore, this week, I have taken a back seat, while NanoMedica works voraciously to secure their future. I have been assured that my role will be more defined as well as the responsibilities I will have to handle. My expectations for the summer this summer are to contribute to the research goals of NanoMedica, while working on the topic I have already formed which is to attempt the Identification of DNA Regulatory Sequences as Therapeutic Targets for the Treatment of Whooping Cough. From working with NanoMedica, I expect to learn how to work in the field of collaborative research with incredibly intelligent academic researches and entrepreneurial companies. I expect that this summer of research and entrepreneurial collaboration will be the enriching and exceed all of my expectations.


Decisions decisions decisions

Saturday, May 23, 2015 2:18 am

In NPO work you learn how to work with 0 budget. The point is to not drive money for your own personal use, but towards the mission. Hosting events kind of throws a monkey wrench in things. Event locations and vendors all make their bread and butter supplying things for events, and we make our money, not spending it on having events.

So here we are.

The event space in UT Houston is coming together (someone go knock on wood) but it’s a tricky process. We’re now looking at a $1000 budget to have the space, which we’ll have to raise immediately in sponsorships and fundraisers. The event must happen, it has to happen, so we’re going to find a way of covering the costs. (While also keeping our eye out for an equal or better deal…for free. Smart business people never stop looking for a good deal.)

To give you an idea of what our “normal” budget for a year looks like, it’s less than $23,000. Sure we could allocate $5000 to paying a grant writer, but that would mean we did not have that money to supply support and aide to families who have sick babies NOW. Nothing is worse than turning to a family who is actively bedside with their chronically ill child and facing all sorts of uncertainty and saying “Sorry, we just cannot help, we paid some person to get us money. Check back in 6 months to a year.” Doesn’t sit well with me and it’s not really conducive to our mission. I have made it a priority that we have made sure all pieces are in place to protect our interests as best we can so we have not had to pay a lawyer or any sort of consulting fee to keep all finances focused on what we do (all our volunteers are HIPAA certified, we have databases on everything and anything that comes to us, volunteer and leadership training which we redo each year…everything to keep all efforts concentrated on our mission- support, awareness and research). We did pay a grant writer $2000 about 3 years ago which garnered us $0. Never mind all the printing we did to send the forms, letters and information out. I know there’s a grant writer out there who would take the time, but they have to have the time and want to give that time to us. Which again, volunteering is the hardest work anyone does: It’s not paid, but it’s necessary, however your paid income is necessary to your survival. Fitting in the “volunteer job” is constant juggle of prioritizing, organization, time management and the effective use of “no.”

I digress. As soon as we get a better idea about what UT Houston is able and willing to do and their date, then we can really start pounding the pavement. The event should be simple enough once the space is confirmed. We already have confirmed BBQ boxed lunches so the incidentals will be the second part and getting the word out. Sometimes it feels like we’re moving at a speed that would scare a turtle, while the finish line keeps getting closer and closer. The Texas team, well specifically Brittany Isham our Houston leader, is really chomping at the bit ready to take off. Just the normal red tape and process of a University making sure we’re not doing anything radical that could possibly garner bad press….and trying to accommodate their own interests as well. I know that once the event has happened, the way we have visioned it, UT Houston will birth something that it will be extraordinarily proud of….and other institutions will follow.

Let’s get started!

Tuesday, May 19, 2015 1:32 am

So this summer I am trying to coordinate from a distance the creation and delivery of a mini conference or mini symposium on gastroschisis.

Waiiiit a minute! Say what?

Say ga-st-ro-ski-sis or gastroschisis. Which is a birth defect that currently affects 1 in 2229 babies born in the US and 1 in 2000 babies born in the world. I would know, my son, Avery, was born with the defect in 2009. While gastroschisis has an 80-90% success rate in the first world, my son passed away hugely unanticipated, after 107 days of life. At the time there was no formalized group or organization providing support, promoting research and awareness for gastroschisis, so I decided to plant the seed. 6 years later, Avery’s Angels Gastroschisis Foundation services families from Australia to the Philippines, 5 countries, 40 centralized hubs and over 4,000-6,000 families.

So fast forward to this summer.

Gastroschisis is a rare disorder, while the numbers are trending up without a definitive understanding as to causation and why (1 in 10,000 in 1990 and now 1 in 2229 in 2011) physicians are still limited to an o, 20-30 years worth of treatment understanding that has changed greatly over the past 10. Our survivors can do well, and some can do not so great, and the understandings as to what works and what works better could do with some better gleaning. Practice variation is a large portion of what our survivors confront, preferences for transplant, STEP, bowel rehabilitation, TPN, omegaven the list goes on. And to be sure there are “pro” and “con” on both sides. We need to understand what works, why it works, what doesn’t work, and why it doesn’t work so more children and adults have a shot of a healthier life.

Hence the mini conference. University of Texas at Houston, via Dr. Stacey Moore-Olufemi and Texas Children’s via Dr. Mary Brandt all but hunted me or our various Texas volunteers down wanting to provide the most current research and information being done at their facilities to the local physicians and families last year. Coupled with the epidemiological work of Dr. Mark Canfield from the Department of Health and Human Services, the National Birth Defect Prevention Network and the CDC who has also had a high interest in the risk factors and trends, we had the makings of an informative 4 hour session for families and practitioners who are involved in the gastroschisis world. My job is to make sure the event happens….and in a state that is…not close to me right now!

Fortunately Gastroschisis families have super heroes and are super heroes themselves. Right now my duties include:
• Coordinate communication for speakers, volunteers, attendees and media.
• Create budget for the event.
• Fundraise for event, contact donors, and write grants.
• Find and secure location. (We’re hoping for UT Houston!)
• Coordinate AV, chair and table rentals.
• Find vendors willing to donate or provide food and entertainment.
• Create event PR and program.
• Outreach to community for participation and support of the event.
• Reach intended audience of researchers, medical practitioners, patients and affected families for participation.
• Recruit volunteers for the event.
• Create social media and media campaign for spotlighting the event.
• Communicate updates with Avery’s Angels Gastroschisis Foundation current networks: NBDPN, NORD, MOD, Global Genes and the CDC as well as national Children’s Hospitals.
• Attend and coordinate the event day of.
• Follow up from event to local media and birth defect, neonatal and pediatric networks.
• Follow up and thank all participants, speakers and donors for the event.

Donations are going to be a huge component of how this event gets off the ground, so we will have area volunteers seeking sponsors. We have our 3 speakers and a program in place, we are waiting to hear back from UT Houston about the space and then we can proceed forward! I had a fantastic (and relieving!) conversation with our one of our Texas Leaders and point of communication for the event, Brittany Isham last week that food is covered. Just biting our nails on what will be UT Houston’s next steps….either July 11th, 18th or the 25th…and how much the fees will be…..then I will need to book a ticket.

We’ve also tentatively discussed volunteers and entertainment for the children who may be present with their families….crafts, maybe a face-painter and/or balloon artist. I know Texas likes to do it big, I also hope they like to give big too!

Until next time…the checklist continues….

Hello from WFU!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015 7:12 pm

I hope you are enjoying the first few days of your summer break. It’s a beautiful day on Hearn Plaza — the grass is perfectly cut and trimmed, flowers in bloom, everything is spruced up. The Plaza is also a busy place as many folks are building the stage for commencement and soon all the chairs will be set out. Exciting days ahead.

We are looking forward to reading about all of your summer entrepreneurial experiences. Happy blogging!

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