Editor’s note: The following letter was submitted to Startland News by Zach Pettet, a recent graduate of the University of Kansas City-Missouri, in response to a recent conversation on student engagement in the area entrepreneurial community.
Dear students of Kansas City,
You’ve been the subject of some open letter writing recently. Have you noticed? Probably not.
Questions have arisen about how you should be involved within your schools and coexist with Kansas City’s startup, business and tech community. If you haven’t read Ben Williams’ and Adam Arredondo’s letters, then I’d recommend starting there.
Ben and Adam both make valid points. The conversation about how universities and the startup ecosystem should interact is critical, but students have been left out of the conversation thus far. What’s a university without students? And what’s a student’s role in the entrepreneurial community?
Ben Williams said it best: “Each student picks a major and determines a level of commitment. We (the professors) certainly try to teach each student how to fish, but we aren’t forcing them to go fishing right away or expecting them to all become fishing moguls.” To translate, it’s up to you, the student, to become the mogul or not.
I graduated from UMKC’s Bloch School of Business in December but my entrepreneurial journey began years ago. Those years at Bloch were the best of my life, thanks to the university and the overwhelming support of the startup community in Kansas City.
UMKC pushed me to attend 1 Million Cups. After one of my first times there, I took it upon myself to approach the founder of a local education non-profit and went on to lead their business development for a time.
I also did cold-call sales for a cell phone charging station startup after bugging one of the investors to hire me. I failed miserably at that one, but I kept working. After being frustrated by the lack of entrepreneurially-minded students on campus, I co-founded One Day KC. The event is a collaboration of William Jewell College, Rockhurst University, and UMKC’s Regnier Institute to push students into the local startup world.
Of all the connections I made, my most treasured accomplishment in college was being hired at blooom. After trying to help in every way I could without being on their payroll and following up ceaselessly for months, the co-founders finally gave in and hired me (shout out to Chris, Kevin and Randy for taking a chance on me). Meanwhile, I also worked 20 to 30 hours serving tables on the weekends. Between the classes and various jobs, I was working at least 60 hours per week.
I hope you’re thinking, “Who’s this shmuck? I can do all that!” Because, yes, you absolutely can! I am not special. Some of the most accomplished founders in this city would say the same of themselves. But are you willing put in the time?
Most of you will say you’re busy and that you don’t have time. You do have time, though. We both know you have time. Every college student has free time whether they’ll admit it or not. It’s a matter of priorities and making sacrifices.
Those of you looking for a “college experience” aren’t willing to sacrifice much except $10 for a 12-pack. And you’re wondering why you’re having a hard time finding a job? It comes down to your work ethic. If you sleep instead of going to 1 Million Cups or skip Co-Working Wednesdays for “Netflix and chill” Wednesdays, then it doesn’t matter how much local universities encourage real world learning.
I’m not saying all college students are lazy — the fact that you’re reading something in Startland News speaks volumes about you. And I know most of you make an honest effort to get your school work done. Many of you do it to the best of your abilities. That’s an important base, but that’s simply not enough. Making an honest effort with one’s schoolwork does not prepare you for the real world — not even close. But you already knew that.
The good news? The fact that Adam wrote his letter shows how low the bar for student involvement is right now. If you decide to get out of your comfort zone, even just a little bit, and show up at one startup event, then you’ll be doing better than most.
The other good news? Change starts with you. It’s on you to break down any walls that stand between you and your goals. If the school you’re attending isn’t giving you enough opportunity to grow, then go seek that opportunity yourself. Don’t sit back because no one has given you a step-by-step plan on how to get involved. Make your own plan. It’s on you, and I know it’s possible because I was wow-ed by the startup community’s response when I stepped outside of the bubble of my own university
You’re entering the job market in the most technologically- and economically-exciting time in the history of Kansas City and you have the power to affect change on a massive scale.
We are the generation responsible, in part, for making Kansas City the “Most Entrepreneurial City in America.” Stop letting people pontificate about what’s holding you back. The only thing holding you back is yourself. Get out there and lay your claim. Start attending 1 Million Cups and get to know a few people. Ask them out for coffee. The words “let’s get coffee” have changed my life! Find a startup you’re interested in and find a way to get your foot in the door. We all have to start somewhere. But please start! Our city’s future depends on it.
You’re poised to accomplish great things. Let’s change Kansas City for the better. Together.
Zach Anderson Pettet was an early hire at blooom, named as the #1 startup to watch in KC by Startland News. A recent graduate from UMKC’s Bloch School of Business, he also works as a community organizer for 1 Million Cups Kansas City. In his formative UMKC days he co-founded #OneDayKC and in 2014 was named UMKC Student Entrepreneur of the Year.