SoCal community college student “leaned in” to build entrepreneurial spirit in students

580 200 John Guenther

(Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons)

When Arev Tatarian read Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In for Graduates, she decided to make some changes in her life. “The book really changed my personal understanding of goals and success and selling yourself short, and basically I hadn’t been leaning in until this point in my life.” At that time, she was a 19-year-old Glendale Community College (GCC) student.

Her act of “leaning in” was to start a campus club for entrepreneurs called Lean In For Entrepreneurship, known as the L.I.F.E. Club. She found a champion in Marisa Zakaria, an instructor in the business department, who was also interested in starting an entrepreneurship club.

“Entrepreneurship is not just a business skill. It is a life skill. It is an innovative, different way of thinking. It teaches people to see possibilities and opportunities rather than obstacles and challenges,” said Zakaria.

“Lot of students, when they see the word ‘entrepreneur,’ they think of super successful CEOs. I wasn’t aware of the entrepreneurial mindset, the spirit and the true opportunistic definition of it,” added Tatarian. “I wanted to start reversing that mentally that there are ‘these’ kind of people and then there is me and there’s no connection. But there is no difference between successful people and us college students.”

The L.I.F.E. Club invites speakers from the business world and hosts networking events. Last semester, the club, along with the GCC Foundation, sponsored a meet-and-greet and panel discussion for budding entrepreneurs in the skateboard culture. Future business owners learned about leveraging and branding and a photographer was on site to take headshots for websites and social media profiles.

The club also seeks out mentors for the students. One such mentor is Lilit Barsegyan, owner of Draft in Style, a mobile beer bar serving local craft beer for events and parties. She was invited to one of the club’s events and has worked with club members.

“I’ve told every single one of them, if you want to be an entrepreneur, don’t worry so much about college,” Barsegyan said, adding that she gets the instructor’s approval for that advice. “Go to college, but don’t go for the grades or the diploma. Go to make good connections and to learn skills you need.” She tells students to take non-traditional classes that will help you as an entrepreneur such as speech, acting and computer courses.

Barsegyan knows this advice from personal experience. “I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and a double major and I knew nothing. I was stuck in retail for many years and I was so tired of being on that ‘starving artist path’ or trying to get into business with no business skills.” She was introduced to a company that taught business and entrepreneurship skills and acquired mentors. She also became a mentor before starting her business.

Barsegyan said she is happy to work with GCC’s budding entrepreneurs. “It comes from the professors and the staff that I met at GCC who have been so open to have entrepreneurs come and speak along with mentors-coaches.”

Zakaria agreed. “Entrepreneurship absolutely resonates more at the community college level. Many of our students are already employed or returning to school to obtain a new skill. Many of them will never be traditional employees but will be part of the gig economy.” The age of students in the L.I.F.E. Club ranges from 19 years old to the mid-30’s.

“Entrepreneurs want to quickly get the skills they need in school and move on to start their businesses or work in their desired industries,” added Zakaria. “Community colleges give them this launching ground, with classes and certificates aimed at providing specific skills that can be completed in a short time period.”

Entrepreneurship is key to growing the state’s economy and adding jobs to the workforce. Entrepreneurs from across the state will gather to discuss issues important to growing businesses at the 2017 California Economic Summit on November 2-3 in San Diego. Early bird registration is available until Thursday August 31.

Tatarian, the L.I.F.E. Club Founder, has moved to the next chapter in her life. She started at California State University Northridge earlier this month, where she will continue her education in business. Her goal is to start a business in either the food or music industries, or maybe both.


John Guenther

All stories by: John Guenther