How I Went From High School Teacher to Entrepreneur
By Gautam Thapar, MBA ‘16
At this time last year, I was a high school history teacher in California. Now, I’m an aspiring entrepreneur.
I loved teaching, but after four years I had become restless, aware that my impact was limited to the four walls of my classroom. Each day, 120 students would shuttle through my class, but I knew I could travel in any direction and find 120,000 more who were getting a poor education. So here I am at Ross, hoping I can leverage tools of business to solve some of the deeply embedded social problems facing American schools.
I was sitting in my strategy class one morning when an idea came to me: I had a way to help teachers plan lessons more efficiently and share best practices more effectively.
I bounced it off a few of my friends at Ross. They were intrigued, so I pitched my idea to a few professors who suggested I enter the concept in the Michigan Business Challenge (MBC).
So I did. And the three months since my initial, 3-minute pitch have been a crash course in entrepreneurship. In that span, I’ve interviewed more than 30 industry professionals, surveyed nearly 200 teachers, written an 18-page business plan, built a website, developed a minimum viable product, found partners, and run focus group tests. All of this was sparked and guided by our entry in the Social Impact Track of the MBC, which offered us the chance to win $15,000 to launch our new business.
Though we did not walk away with an oversized check (which is still a goal of ours, by the way), our insights from the experience are undoubtedly worth more than prize money.
Truth be told, I used to have ideas like the one we pitched all the time when I was a teacher. What I didn’t have, however, was the knowledge, skills, and resources to develop them.
I needed teammates with more business experience than me. I needed answers to complex questions about finance, marketing, and intellectual property. And I needed a platform to pitch ideas and get feedback from real investors. Classmates, friends, and professors at Ross, along with the resources of the Zell Lurie Institute, the Center for Social Impact and the Michigan Business Challenge, provided all of this and more.
Years from now, I will look back at this as the signature experience of my time at Ross. I was initially hesitant to leave the classroom, having found my comfort zone as a teacher. That comfort zone is now a distant memory, and I’m embracing the unknown and learning as I go as a novice social entrepreneur.
It’s amazing how much can change in just a year.
Gautam Thapar is a Michigan Ross first-year MBA student. He is set to graduate in 2016. His team, LessonReel, competed in the finals of the Social Impact Track at the 2015 Michigan Business Challenge, co-sponsored by the Center for Social Impact and the Erb Institute.