Yesterday marked the first day of the second annual Global Entrepreneurship Week, and the festivities began with the ringing of the bell at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE). The 9:30 a.m. bell ringing, which marks the open of the day's stock trading on Wall Street, also served as a precursor to a question and answer panel between college students and cross-industry entrepreneurs of international acclaim.
Sitting on the panel was Blake Mycoskie, founder of the eco-friendly footwear company TOMS Shoes; restaurateur Stephen Hanson, founder and president of B.R. Guest Restaurants; chairman of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide and president and CEO of Starwood Capital Group, Barry Sternlicht; and rapper Cordazar Calvin Broadus, better known to hip-hop fans as Snoop Dogg. Maria Bartiromo, host of CNBC's Closing Bell, served as the moderator.
More than 200 college-level students participated in a round of questioning that ranged in topic from being authentic, taking advantage of education to get ahead, and maintaining humility throughout the evolution of your business.
"I think too many people think that entrepreneurship is a career path, like, I'm going to be a doctor, or a lawyer or an entrepreneur," explained TOMS Shoes' Mycoskie, who suggested that's not the way to look at the big picture. "Entrepreneurs that I've met who have been really successful, whenever you ask them about why they did it, or how they did it, it's never about the money, and it's never about the business plans –it's always about, 'I saw the need."
B.R. Guest Restaurants founder Hanson recommended continually retooling your product to get ahead: "It's always important to stay on top of your market," he said. "You're always morphing your business because what you thought was good yesterday changes tomorrow, and you always have to stay ahead of the curve."
Sternlicht, CEO of Starwood Capital Group, shared an inspiring story of the failure and subsequent financial loss of past business ventures and encouraged attendees to take their time when starting a business, and to stay practical to achieve sustainability. "If you can drive authenticity through your market and own that space, you are going to have a sustainable business," he added.
Rounding out the panel was Snoop Dogg, who said that sometimes a loss is the best thing to help you get ahead. Giving the crowd-pleasing anecdote of being placed in the lowest level math class in school and steadily working his way up to calculus, Snoop explained how he now uses his experience as a life metaphor for his kids: "The higher you go in math is the highest amount of money you'll make in your life."
Snoop revealed that studying got him where he is today, both culturally and academically. "As far as a business, look at what it is, and what it ain't," he said. "Study what's missing and what you want to become. It's 2009 – anything's possible."
Khadine Dawkins, a 27-year old Brooklyn native and accounting student at St. John's University in Queens, said that she found the entrepreneurs advice to be "pretty inspiring," and highlighted Sternlicht's suggestions as what she found to be the most informative. Explaining the key points she took away from the panel, Dawkins said, "Follow your passion, learn from your mistakes, and finish your school work."
Read Inc.com blogger Donna Fenn's blog about the Mentoring Madness event.