This guest blog post is by Karim Abouelnaga.
Karim is a student, speaker and social entrepreneur. He is the founder of Practice Makes Perfect, Inc., a nonprofit that works to narrow the achievement gap by providing low-income students with mentorship and resources that are beyond the reach of their inner-city public schools. With the support and guidance from mentors, Karim has won over $300,000 in scholarships and awards to make his studies at Cornell University possible. In addition to being immersed in student life, he is a Cornell Presidential Research Scholar and focuses his time examining the implications of financial incentives on academic performance. As a speaker for the LIFE foundation, Karim continues to speak to thousands of life insurance executives and financial advisers all across the US motivating them to expand their reach.
Karim has held internships on political campaigns and in financial services. He recently received the 2012 Newman Civic Award and was recognized as a 2011 Pearson Prize National Fellow for his commitment to public service. In his spare time, Karim enjoys mentoring, playing sports, and engaging in political discussions.
Uncommon Knowledge Every Young Entrepreneur Should Know
What would you do if you had all of the time and money you needed? You do not have to answer the question right away; in fact, I would find it hard to believe that a large number of people anticipate being in such a situation. But what if I told you that while you were in college that you had exactly that? The moment I decided I wanted to start my first company, I immediately engaged friends, professors and mentors in the idea. I was ready to start a nonprofit organization positioned to serve students in socioeconomic neighborhoods by providing them with resources and mentorship that were beyond the reach of their inner-city public schools.
Despite the clear vision, the road was bumpy—as it should have been. To this very day I remember the best advice I was given. A mentor of mine told me that he wanted to start a nonprofit when he was my age but decided not to when he was told that Jay-Z says “you can’t help the poor if you are one of them.” Generally speaking, his advice was not unwarranted. I definitely couldn’t ask my mother for money to start a company, let alone a nonprofit.
I thought back to my childhood and began to deeply deconstruct what the phrase “time is money” really meant. In hindsight, I now know that time is not equivalent to money; however, it is fairly close. A little less than two years ago, I set out on a mission to follow my passion. Today, what was originally a nonprofit idea is now a fully fledged out citywide organization that is serving 200 low-income students across four of New York City’s neediest neighborhoods—including my own.
So how did I do it? I’ll spare you the lecture on the most obvious responses like hard work, dedication, and persistence. Rather, here are three things that weren’t as inherently apparent that I wish I knew and could believe with greater conviction:
1) Identify a big-small need or problem. First, the need has to be large enough to be able share with other people. Yet, others have to believe it is small enough they can make a dent in working towards that need.
2) Every time you fall, fight the internal hesitation to get up slowly or sit there comfortably. Through experience, your recovery will get faster. But you have to ask yourself, if I fall will I want to get back up? Or can I get back up? If you fail to answer those questions confidently, then take a moment to reevaluate the amount of conviction you have in your idea. Because at the end of the day, if you do not believe in your own idea, you will struggle immensely to convince others in its potential.
3) There is limited downside. College is a risk-less environment. Being a college entrepreneur doesn’t mean you have to drop out of school or sacrifice your grades.
Starting a company is an unparalleled learning experience. You truly learn a lot about other people, your interests, aspirations and limitations. I can personally say I don’t have single regret and would do it again if presented the opportunity 100x over. Lastly, act now, while it is most affordable to do so.