Entrepreneurship is a word that has been flying around campus more and more frequently. “Do you want to be an entrepreneur?” ask the students handing out flyers near the library. “Are you interested in a career in entrepreneurship?” ask the recruiters that flood campus each Fall. I’ve heard these questions often since expressing some interest entrepreneurship.
My answer is always the same: “Well…maybe?”
But what does entrepreneurship actually look like in action? Elon Musk is an entrepreneur. A 10 year-old opening his own lemonade stand is an entrepreneur. The word is so encompassing; it’s up to the person to define their version.
From March 15-18, I was able to see entrepreneurship in action on the Weather Underground Startup Trek (WUST). WUST took me to San Francisco for the first time ever, placing me in the heart of the SoMa neighborhood. Within a 1 mile radius were the offices of Pinterest, Dropbox, Salesforce, Airbnb, and Uber. These are all still “startups” in the eyes of many, but joining any of their teams would be the same as working at Google, Facebook, or any large and well established tech company.
With the advice of successful entrepreneurs and innovative alumni, I looked to define ‘entrepreneurship’ once and for all by seeing firsthand what life is like at startups in the Bay Area. One such opportunity came about when WUST took me the 18th floor of 535 Mission Street. A collaborative workspace–WeWork–was buzzing with energy. Housing multiple startups and providing support for growing ventures, WeWork has ten co-working offices across the city, the Trans-bay site housing a notorious team of U-M alumni. There we visited with Kinsa Health, a startup that has reinvented the thermometer. Kinsa aids families along the path of recovery, using data analytics to track and optimize recovery time via a smartphone app. Within the app, parents can track which sicknesses are being spread in local school and daycare facilities.
While Kinsa definitely was a cool idea, I found myself critical as it appeared to be another budding hardware company, which can be difficult to grow in the current startup environment. I thought of other startups that have “made it”, some of which have entire skyscrapers dedicated to them: Pinterest, Dropbox, Airbnb, and Uber. I’ve learned that there’s no external hardware necessary for users, and apps can be set up in no time at all, making the barrier to entry for hardware compared to that of software startups, too large.
But there is a certain magic surrounding passionate people that is impossible to characterize in writing, that which absolutely enchanted me once the founder of Kinsa Health began to speak. Inder Singh, Michigan alum and Kinsa CEO, is without a doubt one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. Within 5 minutes, my entire perception of Kinsa changed. The way he described the founding values and the future vision he had for his company had me captivated, invested!
Just imagine: a world where everyone’s health is tracked the exact moment they start to feel sick. The spread of disease can be visualized in real-time and stopped with the appropriate response period by an independent agency keeping track of this data. Additionally these responses can be optimized with each iteration and all future outbreaks will be contained and eliminated the moment they start to spread. With the potential of the data Kinsa is collecting, the team will be able to market the data to other companies, health services, or governmental agencies, driving the price of the thermometer to $0. The data alone will create the need and ability to provide a thermometer to everyone for free, therefore eliminating the barrier to entry into hardware. With a vision that lies on the interdisciplinary lines between healthcare, epidemiology, data science, machine learning, and hardware, Kinsa can change the world of health care and sickness prevention.
Entrepreneurship is the reason why companies like Kinsa can exist. If every member of their team had gone to established healthcare companies, it would be impossible for such innovations to be made in healthcare hardware and data analytics. With over $30 million raised and countless hours invested, Kinsa will continue to flourish. While the work-life balance can seem unmanageable in a city where 20 hour days are not unheard of, the passion to work through and continually improve and innovate is so present within the Kinsa team and beyond. And that’s the only underlying factor I have seen that all entrepreneurs have: the passion and dedication to work tirelessly towards a goal they believe in even if it means sacrificing your work-life balance.
Each entrepreneur has a different pathway to pursuing their dreams. To me, there were three distinct moments that were critical to maturing my mindset: taking part in my entrepreneurship classes, speaking with former Executive Director of the CFE, Tom Frank, and listening to the founders of Kinsa. In my ENTR classes, I learned that entrepreneurs need to wear many hats, meaning they need to have a multidimensional skill set, in addition to finding the questions that they are most passionate about answering. While never easy, finding your passions can be the first of many difficult tasks in the life of an entrepreneur. But luckily on the last day of WUST, Tom Frank gave me advice on where I can start to look – “Everything you’re interested in is a dot. Collect as many dots as possible and see where it takes you.”
I want to be an entrepreneur that collects as many dots as possible and finds the intersections and connections between them. Starting a company isn’t on my bucket list, but I believe that by collecting dots and learning about what I’m interested in, I might open a new interdisciplinary field that grows into a new industry. Just as autonomous vehicles have merged data science and automobiles, I hope to have my interests, passions, and biggest questions come together.
Once one collects enough dots, one has a vision for the future of the world. That version of the future will choose you. And if it befits you and grips you strongly enough, you will recruit a team and start a startup to push the world towards that vision.
By Christopher Shih