Guest Blog by ELP Student Michael Kovalcik – Computer Science and Engineering – Class of 2019
Three years ago Justin Lafazan and Dylan Gambardella founded the Next Gen Summit, a congregation of the brightest young entrepreneurial minds from across the county. Next Gen was my first entrepreneurial summit and I want to share my experience.
Keiana Cavé, a 30 under 30 Honoree and fellow member of the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program (ELP) at the University of Michigan, shared this video testimonial that dropped quotes like, “Next Gen is the place to meet very young people who are just as ambitious as you” and “If you want more out of life and want to do something really incredible, Next Gen is the place.” It’s pretty fair to say the bar had been set high; by the end of the weekend I was still blown away.
I attended Next Gen because I wanted to challenge my mental model of student entrepreneurship. As a member of ELP I thought I had a pretty good idea of who and what a young successful entrepreneur was like. I knew Next Gen would be the perfect place to challenge those assumptions.
Day 1: Meeting my fellow entrepreneurs
I walked up to the registration table equally nervous and excited for my first ever entrepreneurial summit. “Hey, you’re ELP,” I hear from behind me. I turn to see Justin Lafazan, cofounder of Next Gen. Somehow word had spread that ELP was coming to Next Gen. More than just Justin that had taken notice. Realizing I was here, not just for myself, but also to represent ELP as entrepreneurial leaders gave the me the confidence to walk a little taller and head into the crowd of entrepreneurs ready to tell my story.
I spent four hours in that sea of entrepreneurs and I loved every minute of it. Prior to Next Gen I had assumed that innovation would come from college students and graduates. I assumed the majority of innovation would happen through tech. I was proven dead wrong when I met Femi Adebogun, a high schooler who had already founded multiple ventures! I couldn’t believe it. I had never even heard the word entrepreneurship when I was in high school. Here I was hanging out with a group of teenagers making over a million dollars in revenue. They weren’t starting tech companies either. They were innovating in all types of areas from cooking, to healthcare, to fashion.
Day 2: Entrepreneurial Journeys and Professional Development
We kicked the day off with a motivational speech from Jahleel Coleman who helped us see our own potential and the potential of everyone in the room. Jaleel really emphasized the opportunity we have been given at Next Gen and in life and encouraged us to make the most out both. The day proceeded with a whirlwind of speakers. One of my favorites was Cindy Whitehead, a serial entrepreneur in the healthcare space who now runs The Pink Ceiling, an incubator for women entrepreneurs. Next Gen also did a really great job of setting us up with 1:1s to a number of different mentors. These direct interactions were tailored to our goals, fields, and interests. We wrapped day two up with some structured fun at a bowling alley. It was here that I finally got the chance to sit with co-founders Justin and Dylan to tell my story and the story of ELP. My ELP pitch went something like this:
“ELP was founded upon the premise that there has been an explosion of entrepreneurship at the university level, however, the majority of students are only superficially interested in entrepreneurship. ELP seeks to find the real entrepreneurs, those amongst the crowd who are raising their hand to say (mostly through their actions) I am the entrepreneur! I know this is what I want for my career, for my life. There is nothing else. We undergo a year long program that exposes us to leadership training, an internship at a startup, and connects us with the other like minded individuals on Campus and across the country.”
They were stunned. Justin sensed a sort of resonance from our very first encounter at that registration booth, but it wasn’t until now that he had put it together. The fact is that ELP embodies many of same ideas behind the founding of Next Gen. Our passion and relentless drive makes us stand out amongst the crowd even in a room full of other talented entrepreneurs. So much so that all 4/4 ELPers got invited into a private session with the legendary David Rose.
The discussion with David Rose was by far the most exciting event. David’s phenomenal energy led to a realistic yet optimistic discussion about the future of entrepreneurship. What really made this event special was all the talent concentrated in this one room. There were 13 young entrepreneurs with great diversity of skillsets and interests. David had us convinced that together we could take on the world. We discussed all aspects of entrepreneurship: how to identify key players, how to find the right challenges, and the evolving climate of entrepreneurial ecosystems outside of Silicon Valley.
Justin Lafazan and Dylan Gambardella are changing this world. I know every single attendee left that conference a new, better, entrepreneur. To any young aspiring entrepreneur who might be reading this, I encourage you to attend a Next Gen Summit. Next Gen will propel you forward in your journey as much as it has in mine. The friends and memories are worth it alone. Without a doubt I will heading back to take on Next Gen 2018.