By Lillian Frazier
As an economics and international business major, travel was not new to me before this summer. I spent the fall semester of 2021 in Budapest, Hungary. Yet, the Oxford trip for the Moonshots and Moneymaker’s Conference felt different. This was not just for fun; I considered it a week of business with high expectations not only set by me but by Professor Lisa Teach and Norm Brodsky. Entrepreneurs from all over were there with the focus of how they could turn their money-making business into a moonshot — a self sustaining business with endless possibilities. This was the big league, and I would be in a front row seat to witness the action. I was initially quite nervous about this trip. Due to the pandemic and my prioritization of other activities, I did not have any practical experience in networking or at an environment such as the M&M conference. Throughout the Inside the Mind of an Entrepreneur class, I actively worked on speaking up more and developing thoughtful questions to ask the speakers. This trip seemed like the culmination of those efforts, and I went into it with a specific focus on making connections with as many entrepreneurs as I could.
One of the entrepreneurs who stood out to me the most was Vern Solomon. He was the first entrepreneur I spoke to at the conference, and from our initial meeting, he offered advice that I carried with me throughout the week. His most impactful words of advice that stuck with me were, “Never let anyone feel as if you don’t deserve a seat at the table,” and he explained how he went into this conference with “no expectations,” so that he can be open to anything and not limit his learning. Vern shared how he carries this philosophy with him through any business meeting or event, and I loved this mindset. As a student preparing to graduate and enter the business world starting from the bottom, I need to remember that I carry important knowledge and skill sets that may differ from others and thus provide value to conversations.
One of my favorite things about Vern is his drive to stick to his guns. Without completely disregarding advice from others, he never accepted just any suggestions, even if they came from Lewis Schiff or Norm Brodsky. Vern listened to the logic, processed the suggestion, and then formed his own decision (even if it disagreed with the recommendations). I like the idea of being able to hear advice without feeling required to use it. Staying firm with my decisions is a quality I hope to adopt. A key takeaway from Solomon: trust my decisions and the value I bring to any situation. After the conference, networking is no longer scary to me. In fact, I discovered that I really enjoy networking and even excel at it to a certain extent. Instead of going into conversations with a formal and business-focused mindset, I kept conversations casual, asking questions that genuinely interested me and learned about the entrepreneur as an individual. This strategy had been proven successful at the conference as I left with a handful of significant connections and the confidence that if I reached out to my connections, I would be able to gather advice, assistance or potentially an internship opportunity.
My favorite times throughout the conference were when I had opportunities to go on an outing with the delegates for dinner, cocktail parties and tours. Here, I could really get to learn more about entrepreneurs on a personal level. Everyone was always open to chat, and those who already knew me could include me in a conversation with others I had not met yet. From a leadership point of view, I see the value of holding social opportunities to build a sense of community and camaraderie which will simultaneously promote collaboration and innovation. Even simply watching the entrepreneurs interact provided valuable examples of how to network and business deals in the making.
One special tradition Oxford follows is the expectation that when you enter the dining hall for your meals, you must sit in the immediate open seat — a vast difference from American meal culture with small groups keeping to themselves.
The tradition resulted in a different discussion group for each meal, making each meal a completely different experience. I really liked this practice and the conversations and connections that came from it. Knowing that this was a tradition made the cultural experience even more significant. As someone who appreciates history, I also enjoyed the learning opportunities from the tours and the speech at the formal dinner.
From the walking tour, I learned that cars ride on the left side of the street because, during the jousting days, the rider would need to hold the weapon in their right hand as the left hand was considered evil. The walls surrounding the dormitories were not just for aesthetics, but to keep the students safe. After a certain period of time, it was required that the library hold at least one copy of every book published in England. The tour gave me a new appreciation for the area, and it was a nice break from all of the sessions we were going to. There is value in knowing this history; as a visitor (and for a brief time a guest student), you could feel the academic possibilities in the air. It felt as if every student there was incredibly intelligent and destined for greatness. I believe in manifestation and think an environment that this trip created contributes to innovations.
I am extremely grateful I had the opportunity to attend the Moonshots and Moneymakers Conference in Oxford. Initially I was second-guessing myself after applying to join the trip, but I am glad I put myself out there in a new experience that I certainly learned a lot from. I learned from an entrepreneur’s perspective that investing in yourself is always a good idea. Delegates were willing to pay a large amount of money, taking the risk to put themselves out there and represent their companies, all for the chance to meet new people, make connections, and gain new skills to advance their companies. I hope to take this mindset away from my trip: the willingness to pursue personal advancement and maintain it throughout my career. I highly recommend taking advantage of opportunities such as this: be it study abroad, a competition class or any unconventional opportunity as these are the most memorable and rewarding experiences offered to us as Rider students.