I came into Columbia as an entrepreneur, having started and run a private educational consulting firm in Shanghai (www.hsiaoeducation.com). As an entrepreneur, I experienced the gamut of emotions that everyone always said I would: exhilaration, depression, pride, frustration, delirium, and exhaustion, sometimes all in a single day. These feelings however, would come and go, nearly always triggered by material events, such as new business coming in or employees leaving for greener pastures. One aspect I had never been warned about, however, was the chronic loneliness associated with the job.
Perhaps compounded by the fact that I was operating in a foreign country, my life as an international entrepreneur was solitary. I had no shortage of social interaction, from gym partners to employees and ex-pat drinking buddies, but the burden of trying to grow a small business was one they could not relate to. The inability to share the joys of success or commiserate with the pain of defeat is an aspect of entrepreneurship that I believe is understated.
Since coming to Columbia however, I’ve been floored by the level of energy and support surrounding entrepreneurship. There is a tangible “buzz” that can be felt, not only in the Business School but throughout the entire university. Columbia has devoted a tremendous amount of resources to the development of young entrepreneurs. I’m incredibly lucky to be a part of CEL (Columbia Entrepreneur’s Lab) this summer, an incubator for students devoted to spending their summers working on their businesses. Weekly programming includes Q&A sessions from incredibly successful and inspirational entrepreneurs, who have been astoundingly willing to share their experiences with us. Furthermore, the level of discussion and sharing that occurs amongst the students imparts a sense of belonging and togetherness that the entrepreneurial world often lacks. Being surrounded by like-minded entrepreneurs and mentors at Columbia has literally been a dream come true for me.