Claire Tourigny ‘20 is an English major from Manchester, New Hampshire.
The story of how I came to discover the entrepreneurial mindset is not an unusual one, but it is strange. By that, I mean it’s a bizarre journey that includes a psychic and a trip across the ocean, but it’s one that I think a lot of people might resonate with.
I came to Hollins effectively a pre-declared English major, and in fact, the knowledge that I would be studying creative writing is what drew me to Hollins in the first place. I had spent my high school years bouncing between literary magazines and student newspapers, paying more attention to my books and journals than to my classes, and dreaming of one day becoming a successful writer.
Little has changed on that front. What stood out to me about Hollins was the English Department – the professors, the classes, the student involvement. Immediately after first-year orientation I filled my schedule with as many gen-ed and prereq courses as possible, just so I could get the boring stuff out of the way and devote the rest of my college experience to my writing. This would turn out to be the smartest decision I made that first semester, as it freed up the next three and half years for my winding journey through academia.
It was a dark and stormy night when my friend and I were deciding our class schedule for the fall of 2017. I’d picked three English-adjacent classes I wanted to take, but one of them was only two credits, and so I found myself a few credit hours short. So, what was a young creative writer with most of her gen-eds already over with to do, but select a class at random? I scrolled through the class catalogue, trying to find an introductory level class that fit in with my schedule, when I stumbled across “BUS 100 – Introduction to Business.”
Now, this is where things get a little bizarre.
See, the summer after high school, after I had already enrolled at Hollins and was planning my very lucrative future as a novelist, a fortune teller had told me that I was going to work in marketing. As a side note, this was one of those beach boardwalk palm readers who charged $15 for some generic rambling and told me that I would be married with children by age 20, so the validity of her claims is still a little bit up in the air. But nonetheless, I thought about that moment when reading the BUS 100 course description and thought, “Alright, I’ll bite.” Not because I had any faith at all in the predictions of the stars or whatever, but because… hey, why not?
So I signed up for the introductory business class, and like most decisions made based on the advice of a shady psychic, I immediately felt as though I had made the wrong decision. Even as sophomores, all of my classmates were so… businessy. And I was so decidedly not. There was a reason I had devoted most of my time to the written word up until that point. I stumbled and stuttered my way through classroom presentations, disappeared into my seat during discussions, and overall spent more time maintaining eye contact with the wall than my classmates.
But through it all, the material engaged me in a way that few of my random gen-eds had before. Our semester-long project was to work with a few partners to create a business plan for a hypothetical startup, and while our group’s food truck/art gallery was one of the more bizarre companies pitched during the final presentations, I found myself engaged by the process of creating something from the ground up. The numbers behind it all eluded me, but the idea of finding a need in the local economy and fulfilling it was something I had never really considered to be a part of business before. See, my group and I decided that while Roanoke certainly had its fair share of art galleries and healthy restaurants, none of those were really accessible to your average student, so we created a food truck business that also displayed student art. Yes, it was a weird idea, but it was also (unbeknownst to me) my first glimpse of social entrepreneurship. I was new to the idea of the entrepreneurial mindset, and before taking the class, “business” to me was shaking hands with sweaty guys in suits and sitting at a desk inputting numbers all day. The Intro to Business class gave me my first glimpse into the big, wide world of entrepreneurship.
So I continued down the business track, thinking that if I was going to major in English, I ought to have something practical under my belt. Due to my aforementioned preconceived notion of business as sweaty handshakes, meetings about profit margins, and a lot of spreadsheets, I assumed that a businesswoman would need a head for numbers, so I took an accounting class during the spring of my sophomore year. As someone who has always struggled with numbers, this was a strange experience. I think everyone needs basic accounting competency, just like everyone should know how to write. What I learned is that math is just another type of language, and while I enjoyed the structure and stability of learning formulas, balancing equations, and filling out charts and tables, it was nothing I could imagine myself doing long-term. I am a writer, first and foremost, and I was not willing to give that up in order to fit into my skewed image of what a business student was. I completed my accounting class with an average grade and no desire to ever continue down that road.
The next stage of my journey was in London, during the first semester of my junior year. At this point, after my unsuccessful foray into accounting, I’d decided that I needed to start seriously thinking about a stable career that fell in line with both my interests and my skills. I know – such an easy goal, right? Well, at the time, the only thing I could really think of was journalism. So I interned for a semester at a London-based tech publication. It was, all-in-all, a great experience. I enjoyed the company I was working with, and the opportunity to spend a few months living in a different country and building up a nice portfolio wasn’t anything to turn my nose up at. But journalism itself wasn’t what I thought it would be, or rather, it wasn’t what I wanted. Or, rather rather, it wasn’t what I learned that I needed.
By that, I mean simply that I learned something while spending a semester churning out tech articles and scheduling interviews. While I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as “selling out,” it wasn’t enough for me to simply spend my days writing about whatever I was told to write about. I wanted creative control over my own words. I wanted to choose what to write about based on my interests, not just trending news topics and hashtags. And more than that, I craved the feeling I got during BUS 100, when my group partners and I sat around a table, spit-firing out ideas on how to fill the need for low-cost food and accessible art in the Roanoke community – the feeling that I was making a difference.
When I got back to Hollins in the spring of my junior year, I decided I was going to minor in business, and signed up for an e-commerce class as a way of fulfilling a graduation requirement. At this stage, I still had no idea where I wanted my business minor to take me – I just knew that I wanted it to take me somewhere. I’ll admit, I was expecting very little from this class, solely based off of the fact that I did not think I would really engage with the material. Oh, how wrong I was.
In fact, no business class changed my perspective as much as this one, because it was this e-commerce class that introduced me to the world of inbound marketing. It hit me like an arrow – all of a sudden, I realized that I could combine my love for writing with my interest in business. Our semester-long project was to design a website for a local small business that was just about to launch, and for the first time in my academic career, I found myself actually volunteering to take charge over the blog. I’m not good at numbers and I can’t for the life of me make a presentation without panicking, but I can write. And for the first time ever, I realized that my skills could actually be useful as an entrepreneur.
After the semester ended and senior year began, I was hired to work for the then-new Entrepreneurial Learning Institute (ELI) as a content marketer. Not only did I write the blog posts and help manage the social media presence, but I found myself at the base of something important, working beside other, frankly more talented students to help create the institute from the ground up. It was through working for ELI that I finally defined social entrepreneurship. It’s the idea that I just barely came across in BUS 100, the idea that a small startup can create powerful change just by fulfilling a need in the community. And through this definition, I realized that anyone, even a creative writer, can be an entrepreneur.
Photo Credit: Mary Daley Photography