Shea Parikh (’16) shares his reflections with Madison Abbott (’19), a student member of the Davidson Innovation & Entrepreneurship team, on failure, working as a student entrepreneur, and his path to Venture for America after graduation.
Shea’s trajectory toward entrepreneurship was a rather unconventional one. He originally decided to attend Davidson because he was recruited to play baseball. He played on the team for a year and a half, but quit as soon as he realized that there was a lot more to a college experience than playing sports. He majored in political science, and through the invaluable mentorship of Dr. Ken Menkhaus, took advantage of numerous opportunities to travel abroad. During his sophomore fall, Shea participated in the Davidson in India program. The summer before his junior year, he interned at a startup in Nairobi and then spent his fall semester in Shanghai. He also spent a lot of his free time trying to grow various projects that he started.
As the first student to ever receive funding from the Davidson Venture Fund, Shea Parikh developed and launched Intrsect Davidson with his fellow classmate, Bjorn Ordoubadian. The pair recognized that there was a demand from both students and staff to streamline the school’s information and resources into one, accessible, well-designed interface. With $100 and three weeks, they prototyped, developed, and launched Intersect Davidson. Within two weeks of launching, they captured roughly 70 percent of the student body–their success was validated when they successfully licensed the app to the college.
In addition to Intrsect, Shea started Earth’s Kids and Fikka. Earth’s Kids was a social enterprise project he started while studying in India. He humorously recalled, “This was really my first taste of social entrepreneurship and got me a weird reputation as the guy who stored Indian purses in his dorm room and tried selling them throughout campus.” He also worked with Willie MacDade to develop Fikka, a project that paired up strangers on campus to grab coffee. These experiences propelled Shea to pursue a career in entrepreneurship.
Shea is currently a Venture For America Fellow, working at VersaMe in Charlotte. Venture For America is a two-year fellowship that takes recent college graduates, trains them, and then sends them off to work for startups in emerging cities around the United States. Shea said, “Everyone thinks working for a startup must mean [living in] San Francisco, New York, or DC, but the idea is that there are a lot of emerging U.S. cities that need access to capable, energetic talent.” VersaMe was founded by Davidson’s Entrepreneurs in Residence, Chris & Jon Boggiano. It is an early education company that created a smart parenting companion tool aimed at redefining early education. The company’s work is rooted in research that shows that the first five years of a child’s life essentially sets the trajectory of success for that child’s entire life, and so it developed a device that counts how many words a child is exposed to throughout the day.
Shea manages the company’s websites, works with the CMO to design digital and print assets, oversees digital marketing efforts, assists with growing sales channels for organizational partners, and helps with program implementations. When asked if he felt if Davidson prepared him for working at VersaMe, he said, “I think Davidson does a phenomenal job at preparing students to hold themselves to a higher standard. For better or worse, Davidson students often find themselves going the extra mile and I think that is very conducive for working at a startup. Second, I think Davidson fosters a sense of competitiveness in their students which I think is a healthy thing for working at a startup. Lastly and maybe most importantly, coming from a liberal arts background allowed me to develop a ‘T’ skill set, meaning a very broad understanding of a lot of things and maybe a specific understanding of one thing. This more than often not translates to a generalist role at a startup.”
While Shea recognizes that Davidson does an amazing job of preparing students for careers in innovation and entrepreneurship, he thinks that the college could do more. He offered, “Davidson can do a better job at creating environments where it is okay for students to fail. I realized that it was really hard to get a student to opt-in unless it was something they could put on their resume or add a point to their GPA. Working at a startup, no one really cares about your credentials nor do they necessarily expect you to stay within your realm of understanding. Innovation and progress happens when you’re forced to do things that you might fail at and that is not a mindset that is prevalent at Davidson.”
When he reflects on his time at Davidson, Shea wishes he had started working on something entrepreneurial way earlier. He said, “I had always been waiting for the ‘right time’ to start something but the truth is, there’s no such thing as the right moment.” Freshman year, Shea wanted to open a hot dog stand outside of F that would run from 12-3 every Friday and Saturday, but he never did it because he figured Davidson would not allow it. After looking back on this experience, he offered this piece of advice: “It is better to ask for forgiveness rather than permission.”
Shea hopes that more liberal arts students will pursue careers in innovation and entrepreneurship. He disagrees with people who think a liberal arts background is not adequate preparation to work at a startup; he believes that liberal arts, and Davidson specifically, gives students critical thinking and interpersonal communication skills that translate very well to working at a startup. Shea hopes that Davidson Innovation & Entrepreneurship programming will force students to really question their pre-defined definition of success. Looking back on his Davidson experience, he realized that essentially every single one of his closest friends from school ended up as an investment banker or a consultant.
He acknowledges that while these are fantastic career opportunities, Davidson can do more to help students define their own version of success. Some tangible ideas he offered were adding more diversity to the opportunities available through the Career Center, working with faculty to add more entrepreneurial-focused classes, micro-investing in student initiatives, and bringing more entrepreneurial speakers to campus. In concluding his reflection on his Davidson experience, Shea commented, “All in all, Davidson has to do a better job at teaching students that it’s okay to fail. It’s actually really healthy for you to fail.”