Finding Your Entrepreneurial Path: EPL Event Recap


What does it mean to be an entrepreneur? What does it take to be a successful one? These questions, and so much more, were covered in the first of a series of learning programs presented through the partnership between the Laurel Springs Alumni Association and Entrepreneurial Performance Labs (EPL).

EPL works with industry leaders to assess and develop entrepreneurial talent and educate others on similar paths. The firm's affiliate consultants and coaches bring decades of experience in elevating personal readiness, fit, and performance across the full spectrum of entrepreneurial endeavors.

This virtual event was presented to Laurel Springs alumni and students in the class of 2021 who may see themselves on an entrepreneurial path—which could look different for everyone. It also introduced the unique opportunity for prospective Postgraduate students to enroll in an 8-week entrepreneurial development program where an EPL coach works with them through a series of online workshops. 

What Is Entrepreneurship Anyway?

EPL defines entrepreneurship in four words: value, need, uncertainty,  and risk. Those who add new value to a current need provide a compelling solution; however, solving new problems comes with a level of uncertainty, so entrepreneurs are taking on some degree of risk. At its core, entrepreneurs fill a need or want that isn’t already being satisfied.

Everyone’s journey is different. The key is to find what roles interest you. Whether you’re currently a business owner or decide to launch a start-up in the future, the mindset and skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur can be applied to any business venture. This is why the future of all work is entrepreneurial! Take it from these expert panelists, you’re not going to know how successful you can be until you start. 

Meet the Panelists

During the presentation, four expert panelists shared how they started their own entrepreneurial journey and supported the career development of thousands of leaders along the way. We heard from Voice Over Actor, Anita Shekar Akerkar, who set up her own home studio to lend her voice to film, video, and mobile apps. Christopher Rollins focuses on purpose-driven leadership as he supports and coaches HR leaders, especially in the LGBTQ+ community. We learned about the importance of strategic planning from the Founder of [PREGAME], Ciara Pressler, and Executive Leadership Coach and Angel Investor, Dick Eaton, shared his thoughts on values, listening, and making lists. 

Here are some of the inspirations, motivations, and revelations that came from their info-packed session.

Where Did You Start?

You have to start somewhere. Luckily, for entrepreneurs, this could be anywhere. In fact, most of our panelists didn’t start in the position they currently hold. Their journey had many twists, turns, ups and downs. 

Anita Shekar Akerkar holds degrees in Business and Computer Science. She’s worked in IT, Marketing, Brand Management, and for non-profits. Her inspiration for voice work was sparked by a documentary film. She discovered a need for voice actors with ambiguous accents to relay a more global message and adjusted her focus to fill that need.

Christopher Rollins worked in corporate client relationships overseeing organizational development when he began to think about, “who am I and what is my purpose?” The nagging sense that you’re not currently fulfilling what you’re meant to do should be a wake-up call. “Instead of thinking about what job out in the world is right for me, let me slow down and think about who I am and what is my purpose and how can I honor that through what I do?” This led to helping people create a safe space to find their truth and the best version of themselves. It was then he finally felt like he knew who he was.

Ciara Pressler changed college majors five times. She went from communications to acting, another vocation that requires you to be your own product. She was drawn to the marketing and producing roles. Through it all, she’d ask herself, “What do you want to work on and tweak every single day? If you’re excited about that idea for exploration, it’s probably a good idea for you…”

Dick Eaton always had a need to create things. His father was a business owner, so he learned these skills from an early age. As an adult, his motivation became more about the freedom of choice...and no boss. Working in Sales and Advertising, Dick learned about team building which served him well as part of the original team that started Staples. Now as a team and leadership development consultant, he coaches others through experiential learning simulations.

What Skills Does an Entrepreneur Have?

What does it take to be an entrepreneur? Are there certain characteristics or skill sets a person must have? What does a day in their life look like?

Mr. Rollins believes instead of focusing on a list of characteristics, it’s more important to be aware of your natural tendencies and which of these things may get in the way. Having a clear understanding of your strengths and defense mechanisms is a healthier understanding of who you are as a leader and entrepreneur. 

Mr. Eaton points out that entrepreneurs need to “be a self-starter. Nothing is going to happen unless you make it happen.” It takes more than just creating something, there also needs to be follow-through. To help with this, he’s a big fan of lists. List what you want to accomplish, short and long-term goals. It drives people to prioritize. He suggests participating in the Core Values exercise by creating three different lists: Things I Love, Things I’m Good at, Things that Inspire Me. Notice any common threads and crossovers? Focus on those in your business. 

Some common thoughts across the panel is that the start-up experience can also be an emotional rollercoaster. There are highs and lows and one needs to be able to handle the stress. One also needs to listen. Listen to what the marketplace is saying it needs. Listen to what the people want. You may pitch one idea and be turned down, but listen to why, then decide if you have the capacity to pivot and provide what’s really needed. 

What Do You Wish You Knew at the Start?

Everyone starts out new. You may think you know a little about something, but then quickly realize there’s so much more to learn. 

In the beginning, Anita didn’t tell anyone what she wanted to do. She was afraid of failing and judgement. She wishes she would have risen above that and not listened to the chatter. “If you feel passionate about it, do it.”

Ciara wishes she knew about testing. “Don’t get stuck on the first idea, know how to receive and apply the right type of feedback and how much data is enough.” She urges entrepreneurs to learn how business and personal finance works, including cash flow, income, taxes, and know how much risk you can afford

How Do You Handle Failure?

It’s inevitable. Whether your idea gets shot down or doesn’t work out the way you thought, it’s not always going to go smoothly. However, it doesn’t have to be seen as a failure. In fact, it’s all in how you deal with the situation. 

“Fear of failing can cripple you,” says Akerkar. But she got tired of being afraid and just did it, without it being perfect. As you continue to grow and learn it gets better. Anita sees failures as “growth opportunities.” She’s been on hundreds of auditions that’s resulted in five jobs so far, so “there’s a level of acceptance you have to have for these moments...looking at them as failures makes it seem like you haven’t done work or put effort in.” Instead, she takes it as an opportunity to learn every time she gets turned down.

Pressler agrees. She doesn’t see herself as having failures, only lessons. It’s all in the context and culture.

Where to Now?

So, where will you begin? Well, attending events like this one is a start. Anita Shekar Akerkar urged us to “find the people you admire, that are doing what you want to do and reach out.” Build your network. Tools like LinkedIn help tremendously. Laurel Springs alumni can also sign up for LSS Alumni Connect, an exclusive digital network designed to connect, catch-up, and support your peers. People are out there and willing to share experiences.

Also remember that there’s not a one-way road to success. “Take advantage of happy accidents and chance encounters.” You never know where your next idea or inspiration can come from. If you’re open to opportunities and dare to be different, you could quickly find yourself on the right entrepreneurial path.