Nothing Short of Extraordinary
Before my Junior year at Montclair State, I had never considered that time spent studying abroad was a viable nor an important direction to take my studies. Only after a plane ride across the world and a dinner conversation with a 6' 8" physicist named Jacob, did I realize that nothing back in New Jersey could have opened my eyes to the potential that our learning experience in Graz did.
First, and most importantly, the group of sister city residents that we came to love in a week's time were nothing short of extraordinary. From the casual conversations over drinks to the discussions over a Business Model Canvas to the unending comparisons between the American way versus the Austrian way, our classmates made the trip as impactful as it was. At the base of all of these things is the fact that our Austrian counterparts spoke better English than I could have ever thought. In the short term, this made communicating over our pitches a breeze and made a fun way to see what American expressions had made their way over the Atlantic. But in a more long term sense, having fluid conversations with the Austrian students helped conceptualize the possibility to me that performing business in international settings was not as far-fetched as it often seems to me, as a monolingual English speaker. After a week of interacting with everyone from my Austrian team members to TEA's Austrian organizers, I am feeling more than confident that I can not only travel but I can reach out to potential business partners in parts of the world that may not be primarily English but still have speaking proficiency.
Going on about how this trip demonstrated reliability between two cultures on opposite continents, the guest speakers, local business owners and even fellow Austrian students that had their on businesses were greatly impactful in the ways that they explained the workings of their business. For example, the way that Appers CEO, Thomas Kriebernegg, discussed the clients and the platforms he was working with, it seemed as though his team could have been based in New York, had he not told us otherwise. Next, the atmosphere and the conversations that my group had with the people over at Graz's Freedom Skateshop seemed almost no different than the conversations I would have had with people in a comparable shop back in the US. Finally, the way we saw my group member, Stefan Lobnig's company Lokos in action at the clubs on the last night made it easy to comprehend how a similar business could thrive back in the US. Overall, the relationships we were introduced to both inside and outside of the classroom were eye opening in the ways that they showed me how similar the working of American business and European businesses could be.
Inside the classroom, one of the foremost presentations that I felt was beneficial was from Stefan Kardos of Creativity Gym, on the first day. Perhaps it was because Kardos was catching us at the peak of our energy levels at that point in the week but the manner in which he generalized the framework behind exercising creativity felt like a great way to jumpstart the week. To begin, his pair of statistics from the Adobe Creativity Gap Study mentioned that 80% of people surveyed feel that creativity is critical for economic growth but only 25% of those people feel like they are living up to their full creative potential. I thought this was an especially useful fact to bring up to a room of hopeful entrepreneurs because I feel that if those questions had hypothetically been posed to the room we sat in, the general consensus of the room would have matched the results of the survey. Of course we probably all would have said that creativity is critical for economic growth, because we were all willing to travel across the world in an effort to pursue an education in his field. Moreover, if any of us had felt that we were reaching our full creative potential, then there would be no reason to be in a classroom when we could be out exercising that potential. Thus, in considering those questions for myself and applying them to my current situation, I found myself to be feeding into that gap and I subsequently spend the rest of the lecture listening in on how I personally could close that gap.
By continuing to take the lecture on creativity personally, I took great effort in the exercise in which Kardos asked us to identify our drive. In the time allowed to address this prompt, I came up with the following: "My drive stems from my desire to have ownership over an emerging service and a brick and mortar storefront for my business. I want to exercise full control over the marketing / advertising / promotional and other relevant processes behind the operation of my business. I similarly want ownership of appointing the appropriate affiliates to handle other necessary facets of the company. I want to be able to make connections with relevant industry icons and have a platform that I have created and know every single detail of." This part of the day was particularly important to me because I often feel myself keeping them those sorts of thoughts in my head and never actually putting them to paper and reading them back over again. Looking back and reading this statement now that the trip is over, I see even more value in going back over my thoughts from the time by the way that they help me remember the nature of the lecture. I am already a huge proponent of keeping written records of my daily thoughts and actions so if I can continue to actively write about the factors that are driving my potential business venture, like the way I was able to in the Creativity Gym presentation, then I know it could provide value as my ideas continue to develop.
Next, out of all the other lectures that included for life success stories, inspiration on different ways of thinking and several other parts that make up the entrepreneurial mindset, I found a notable amount of value and Professor Frasca's presentation on forming a company in the United States. Out of all the other presentations of the week, this one was by far one of the most dry in terms of the nature of it's content but in terms of the value in that content, I rank it as one of my favorites. The simple reason is because I had never found myself involved with one of these lectures but have always longed for one to come up. As one who has legitimate operations to one day open up their own small business, the logistics and legalities behind getting up and running are some of my most concerning fears of the process. To combat this fear, I took an entire semester of Small Business Management at Montclair State, only to have the professor skip talking about the process of incorporating, accessing lending opportunities and all the other touch points that Frasca detailed. Again restating my fearfulness, I naturally thought that this trip would be another academia-curated group of lessons that would talk all about business ventures and small businesses but would leave out the logistics behind getting one off of the ground. To my pleasant surprise though, Frasca covered a lot of information that I had no idea would be coming my way before this trip.
The only pitfall to this incredibly informative presentation was its length. We were made aware at the beginning that Frasca did not have a great deal of time for the lecture and that fact unfortunately left me with questions. Above all, I would have liked to hear more about the permits and licenses needed to keep the business in accordance with US laws. From conversations I have had with small business owners in the past, they often say that the majority of their bandwidth, at times, is spent on keeping up with local regulations. Of course this means that there would be far more to talk about than this lecture could have sufficed to discuss, but I was left wishing for more of an explanation in this regard, nevertheless. With that being said, though, Frasca's opening point of speaking with an attorney in an accountant before formation of the business is vital. Even after being left with questions about all the ins and outs of this process, I am confident that this lecture will not be my last consultation before I begin to think about forming my own venture.
All in all, reflecting back on a high intensity week of entrepreneurial experience building in a foreign country makes me realize what a unique advantage I have over anyone else out there who might be trying to pursue a similar idea to me. And while I'm not sure if, in my case, a skateboard rental exchange service is going to be the best potential business for me, I know that the knowledge that I have received from this trip will carry over, no matter what venture this idea may pivot into. No matter what it may be, I know that I'm no longer afraid to air my idea out to a bunch of strangers and I know how to better address a challenge that I am a bit stumped on, in front of a room full of people. I know that after this week, I'm confident to speak up when I have questions or when I have potential solutions to existing problems that are better left out in the open than inside my head. With all this being said, my underlying hope is that one day, when I open the doors to that first venture, I'll be able to say that the idea first took shape halfway across the world at the Transatlantic Entrepreneurship Academy in Graz, Austria.
Written by Daniel Fedkenheuer
Montclair State University, Class of 2018