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About 40 graduate students networked with other student entrepreneurs. (Photo from Sam Stern)

Graduate and Professional Student Assembly co-hosted "Stories from an Entrepreneur" on Tuesday, an event where approximately 40 graduate students could network with other student entrepreneurs.

In collaboration with Catalyst @ Penn Graduate School of Education and GSE Student Government, GAPSA held the event as part of a monthly entrepreneurial speaker and networking series called "Venture Beyond Comfort." The two-hour event, which was held at Catalyst @ PennGSE, featured guest speaker and 1992 College graduate John Gamba, an entrepreneur in residence and director of innovative programs at GSE.

The series aims to discuss discomfort and personal struggles individuals may face when pursuing their entrepreneurial endeavors. The attendees networked for the first part of the event after which Gamba talked about his own struggles in becoming an entrepreneur. He then conducted a 15-minute Q&A session with the graduate students. 

At the beginning of his career, Gamba said he struggled to earn money at the age of 28 after he publicly launched a share of stock as an executive vice president of US Interactive, a tech and communications company. Following the lack of returns, he said he started a venture incubator called Inc-Cubate, which raised capital for and invested in internet companies.

Gamba added becoming a father greatly changed his outlook on life and entrepreneurship. 

“It’s sobering," Gamba said. "The balance of being a parent and not really being ready for what’s going to be  thrown at you whether it’s parenthood, whether it’s entrepreneurship, whether it’s career decisions.” 

Gamba advised students to be passionate about their work

Gamba urged the aspiring entrepreneurs to think creatively when struggling to promote their companys' products and services. He cited his struggles in pitching a messaging service provided by the company he founded called PACE Computer Solutions to an elementary school. After the school rejected his pitch, Gamba said he coincidentally met Neil Clemo, a Re/Max Preferred realtor, at a bus stop on the way back home from the elementary school. He said he struck a deal with Clemo, promising to advertise Clemo at the end of the principal messages in exchange for money. After listening to his revised pitch, Gamba said the school agreed to use his services.

“If I hadn’t gotten creative, and I hadn’t seen that Neil Clemo bus bench, I never would have been so creative and transformative," Gamba said.

Yifan Chang, a recent Class of 2019 graduate from Penn GSE’s Learning Sciences and Technology Program, appreciated Gamba's talk about personal challenges he had faced as an entrepreneur.

"I think it’s very important for us to know the details of what’s the challenge and how he encountered that, and how he found out the gap that he could try to use his talent to sell his product to the school," Chang said.

Sam Stern, a candidate for a master's in Education Entrepreneurship at GSE, co-founded Venture Beyond Comfort and said he hopes the events Venture Beyond Comfort hosts will help students network and learn from more experienced entrepreneurs.

“If you’re just interested in learning, almost all jobs you’re going to go into deal with some sort of moment that shocks you," Stern said. "We hope that these experiences that people are sharing and talking about and the networking experience that you get here and the people you meet can share some of that with you.” 

Mimi Newman, a first-year GSE master's student studying School and Mental Health Counseling through the Executive Model Program, described the event as "amazing" and praised Gamba's advice to the graduate students.

"I thought he gave very practical advice in different areas, and he reminded me a lot of Mark Cuban who I follow on 'Shark Tank,'" Newman said. "He’s the one who resonates with me the most. I thought he gave that kind of advice that was very practical and inspiring.” 

As a lasting thought, Gamba advised Penn graduate students to make sure they apply their true passions to their career.

“Do what you love, and love what you do," Gamba said.

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