CENTER VALLEY, Pennsylvania – “Is entrepreneurship in my DNA?” This was the main theme of the latest Penn State Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Ladies event showcasing three highly motivated PSU-LV students who have already started their own business or are part of a family business.
Moderated by Viacmely Jimenez, senior at PSU-LV and full-time campus office and events coordinator, panelists included Lara AbdelAhad, Qofi Quainoo and Mishell Ortiz.
Born and raised in Lebanon, AbdelAhad moved to the United States in 2016 with her parents. “My family owned a business in my home country,” she said. “But I never imagined they could create one here.”
Besides learning the language and settling in a new country, his parents and uncles actually started Top 3 Motors (Facebook: @Top3 Motors), a thriving auto repair business in Easton where AbdelAhad played a active role.
Asked about her long-term goal, the PSU-LV junior and business major/finance minor said she wanted to own a hotel, a dream that formed over the years as she traveled with her family. .
Mishell Ortiz also hits a lot of milestones. She’s already earned two sought-after internships at a Fortune 200 medical and pharmaceutical device company, is pursuing a second business degree with a minor in marketing (her first in digital communications), and has created Ann Rose Photographywhich captures milestone events such as weddings, graduations, maternity shoots, and product photography used in corporate marketing.
Quainoo, also a photographer and marketer, regularly grows a client list that includes Keep Calm Industriesan agency that represents (among other things) Barn in Walnut Grove where he tours regularly. Quainoo is a business major with a concentration in marketing and management who also earned a 30-hour digital marketing certificate through PSU-LV’s Digital Marketing Institute last spring.
Each of the young entrepreneurs shared their ideas, AbdelAhad being the first to point out: “There are a lot of responsibilities, but the ability to control your own schedule is a huge advantage. The other panelists accepted.
Like AbdelAhad, Quainoo comes from a family of entrepreneurs. “My mother owned rental properties and my brother and I had the ‘opportunity’ really get involved in the business. Every time someone moved, he started joking, we had the opportunity paint, touch up, clean…” He broke off; the punctuated lightness of the unsaid: owning a business is hard work.
When asked what sparked the group’s interest in the first place, Ortiz got personal – sharing how she was given up for adoption and her new mother gave her a camera. “I was very young and immediately wanted to take pictures of everything – people, landscapes, chickens…there were A LOT of chickens in Puerto Rico where I visit my family.”
Later, in the United States, she joined the yearbook club and was encouraged by her teachers to make more use of her talents.
But it was when Ortiz met her birth mother at age 15 that she recognized the power of photography. “She told me how she clung to the one photo she had of me all these years…and how happy she was that we could now do so much more.” Less than five years later, Ortiz’s biological mother died. “It made me realize how important the memories I capture in my business really are.”
Ortiz also shared that his family did not have the opportunity to continue their education but worked hard to make their way. “My father emphasized the importance of school – again and again as I grew up. Again, I understand now.
AbdelAhad spoke about the challenges that can make or break an entrepreneur. “You are going to hear what seems like millions of noes. You are will fail. But to overcome it and make it a successful moment, you have to take each “no” and each failure as an opportunity to learn.
Quainoo continued, “Every time I feel that doubt creep in, I go back to my original vision. I also realized that I like being with my friends, but for that to continue, I have to surround myself with other entrepreneurs, people who believe in my dream and who will help me propel it.
Ortiz gave their arguments more context when she described the many hats an entrepreneur wears. “I’ve heard a lot of people say things like, ‘I’m not a marketer, how am I supposed to write a marketing plan?’ There’s so much to do in the beginning – business development, creating budgets, marketing plans – all you have to do is immerse yourself in it, check your ego and whether it’s at school or while you’re at gym, make connections and learn from everyone you can.
At this point, PSU-LV LaunchBox offers endless networking opportunities, in addition to offering other basic resources ranging from marketing tips to micro-grants and free legal advice – the service that is often hailed as the stumbling block. costliest in starting a business. Part of a much larger network of Penn State Innovation Centers across the state, the Valley LaunchBox continues to grow in step with student interest in being their own boss.
“This generation is the most racially and ethnically diverse demographic to date,” said Tina Q. Richardson, Chancellor of PSU-LV. “It is also becoming known as the most entrepreneurial given reports that anywhere from 42 to over 70% of Gen Zers have started – or want to start – their own business. As the state’s only land-grant university, we are committed to providing access to education and resources—including those tailored to entrepreneurs—the cornerstone of our nation’s workforce.
About Lehigh Valley LaunchBox
Lehigh Valley Launch Boxis a Penn State and community sponsored business accelerator program created as part of the Invent Penn State initiative. The Lehigh Valley LaunchBox program awards micro-grants to budding entrepreneurs. Lehigh Valley LaunchBox partners connect micro-grant recipients with alumni, business leaders, and university partners to provide mentorship and help launch ideas and turn them into useful products. All members of the Lehigh Valley community and Penn State faculty, staff, and students who have a scalable business idea are welcome to apply for Lehigh Valley LaunchBox membership.