Breaking into a new industry as an outsider can be a harrowing feat for someone with little experience and connections. Four young social entrepreneurs shared a few words of wisdom in front of an audience of 800 people at Northeastern University during the first day of the Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Summit.
The panelists came to a consensus on three areas which lead them success: establishing yourself early to show your worth in a specific field, giving back to your community and the importance of mentorship.
Establish yourself as an expert
When 26-year-old Raymond Braun gained millions of views on YouTube as an LGBT activist, he knew that his work just had started. “There was incredible low-hanging fruit to empower minority groups. After starting a global LGBT campaign with YouTube and Google, I got massive support from LGBT employees,” said Braun. He previously made Forbes’ “30 Under 30” list in 2014 for his impactful work in community development.
Siavosh Derakhti, the 25-year-old Swedish founder of “Young People Against Anti-Semitism and Xenophobia,” knew his clout when he had a chance to meet Barack Obama. “I said ‘One day I’ll meet the U.S. president’ and people laughed at me. Three years later I did. After that, people want to be around the person who met the president,” said Derakhti. Raised by Iranian parents, he is a Muslim seeking to reduce prejudice against the Jewish population in Sweden and Europe.
Christopher Gray, founder of Scholly, knows the importance of providing for underserved communities. “It takes a little more effort to prove a point,” said Gray, “You have to have resilience, there’s a lot of ups and down in entrepreneurship.” His app, which helps students search for college scholarships, was provided to 275,000 students (free of charge) as a partnership with the White House’s “My Brother’s Keeper Initiative.”
Felix Ortiz is the CEO and Founder of Viridis Learning, an automated recruitment platform used to create middle-skilled workforce jobs. Ortiz was previously a paratrooper tied to a special forces unit. When he left the military he and his fellow soldiers were told to become truck drivers, but they had trouble finding jobs. This prompted him to establish Viridis Learning, a company which provides a necessary service to another underserved community, “Adversity helps you become a great entrepreneur,” said Ortiz.
Find/be a mentor
Gray said that it’s important to “have a specific goal in mind” when working with a mentor. One of his first mentor relationships was finding someone to help in the process to apply to college. Being able to transcend the typical power dynamic of the mentor-mentee relationship also leads to a more meaningful connection, “Don’t be intimidated by experience or fancy titles,” said Braun, “Mentorship is best when it’s a two-way street.”
Finally, setting an example and becoming a mentor for future generations of entrepreneurs was also a key factor in establishing oneself as a leader, “I always bring on young entrepreneurs who remind me of myself when I was starting out,” said Ortiz.