Tomorrow is the date I’ve had circled on my calendar. Tomorrow I take a step.
Today is my last day at my corporate job – a company and variety of positions I am truly grateful for. Today is the last day of the single regular paycheck that has consistently provided for my family for many years.
When I wake up tomorrow I will begin a new season where the income sources are uncertain and varied. The step I am taking in leaving my corporate job is to enter a new season of entrepreneurship. This will have two components.
First, I will be spending the next four years in a PhD program on entrepreneurship. This will move me toward a new phase of scholarship in the academic arena where I plan to be a teacher and researcher. I have taken career detours through higher education before. So in a sense, this is somewhat familiar ground. Still, four years is a long time.
Second, I am embarking on a handful of small business start-ups, including a coaching business. In part, these are aimed at supplementing the needed income to support my family during the PhD program. Even with generous support from my university, much of the needed income will come from sources currently unclear to me. The other part is that I have wanted to try my hand at entrepreneurship for some time. This step is forcing me to do it. I am excited about each start-up project, even if I know that – in my own strength – the energy and bandwidth to be both a scholar and practitioner during this season will be finite.
Getting into the Game
I’ve been a fan of entrepreneurship for a long time, especially social entrepreneurship. It’s become rather trendy in recent years. I’ve been exploring this area of social entrepreneurship before there was much of a vocabulary for it like there is now – phrases like impact investing, bottom of the pyramid, triple bottom line, social impact, and so on.
When I was growing up as an expat in Venezuela, I saw first-hand the need in barrios and rural areas – and how it is met with creativity, innovation and resourcefulness. There are many improvising entrepreneurs by necessity who live far out of the view of venture capitalists.
When I worked for a humanitarian medical organization, I saw first-hand the inadequate access to healthcare and the importance of market-driven and technology-based solutions as part of any longer-term improvements. Even though well-intentioned, there are many ways that aid is insufficient, and sometimes even harmful.
When I embarked on a Fulbright scholarship to begin my transition to the for-profit world, I began to discover the vocabulary of corporate social responsibility. Then as I worked for large corporations like General Electric, I observed how market-back innovation could help drive product and business development in emerging markets.
The decision to pursue an academic career in entrepreneurship came about unexpectedly. I had considered it many years prior, even written it down as a goal several times. But it never seemed like a realistic possibility. I came close to applying to a doctoral program once before, but concluded it was not the right time. For all I knew, the possibility of pursuing a PhD was abandoned along with the cancellation fee for the GMAT test.
So when I learned about the new entrepreneurship doctoral program at Baylor University, it seemed intriguing but unlikely. I decided that there was never going to be a perfect time to do it financially speaking, and that I would regret not going for it. In the matter of a few short months, what felt like a long-shot soon became a reality and I was faced with an offer to pursue my academic interests.
Now I was on a path to become well-educated on the topic. But entrepreneurs are busy – really busy.
Among the few start-ups I am involved with is one that is a good fit for both my academic and entrepreneurial interests. It’s a company called Group TekZone, Inc. Serges Lemo is the founder and CEO. I first met him in 2013 when he was beginning to flesh out the idea for a maker space and business incubation center in Sub-Saharan Africa. He eventually asked me to join him as a co-founder, and I said ‘Yes’, seeing TekZone as the project I had been preparing for. TekZone is planning to open its first center in Cameroon this fall.
But then why the academic side? Why not put all my time and energy into the start-up, focus my risk-taking there? How will I be able to pursue being both a scholar and a practitioner with excellence?
I’d love to be able to have the answers about how it all works out. But this is not that story. This story is about taking a step tomorrow. This one step.
I had envisioned one day striking out on some entrepreneurial endeavor, but I never imagined it would look like this. The way this decision took shape is a messy, dreaming, stress-inducing, hopeful, confusing, prayerful, illogical story. But I have come to enjoy and embrace the wild ride that led to this decision even though I cannot see around the next bend.
The full details on that wild ride I will save for another time. But one thing I will say about the decision process is – I’ve done the math. This is a calculated risk. When I say that I’ve done the calculations, what I mean is – I ran the numbers and they still don’t add up. It doesn’t make perfect sense.
For me, this step is very much about not sitting in the stands of life and instead taking a step of faith – a risk in pursuit of adventure. We have an opening to pursue a dream. We could ignore it or go for it.
If you want to keep up with the journey, please subscribe. As for my family, tomorrow we go for it. Tomorrow I take a step.
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