“College is a full-time job, so picking up another full-time job isn’t easy – and it’s definitely not sustainable for long,” says Phillip Hedayatnia, an 18-year-old social entrepreneur, UX designer, and digital strategist studying Arts, Technology and the Science of Creativity at Rice University.
Phillip says that he got into entrepreneurship in order to solve problems. In fact, this same spirit is what led him to develop his own degree and major at Rice. “I’m currently proposing a custom major in Arts, Technology and the Science of Creativity, which is a degree at the intersection of the arts, psychology, neuroscience, business, and human-computer interaction,” he explains. “In its essence, it’s a cognitive science degree, warped and expanded to have a greater focus on applied sciences and practical implementation.”
He chose this area to study because most cognitive science programs do not focus sufficiently on the kinds of real-world applications most valuable to those who plan to go into applied careers in such sectors as technology and product development.
The seed of entrepreneurship was always just under the surface for Phillip. He developed a talent for digital data growing up in small-town Ohio. As a high school freshman, he founded a data-driven design agency, HybridSite Creative, growing it into a powerhouse that now serves everything from small businesses to major news publications with readership in the hundreds of thousands.
His business sense has translated into the public sector, too: he served as a digital strategist for Libertarian Party presidential nominee Gary Johnson and a developer and strategist for Ohio Governor John Kasich’s run for the Republican nomination in 2016. He also co-founded and served as editor-in-chief for the millennial-focused political news site RealPolitics News.
Currently, Phillip serves as the Chief Technology Officer for the Los Angeles-based Millennial Institute, a nonpartisan nonprofit organization aimed at reducing voter apathy among his generational peers. All this experience has given him a unique viewpoint on young adult entrepreneurship.
Phillip says it’s important for young entrepreneurs to make their priorities clear from the get-go. “In the long run,” he explains, “it isn’t possible to sustainably run a fast-growth startup company for longer than 1-2 years without formally taking a break from school – you’ll be handling investors’ money, and they’ll have growth expectations that’ll require you to work double-time regardless.”
It’s also essential, he says, that prospective entrepreneurs surround themselves with smart, dedicated, and passionate people. “I’d say the most important thing I’ve done to mitigate that work is surrounding myself with a great team of fellow students who share passion for what we do,” he notes. “Knowing that someone always has your back takes a lot of unnecessary stress off your plate, and that’s crucial while in the middle of founding a startup.”
Phillip says he firmly believes that what’s most important, both in politics and in entrepreneurship, is acting as someone who can bridge gaps. “Rather than focusing on ‘joining the fight,’” he says, “my recommendation is to work as a unifier, as a humanizer. Try to understand the other side, not with the intent of changing their minds or yours, but with the intent of understanding their belief system thoroughly.”
He recognizes that this is not easy for those with an entrepreneurial spirit to do. However, he wholly believes that it is the best part of being an entrepreneur. “[W]e are really problem-solvers using the framework and structure of business model development in order to generate solutions to real-world problems,” he explains. “[B]egin [by] practicing the problem-solving core of entrepreneurship, taking on smaller projects to expand your skills. Eventually, you’ll discover more things about the area you wish to work in.”
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