Virtual Entrepreneur Experience with HEX
From January 4th to January 9th, 2021, I participated in a virtual study abroad opportunity called the HEX Discovery Program. This six-day-long program was hosted by the Hacker Exchange, an organization based out of Australia that helps teach young adults leadership, entrepreneurship, and networking skills. During the program, a group of 30 participants from universities worldwide came together on Zoom to learn from guest speakers and work in teams to create a new product. At the end of the six days we pitched our product to a panel of judges. Each team worked with a HEX mentor who helped support and advise product development from start to finish. Everyone also had access to a Slack channel to communicate with each other. We attended workshops, had group discussions, and got to know other participants during social time. HEX mentors led the workshops and taught different ways to develop our budding business ideas. Guest speakers shared insight about their area of expertise. We learned how to give an effective elevator pitch, understand our product and market, and talk about ourselves in an interview. During the social time, we would play mentor-led games together like Amongus and escape rooms. Before the program started, a HEX package with a Hacker Exchange t-shirt and other items was sent to us to get us excited about the week ahead!
I found out about the program after a friend posted about it on Instagram and raved about his experience. In his post, he explained how current RIT students could apply for and attend the upcoming program at no cost thanks to a generous scholarship from RIT’s School of Individualized Study. Being a 4th-year student with the post-graduation world fast approaching and wanting to seize more opportunities to learn, I decided to take a chance and applied. As an Industrial Design major, a potential career choice for many in my field is starting your own business or doing consultant work. Learning how to be a successful entrepreneur and being part of discussions with experts in various fields seemed like an experience I could not pass up. Additionally, I love to be creative so being able to develop a new product and spend time with others who share my interests made this program seem like something I’d thoroughly enjoy.
The program revolved around collaborating in teams to develop a product or service by the end of the week. We worked through the design process: establishing a problem statement, identifying the market, and iterating a completed design. My teammate, Selda, was based in New Zealand and was studying to be a Dietitian. Our mentor Matt had studied Business and Industrial Design. With Selda’s professional expertise and my knowledge of product design, we developed an app to make nutritional health more accessible. Our goal was to create an easier way for people to connect with professional Dietitians who could provide reliable, personalized nutrition information. In turn, this could help combat negative diet culture and bring some awareness to eating disorders. We used platforms like Canva to collaborate on our presentation and used Figma to create a wireframe of what we wanted our app to look like. We also connected with current Dietitians as part of our research and got valuable insight to apply to our project. Even though there was a considerable time difference between Selda being in New Zealand and myself in the USA, we were able to efficiently work on our project around the clock to have it ready to pitch at the end of the week. By the end of the week, Selda and I became friends and told each other that we would need to meet in person if we ever found ourselves in the other’s home country.
At first, being limited to interacting virtually with the other program participants seemed like a drawback, but as the days progressed, it became apparent that it was a blessing in disguise. I got to interact with people in their unique, personal environments and got to know them in more intimate ways than would have been possible had we been in person. People got to see the artwork on my bedroom walls and the succulents I keep on my windowsill. And I had the chance to meet their pets or hear the background chatter of friends and family passing by. It helped us bond and communicate on more personal levels, especially in this ongoing pandemic where so many of us are disconnected from much of normal life. All of us connected with one another on the multiple platforms of Zoom, Slack, Instagram, and LinkedIn and at times only communicated through gifs, memes, and bitmojis. Most of the other students were from countries around Oceania, so our time together also lent itself to be a cultural exchange of sorts. For example, my New Zealand teammate taught me common cultural phrases of her country [Kia Ora!], and I shared my American perspective on topics like politics and pop culture.
Of all the guest speakers we heard from during the program, the one that resonated with me most spoke about how to present yourself in an interview. As a college student, preparing and doing interviews can sometimes feel daunting, and it can be tricky to figure out what to say to an employer. One tip that I took away was to think of something you enjoy doing and then describe yourself doing it by breaking it down into character traits. This helps highlight what you value and your strengths that may not be so apparent to yourself. For example, if you like to cook, you may use skills like being detail-oriented, diligent, and taking initiative. These skills and qualities you use to make food successfully can also be essential qualities you could bring to a new job.
Thanks to this program, I have a new perspective on entrepreneurship, a unique app-design project to add to my portfolio, and a network of international contacts. After spending the week talking to people from around the world and getting to hear about their different cultural experiences, I also have a new appreciation for what it means to be a global citizen. If anyone wants to dive into the deep end and spend an action-packed, rigorous week of learning what it takes to turn an idea into a business, I would fully recommend the virtual HEX Discovery Program. I believe any student pursuing a business or design degree would benefit greatly from the program to help expand their academic experience.
Connie Lucid is a 4th year Industrial Design major in the College of Art & Design and participated in the Hacker Exchange (HEX) Virtual Discovery Program. RIT students interested in a HEX program should make an appointment to meet with study abroad advisor, Roseanne DiFlorio (choose appt. date/time).