Just Add PassionJust Add Passion
On campus this past spring, students learned that entrepreneurship means finding your passion, staying inquisitive, and being a leader.

In the dictionary, an entrepreneur takes on greater than normal financial risk to organize or operate a business.

On campus this past spring, students learned that entrepreneurship means finding your passion, staying inquisitive, and being a leader.

“I created a business based on what I'm good at and passionately feel should exist. I fell into my dream job, because I chased my strengths and passions,” said Amanda Holt, founder of the website shatterbox, a social network and resource blog featuring video vignettes of young professionals telling how they found job fulfillment. She was one of more than a half-dozen speakers who brought their message and experiences to campus.

Since high school, her passion had been telling stories. After graduating from Duke, she spent one year at an advertising agency, another year at HBO, and still sought fulfillment.

“So I decided to take this career crisis into my own hands, using my long-term passion for storytelling and sit down with young people who love what they do,” said Holt, who graduated from Duke in 2007.

“I wanted to figure out how people managed to find what they love and make it into a career. Learning so much from the people I met with, I decided to capture the stories on film and what eventually took shape was an online resource, shatterbox," which she started in 2009.

The entrepreneurs on campus included:

  • An alumnus, Chris Burch ’76.
  • A parent of a current student, Richard Mott, father of Lindsay Mott ’11.
  • A local businesswoman who became an adjunct instructor after getting her MBA from Ithaca, Heather Lane ’10.
  • Holt, a contemporary of today’s students, who appeared in Lane’s class.

Hotdogs, pinball machines, trips to Bermuda, and sweaters were among the items Chris Burch ’76 sold while an Ithaca student. The sweaters he bought from an importer for $9 and sold door to door for $18.

Still a student, he and his brother started Eagle’s Eye. It grew into one of the largest branded sweater makers in the world, with $140 million in sales, before he sold it to Swire Group.

Today, as chairman of J. Christopher Capital, he relies on branding as he develops and invests in new luxury businesses.

“Make it cheap. Make it novel. Make it special,” Burch told students at a campus lecture, “Brand Building for the Luxury Customer of the Future.”

“Take time to make it perfect. Perfection is critical in everything we do,” he said as he detailed how to launch a product. Next up for him is Poppin, a line of “hip and cool” office products.

One of the earliest investors in Internet Capital Group, a successful IPO in 1999, Burch was a co-founder in 2004, with his former wife, of the women’s fashion label Tory Burch. His other investments include Voss of Norway bottled water, Aliph wireless accessories, Codfarmers AS branded food producer, and NextJump marketing services.

“Men buy 2 percent of all products,” Burch said. “We do things that women buy. Always market to women.”

Marketing is “the integration of voice and knowledge,” he explained. “When people talk about it, they believe it.” He advocates putting the product on reality shows, not movies, because “it’s all about dialogue, not placement.”

His market research method: “I spend my entire life thinking about what women do.”

Every individual can become an entrepreneur and a leader, says Richard Mott. And the entrepreneur, whether a capitalist or a social worker, has a responsibility to make the world a better place.

Mott, a former medical device manufacturing executive and current consultant, hosted a gathering of upper-class students at his home in Trumansburg. About 25 students came for a light dinner and then heard presentations by Mott and Rick Larson of Vfd Technologies, a private equity firm, on leadership and entrepreneurship.

No matter what your current job, Mott said, “concentrate on becoming an expert today, and that’s leadership.”

Mott, who has a BS in ceramic engineering, joined Kyphon in 2002 as president and CEO. The company specializes in restoring spinal function through minimally invasive therapies. In five years, its sales grew from $36 million to more than $400 million. In 2008, Medtronic acquired Kyphon.

Mott has received the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award and the Frost & Sullivan Technology Leadership Award. He’s a principal Walkabout Consulting, a management consulting and private equity firm.

He identified three qualities of leadership for people entering the business world.

  • “No matter what role, what position you have, you’re always cast in a position of leadership, working with people to motivate others with different skill sets to lead a group or an individual to the goal they are tasked with.”
  • “It’s very important to focus on your current role or set of opportunities. Focus on what you have to do today and let the future take care of itself.”
  • “You have to be grounded in your values.” These include treating other people the way you want to be treated; being transparent and fair; and being disciplined with a sense of urgency to accomplish what you set out to accomplish.

A year ago, Heather Lane, owner of Purity Ice Cream Co. in downtown Ithaca, earned her MBA from Ithaca. This year, she taught a section of Management 397 on entrepreneurship and small business management.

Groover’s Downstairs Cafe was her first entrepreneurial adventure. A year and a half into that ownership, she and her husband, Bruce, purchased Purity. He had asked her to marry him while they shared a sundae at Purity. Two weeks later, Purity’s owners, who had rejected an earlier letter of interest, asked Heather and Bruce if they were still interested in buying.

Two years later, they bought a coffee shop in Collegetown and renamed it Eat Dessert First. They held onto it for three years, until the imminent arrival of Starbucks. It was time to sell.

For Management 397, Lane designed an interactive learning experience, inviting entrepreneurs from New York City, Colorado, and Ithaca to describe “their entrepreneurial rides.” She sought young entrepreneurs “to give the students a feeling that it is possible and I can do this too. Many times we hear about entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, and it doesn't feel real. I wanted the ‘real’ to be there to touch.”

Every speaker emphasized the main ingredient in success is passion, said Lane, “and it became a joke in class known as the ‘P’ word.”

In the final class, she passed out T-shirts that declared, “Life, Add Passion, The Best Ingredient.”
Passion is what Amanda Holt preaches.

“Plug in to what you care about. Wear it on your sleeve and you never know what may come of it,” said the shatterbox founder. (Check out

No matter how many items are on a person’s to-do list for success, if the list lacks passion, success is elusive.

“You’re far more likely to succeed in your career when you're not only good at what you do but when you care about it,” Holt said. “You’ll come up with better innovation, your days will fly by with excitement and progress, your engaged attitude will be obvious, and people will notice.”
Students should never be afraid to ask, she said.

“When seeking a fulfilling career, seek out people who inspire you, talk to professors, contact a few alumni from your school in jobs that interest you. Consider that time a personal question-asking internship.”

She offers this checklist for finding passion:

  1. Find out what matters to you.
  2. Locate what you’re great at.
  3. Seek to learn what thrills you.
  4. Respect your work’s impact.


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