What Entrepreneurship Means to Me: My ELP Journey
Blog post by ELP student Alexander Samra (Aerospace Engineering | Class of 2021) Interning at University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute
My name is Alexander Samra, Aerospace Engineering ’21 at the University of Michigan. Ever since I was young I was obsessed with the impossible, obsessed with limitations. I could never stop imagining the possibilities even when I was told not to.
I was told I would never be able to survive in a large university. I was told I would never be successful as a writer. I was told I would never be an engineer because I couldn’t focus.
When I set foot on campus for the first time it became clear I was on a journey to smashing all three of those boundaries. While these perceived barriers often swayed me, they never changed my mind. In fact, they pushed me to try harder.
It is true that I was not focused – on the extraneous, the mundane. From a very young age I was filled with confidence that told me I could change the world. That was what I was born to do, I’d tell myself.
By the end of my first year of college I had won a university award for my poetry, constructed an unconventional model blimp shaped like a donut, and found a home among numerous friends within the entrepreneurship community at the university.
After my successful first year I had already discovered my next glass ceiling: starting my own business. I have always wanted to be at the head of efforts to create a positive impact on the world. I knew I had a lot of work to do but proving my detractors wrong up to this point pushed me to believe in myself. Soon I would discover that this cycle of being doubted and succeeding against the odds is central to being an entrepreneur.
From Engineering to Entrepreneurship
For the summer after my first year in college I was accepted into the European Innovation Academy program in Italy. EIA is a three-week simulated startup accelerator with the goal to learn from students and mentors in the industry by practice. Yet my parents begged me not to go. They said that it wouldn’t be financially feasible, that I could not possibly navigate European transportation systems.
It’s true, even I had doubts that I could live alone in Europe for any duration when I had never even flown by myself before. I didn’t speak a word of Italian nor did I know a single other person going along. I was faced with yet another impossibly high wall and discouraged from summiting it.
Yet I persisted. I made travel plans and booked tickets without anyone’s guidance, only my dream to lead me onward. A part of me knew this was the path I was meant to take. I dove into the unknown headfirst, and like a whirlwind I went from imagining Italy to settling into an apartment in Turin. Thousands of miles from home and surrounded by students from dozens of countries, I never felt like I belonged anywhere else more.
I learned firsthand how arduous it is to start a company, but I also discovered that the life of a serial entrepreneur could not suit me better. A life of goal setting and pushing the limits has always been my dream. At EIA I fell in love with marketing, competitive strategy, and the energy of our entrepreneurial community.
From EIA to ELP
Sophomore year I was accepted into the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program where I met a cohort of like-minded students. ELP is more than just a program, it’s a family that shares my passion for making a positive difference in the world through tech entrepreneurship. In the ELP class we learned an array of lessons from Porter’s Five Forces to Customer Discovery to a simple list of characteristics that define a successful entrepreneur:
Entrepreneurs identify opportunities, innovate with technology, experiment, build relationships, manage risk, and most importantly of all, persevere.
The most striking point in this list is the trait of perseverance. An entrepreneur persists, an entrepreneur dreams – an entrepreneur doesn’t let bad days, failures, or long odds sway them from their goals. An entrepreneur loves the chase, the community, and proving others wrong. In short, I realized I was made to be an entrepreneur.
Me, I love things that seem impossible until the day that I bring them into reality by the power of will alone. Rinse and repeat – set another impossible goal and pour my soul into it. This is my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
From ELP to EGI
After a successful year in the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program I was preparing for a summer internship. I knew I wanted to work with engineering projects, but flight software and aerodynamics were topics I covered extensively in class and in lab. I knew I would get bored writing code and running simulations at a desk for days on end. I wanted to break into engineering business by finding a consulting job.
I began to feel doubt as I realized most of my peers got hired at big aerospace companies to work technical roles. I felt like startup consulting was a risk and offered a less certain future. I started to wonder if an aerospace engineer could ever be a businessman with all the technical knowledge the major requires.
I refused to turn back, determining that if somebody could do it that person would be me. I would push boundaries, chase a love for engineering, AND fulfill my desire to practice entrepreneurship.
When I interviewed at the University of Michigan Economic Growth Institute I identified one of the greatest opportunities of my career. The Institute was established to help strengthen the Michigan economic ecosystem. The Institute advises both tech startups and established companies through a variety of programs.
I was hired into the First Customer Program which helps tech startups break into new markets. My work consists of performing market research and competitive analysis for a handful of clients. I am constantly exercising concepts I learned in my entrepreneurial journey as well as engineering classes. This work has validated my decision to go to EIA, to apply to ELP, and to chase an ever-rising bar of excellence
My name is Alexander Samra: aerospace engineer, entrepreneur, and dreamer. I could not be prouder to represent the European Innovation Academy, the Entrepreneurs Leadership Program, the Economic Growth Institute, and the broader entrepreneurship community at the university. I plan to launch my own company soon – my next step in bringing dreams to reality. I will yet again prove that the once impossible is but another rung on the ladder to even greater goals.
This is perseverance, this is entrepreneurship, #THISISELP.