Dear Pathfinder: Up-and-coming Entrepreneur    

Dear Pathfinder, is the Career Center’s Career Development advice column. Have a question for us? Submit it here. Catch up on past letters, here.   

The Question –  

 If I don’t have a support system that I feel can adequately understand the pitch I am making. Where should I turn to? 

— Up-and-coming Entrepreneur  

Dear Up-and-coming Entrepreneur, 

If you have an idea or a business pitch that you have been working on and would like to run it by someone to gain advice or feedback, there are resources at Duke and staff members who would be more than happy to assist you in this process. Duke Innovation & Entrepreneurship (I&E) provides startup support where they offer guidance through mentorship. You can schedule a 1:1 appointment with a Mentor in Residence to discuss your ideas, practice your pitch, receive feedback, and get additional support. If you haven’t reached out to them, I would highly recommend doing so and getting connected or involved with Duke I&E as much as possible. This will provide the opportunity for you to build like-minded relationships and establish a support system within Duke to guide you throughout the entrepreneurship process. 

— Career Advisor 


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Dear Up-and-coming Entrepreneur,

This question sends me in two directions. I will provide quick thoughts on both.  

  1. Where should I seek support as a new or early-stage entrepreneur? 
  1. What can I do if my current support system does not understand the world I am navigating? 

At a discussion hosted by the DukeLIFE office, Alejandra Campoverdi, author of First Gen: A Memoir, spoke about an idea she called “world jumping.” She used this phrase to highlight the experiences of people who navigate starkly different environments than their support systems. In the lens of holding a first-generation* identity, this might look like the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between Duke’s campus and your hometown. She did a great job articulating the sometimes difficult growth that comes with being one of the first people in your circle to try something different. There may be moments when your biggest cheerleaders cannot wrap their minds around the spaces you are navigating. But it does not mean they do not want to see you shine. Hold on to your patience and do your best to invite them into this new world.  

I use this example to highlight that your trusted support system may not  yet understand the new world you are navigating. And that’s okay. Try exploring how to achieve your goals while identifying people who might be able to support your growth. As my colleague suggests, Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Center could be a great first stop on your journey. I would also encourage you to consider where else resources might exist. There are startup incubator programs that you could apply to, identify business owners on LinkedIn for mentorship or informational interviews, or practice your elevator pitch on someone in your target demographic. The goal is to remember that all problems require creative solutions. If you want to strategize further, connect with us in the Career Center. Schedule an appointment by using Handshake. 

And if you need an example of someone doing this in real time click here to learn about Jack TerHaar, a University of Georgia senior.

[*] NASPA’s Center for First-Generation Student Success maintains there is no common definition for First Generation students. “While the definition can be complicated, being a first-gen student means that your parents did not complete a 4-year college or university degree. Some colleges and universities use a different definition…” and it’s often helpful to include students whose parents received a degree outside of the United States in this type of conversation.  

— Career Advisor 

By Jared Smith (He/Him)
Jared Smith (He/Him) Associate Director, Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging