Senior Spotlight: Eliza Wastcoat '19
Eliza graduated early this past December and in her time at Lehigh was a Baker Institute rockstar, completed LehighSiliconValley, the Hatchery, and pitching in EUREKA! competitions - including being a finalist for the Thalheimer Grand Prize. What is she up to next? She'll serve as Venture for America 2020 Fellow! Read on to learn more about this exciting opportunity!
Major | Marketing
Minor | International Relations
Hometown | London, U.K.
What has been your best entrepreneurial experience at Lehigh?
This is such a hard choice, I have a lot of experiences to choose from which are all unique and feature their own learning points. So, my answer is two-fold: The Hatchery and LSV. The Hatchery marks a starting point for me where I chose to create my own experiences to learn from rather than pursue a more traditional internship opportunity. I wanted to know that I would be spending my summer actively participating in projects and making decisions that would shape the direction of a company. The Hatchery not only gave me a platform to do that, but it reinforced to me personally that I have a work ethic that thrives under autonomy and creativity. My biggest takeaway from the 9-weeks was that you get out of it what you put into it. I don’t mean to say that if you work really hard and spend 10 hours a day that you’ll necessarily achieve your dreams, but if you take time to reflect on the experience there will be learning outcomes that you’ve gained which will directly apply to your success in the future even if it’s a couple of years down the line.
LSV was the icing on the cake to my Lehigh career. To finally get outside of the classroom and have honest conversations with such a wide variety of individuals involved in the entrepreneurial world was refreshing and inspiring. There is only so much a textbook will ever teach you. Most of what we learn in the classroom we can’t even recall 6 months later. This experience was the complete reverse of what we are used to and I loved it.
I learned two key points from LSV:
Don’t worry about where you start, get your foot in the door somewhere and learn as much as you possibly can as quickly as you can. Figure out what you like and don’t like, learn what business models work, and write down how you would do it differently. Really, it doesn’t even matter if you hate it for two years. The point is to expand your network, learn, grow, gain credibility, and save money! Then three to five years down the line you have money to invest in yourself and your vision that you have built based on actually seeing how things work. Flexibility and creativity are key. Nothing is set in stone, ever.
What has been an entrepreneurial challenge that you've faced? How did you overcome it?
I graduated a semester early in the fall of 2019 and pretty much had no plan for the spring semester. I was rejected from internships and my other plans fell through at the very last minute. I was suddenly left with a whole chunk of time that was unstructured and wasn’t adding to my resume, so I decided to create my own internship experience.
I enjoyed my marketing classes at Lehigh, but I felt that it was very geared towards those interested in entering the analytics and data-driven side of marketing, which isn’t my strong suit. I realized that I needed to brush up on my design skills so that I could speak a more technical creative language and learn how creative is critiqued to better understand how brands are built. I started reaching out to Lehigh alumni that had their own businesses and offered to help in exchange for feedback. I purposefully signed up for projects that on paper I didn’t have the skills to do. Whether that was logo animation or editing videos, I simply relied on my entrepreneurial thinking skills to tackle any problem as it rolled in.
Slowly but surely I grew my network of clients and created a consulting business (focused on content creation and creative strategy) where I’ve now received my first paycheck! This period of time easily could have been a wash, but I was determined not to let that happen. I think that my prior experience working with start-ups allowed me to believe it was possible to start a consulting business as a new graduate with limited experience and gave me a sense of fearlessness to just try new things even if I didn’t know how.
What would you say to an incoming student about getting involved with entrepreneurship at Lehigh?
Quite simply: do it! During high school, I always knew I liked business but never branded myself as a creative thinker. I thought creativity was art and textiles class which, if you ask any art teacher I had I was NOT good at. I didn’t like it either. But I realized during the first two years of my undergraduate business degree that I was craving a creative element. Business isn’t all about crunching numbers and analyzing data as the curriculum suggests. In being involved in entrepreneurship at Lehigh I learned that creativity looks different to everyone and that it is a thought process that can be learned; it doesn’t just have to be a nice piece of artwork.
I believe in learning to develop a business from scratch, even if it flops and fails miserably, that there is a level of maturity and independence that you gain from discovering and implementing the entrepreneurial mindset. You have a framework that you can use to creatively tackle any problem. From class projects, to interview skills, to running a business, to even learning how to do things you have no idea how to do, entrepreneurial thinking applies. It is a muscle that you should exercise during your time as an undergraduate because it takes some practice. I think that as a skill, it fundamentally sets you apart from your peers and most certainly will add value to your personal brand as you enter the workforce.
What are your next plans?
I’m continuing my passion for entrepreneurship by joining Venture for America (VFA) as a 2020 fellow. VFA is a two-year selective entrepreneurship fellowship that serves to create economic opportunities in emerging American cities. As a fellow, you spend your first month completing a training camp where companies such as IDEO and BCG run workshops to help develop your entrepreneurial thinking. I will then begin a full-time role with a start-up that I’ll get connected with through VFA’s exclusive and vetted company network. Not only do you get connected with other like-minded students completing their fellowship in the same location with other companies, but also you get access to VFA resources (such as a crowdfunding competition, accelerator, and seed funding) following the completion of your fellowship that you can use to start your own company, whether that is immediately or in ten years.
I’m very excited to see how this experience unfolds. Joining the start-up world as a fresh college graduate can feel uncertain at the best of times, let alone with our current circumstances. But the VFA community has already been very supportive, innovative, and forward-thinking in how they plan to tackle the challenges we face and helping fellows find the right role for them. I hope to grow as an entrepreneur during this time to further equip myself with the skills I will need to run my own business in the future. Check in with me in five years and I’ll have a clearer vision of what that will look like! For now, I’m eager to grow and I’m itching to put what I’ve learned during my time working with The Baker Institute into action come the fall.
A final note - thank you to all the Baker staff who have supported me in the past two years! It’s been phenomenal. Your programs have fundamentally shaped my entrepreneurial thinking, which has most certainly been key to getting a role with VFA. I will miss the support and working together, however, I look forward to seeing how the next chapter unfolds and connecting with the Lehigh entrepreneurial family in the future.