Business students get peek at an excellent Venture

February 09, 2015 / by / 0 Comment

By Rick Vacek
GCU News Bureau

Derek Turner could have opted for a safe, traditional job after his graduation from Columbia University, but he decided to go on an adventure — with Venture for America — that began the trip of a lifetime.

Friday, he told students in the Colangelo College of Business at Grand Canyon University how they could travel down the same inspired path.

Derek Turner

Derek Turner

“I could have gotten a job in New York and still be in the same job today,” he said. “Instead, I’m vice president of operations and nine of the 12 people in the company report to me.”

By becoming a Venture for America fellow, Turner qualified for a job with Grand Circus, a training institute that uses eight-week boot camps to give people the skills they need to work in the technology industry.

But here’s where the adventure comes in: Grand Circus isn’t in New York; it’s in Detroit, which still hasn’t resolved its 2013 bankruptcy filing. Oh, and one other thing: He asked to go there.

“Detroit is the most fascinating city in America,” he said. “I’ve seen a city of 600,000 get totally turned on its head.”

Turner’s visit to the CCOB lecture hall was designed to get students interested in Venture for America. Dr. Randy Gibb, dean of CCOB, saw the 2-year-old fellowship program’s mission statement — to help graduates launch a career as an entrepreneur while making a social impact — and wasted no time reaching out to find an appropriate representative.

“It fits right in line with everything we’re doing,” Gibb said.

Turner, a member of Venture for America’s first class of fellows, was a perfect fit. He graduated from Chaparral High School in Scottsdale in 2008 and hopes to return to Arizona one day to launch a startup that addresses water-scarcity issues.

His presentation to students demonstrated savvy well beyond his 25 years. Titled “Escaping Mediocrity: Five Lessons I Learned Post-College,” his PowerPoint practically leaped off the screen with good ideas. He divided his advice into five talking points:

  1. Treat college like a television shopping spree: Turner compared being in college to one of those TV shows where contestants have a limited amount of time to put as many items in their cart as they can. “Talk to advisers — they could be charging $100 an hour, and you’re getting their ideas for free,” he said. “Join clubs. Do activities. Take interesting classes.”
  2. Choose a passion — it won’t choose you: “People who have known their passion from the moment they were born boggle me,” said Turner, who began as a biology major at Columbia, wound up doing a double major in political science and anthropology and still didn’t know what he wanted to do for a living during his senior year. Now he’s about to begin a Master’s in Business Management at Stanford University, another door that his Venture for America experience opened.
  3. Experts find opportunity: “You don’t know when there’s an opportunity when you don’t know the world well enough,” he said. “A lot of people worry that if you’re an expert in one thing you’re closing the doors to everything else. That’s faulty thinking. Generalists make it happen.”
  4. Your life trends toward lame; break the trend: That sounds negative, Turner admitted, but he was telling students to avoid falling into the rut of working all day and then going home and watching TV every night. “Plan things for after work. Make life more interesting,” he said.
  5. Find the path less traveled: “Always look for where other people aren’t going,” he said, “and then make the most of it.” Turner said that while he was at Columbia he heard about some Detroit entrepreneurs who were doing “incredible things,” and that’s what inspired him to make that his destination.

Gibb said the most important messages for students are to be open to opportunities and become an expert, and he especially liked Turner’s “willingness to go for it, to roll the dice, to team up with a coding boot camp company and be employee No. 1.”

Grand Circus, which is named after a nearby park in Detroit, has gone from no revenue to $2 million last year and boasts more than 600 boot camp graduates, according to Turner. When his 2-year fellowship ended last June, Grand Circus kept him on board as a regular employee another example of the Venture for America benefits.

“The only way to learn startups is to do them,” he said. “There are a ton of blog posts and podcasts and you can do all the research you want, but the only way to ever understand what is required for startups is to work for one. I’ve probably learned six years of a corporate job in two years.”

That’s a lot accomplished in a relatively short trip.

Contact Rick Vacek at 602-639-8203 or [email protected]




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