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UMKC Innovation Center
UMKC Innovation Center
Back to School, Startup Style

Back to School—Startup Style

Back to School, Startup Style

Meet Holly Godfrey, founder of Catalyst, a KC startup and graduate of Betablox. Catalyst is the first medical apparel company of its kind to partner with skilled, yet disadvantaged, women in India and Africa to produce high-quality scrubs and accessories for a fair and livable wage. In the spirit of the season, she talks below about what “back to school” means to an entrepreneur who found a second career as the founder of a startup.

“Back to school.”

Three words that flood my senses with feelings of excitement, apprehension, anxiety and hope. The start of a new year. The possibility of greatness, of achieving more that the year before, the excitement of the unknown and the ability to start all over again.

When I began my first career in a very stable profession, I began to climb the ranks much like a high schooler grows in confidence as she progresses from freshman to senior year. After 13 years with more than half of them serving as a department manager, I definitely felt like I was at the top of my game. I knew the processes, the schedules, the right people to connect with for certain projects, the expectations. I was in that safe place of seniority, where life was good and besides the occasional “pop quiz” in the form of an unexpected event, there were no surprises.

Yet, there was a drawback to being a senior. I found that if I wasn’t vigilant, “senioritis” would start to set in as complacency steadily and stealthily crept into my drive and job performance. The passion began to wane, and I began realizing that I had other dreams.

I fought this urge to follow my new ideas. Didn’t being a “senior” mean kicking back, coasting and reveling in the successes that brought me to this height? And if this is what I had been striving for all of these years, then why was I not ecstatically happy here in the place where I’d always wanted to be?

Deep down, I knew my answer.

While I was busy growing as a leader in my field, a small spark of desire to help women began to ignite the fire that would become my true passion: creating a medical apparel company that provides jobs to women in poverty around the world. An entrepreneurial spirit was at full blaze, and soon all of the safety and security of being a senior just didn’t have the draw for me like it used to.

It was time for change. It was time to go back to school.

As entrepreneurs, we are required early on in our journey to check our status and prior learning at the door of our new school. No matter what we were doing, what title we owned and what paycheck we brought home before we became entrepreneurs, we are required to begin again, as freshman.

To be successful we must acquire a new language, read new textbooks, learn new skill sets and find new mentors. We must be willing to humble ourselves to listen to upperclassmen that have walked in our shoes. We must sit at the feet of our favorite teachers and realize that the hardest classes usually turn out to be the ones where we learn the most. We must seek new friendships and experiences with our classmates, and support each other in our successes and failures. We also have to adapt to new schedules that come with growth, which usually means a sacrifice of the old, comfortable activities, luxuries and even some of the old relationships. Just like starting a new school year.

There is a certain lightness that comes with being able to leave the titles and track records of our former selves behind to put hope in a new adventure, one that will feed our dreams and passions as well as our bank accounts. That balances the heaviness of the harsh realities of starting a business: late nights, strict budgets, missed activities, concerned family members and lost friendships—and HARD work, day in and day out.

I remember my early first days getting my feet wet in the sea of entrepreneurship felt much like being a freshman at a new school: the anxiety, the nervousness, the hope, the excitement. The wonder if there were others like me on this wild journey. I have found that the energy that radiates from the class of entrepreneurs, and the community that supports us is greater than any school spirit I have ever encountered.

And that has made going “back to school” completely worth it.

Flickr Image by ThinkPublic

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