Marissa Donapel is a first generation college graduate, born and raised in Northeast Philadelphia. She attended the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush High School and enrolled upon graduation at Drexel University with the intention of studying film. Marissa had always loved film growing-up, and dreamed of becoming a film director. But, at the end of her freshman year, she realized that film wasn’t for her and she switched her major to graphic design. This decision proved right: Marissa is a prolific maker and being able to create a lot of visual art as a Design Major was a huge plus, and she felt an affinity with her new graphic design peers because of their shared passion for the visual arts.
Marissa began selling her work while still in college. She created a line of stickers featuring popular animated characters that she sold on RedBubble. Her brand continued to evolve and soon, she opened an Etsy shop. After learning how to screen print at Drexel, she expanded her product line to include hats, hoodies, graphic tees and more. She also sells printed reproductions of her illustrations, and, recently, she launched a successful line of handmade earrings and holographic stickers.
The COVID 19 pandemic has been both a blessing and a curse for Marissa. Social isolation has given her the gift of time which she has utilized to create more artwork; but, she has also had to deal with the mental hurdle of finding the motivation to create. These past six months have taught her not to push the process, but instead how to use COVID 19 as an inspiration rather than a hurdle. She completed a series of paintings inspired by her pandemic experience, which she is now selling as prints on her Etsy shop. These prints are incredibly relatable and they encapsulate a time in the history of the world that not one of us will easily forget. (Pictured below.)
Marissa’s illustrative style is graphic, current and edgy. She uses bright splashes of color and bold contrast to create exciting works that speak loudly of who she is as an artist. When you see an illustration by Marissa Donapel, you know it is by “Marissa Donapel.”
Marissa is a very recent college graduate – June ’20; she is currently looking for her first post-graduate job during a time of pandemic economic fragility. Of her fellow 2020 graduates, Marissa says, “We were really thrown into the fray and it’s been difficult finding our footing- but we are a strong group.” She affectionately refers to her class of graduates as “the guinea pig class.”
In addition to looking for a full-time position in the arts, Marissa hopes to participate in the numerous punk flea markets that are popping up in and around Philadelphia: virtual for now, though she looks forward to the in person markets that are sure to be back once the roller coaster ride that is COVID – 19 is over. In the meantime, she will continue to work hard to grow her online shop and possibly write a sequel to her first children’s book “Around the World with Remy and Fox”; regardless, she is excited to see where her journey in the arts takes her.
I asked Marissa, “What makes a person an entrepreneur? What makes you an entrepreneur?” Her response: “An entrepreneur is a creator: someone who has a drive to build-off of their passions and to take the leap towards that first step that turns a passion into a lifestyle. I don’t consider myself a business person. I’ve just always loved art and yearned to make art whenever I can, whether through film or just picking up a pencil. I am both a creator, and someone who has the drive to make change through what I love. I probably won’t be able to fix global warming or systemic problems on my own by drawing a pretty picture, but I can make someone’s day better with that picture, and that’s just as important to me.”
One of the qualities that I admire most about entrepreneurs is their ability to see the potential and possibility in all types of situations. It is seldom about one big idea – there are usually several ideas, with the next inspired by the previous.
I see this quality in fourth year Drexel University Close School of Entrepreneurship student, Lindsey Smith. She doesn’t have just one idea – she has many! Woven through all is the belief in the value of a positive body image, healthy self-esteem, and balanced mental health.
Lindsey started her first venture, Fashion Buddy, in her first year at Drexel. Fashion Buddy is a mobile app that allows users to upload pictures of themselves wearing two outfit choices so that other users can vote for their favorite. A user can be at the mall, in a dressing room, or at home, choosing a job interview outfit, and they can request real-time feedback via the app. An important component of Fashion Buddy is that it does not allow comments. It gives only a choice between two positive statements, “Looks good” or “Looks great!”, eliminating the possibility of the negative body-shaming that prevails on other social media platforms.
Lindsey is no longer pursuing Fashion Buddy, but, from it, she discovered what it was about starting a business that really got her juices flowing: the life cycle of a new product. Its development, planning, verification, launch and marketing – its product management – that is what interests Lindsey the most.
With that in mind, Lindsey began work on her next venture – a mobile app called College Bird. College Bird is an on-demand platform that connects companies with college students and recent graduates who they can then hire to complete project-based tasks that they don’t have the bandwidth to tackle in-house. In the age of COVID-19, when many longer-term internships are no longer available, College Bird gives college students and recent grads real-world, resume-building experience, and an opportunity to earn money. Businesses can hire employees who have the most up-to-date skills, without the risk and expense that comes with a full-time hire. These Gig Economy jobs not only give students freedom and opportunity, but they place a value on flexibility, quality of life, and personal growth.
Which brings me to Lindsey’s other two, as she calls them, “side hustles”:
Lindsey‘s Palette and The Wildheart Collection. Both of these endeavors have, at their core, the belief that creativity and personal growth are vital to mental health. Lindsey’s Palette is a fine art venture that sells bright, one-of-a-kind, paintings that combine graphic imagery with feel good messages such as “Good Vibes” and the tongue-in-cheek, “Screw Perfet”. The Wildheart Collection produces limited edition products designed with the purpose of raising public awareness about mental health issues and posts feel-good messages and links to mental health resources on its instagram page.
Lindsey is an example of how incredible creativity and an inquisitive mind propels an entrepreneur from one idea to the next. Which of Lindsey’s ideas will stick? Who knows? But I can’t wait to see what comes next in the evolution of her entrepreneurial journey.
Lindsey will be the guest on the Summer Stay-cation Series of interviews with Drexel University entrepreneurs on Wednesday, June 24th at 12pm. RSVPhere to receive the Zoom Meeting ID and password.
The focus of this blog has always been female entrepreneurship – after all, the name of the blog is The Ladies who Launch! But at this unprecedented time of COVID-19, I am pivoting to include male founders, whose stories of how they are adapting to the “new normal” are instructive to budding entrepreneurs everywhere.
Featuring Harrison Hertzberg, Innovator, Inventor and Entrepreneur
Harrison Hertzberg is a 19-year old, first year student (going into his second year in the fall) at Drexel University’s Close School of Entrepreneurship. Harrison was born and raised on a ranch in the isolated wilderness of Northern Idaho. Spirit Lake is a spectacularly beautiful, wild place to grow up, surrounded by dense woods, high mountain peaks and clear, unspoiled, lakes. As the son of an inventor, Harrison grew up with an inquisitive mind and an interest in building things.
The family affectionately nicknamed their home “Invention Ranch” and from a very young age, Harrison worked by his dad’s side, inventing objects created out of materials from the natural world that surrounded him. Harrison refers to his inventions as “innovations” because they weren’t really revolutionary, but more like improvements to everyday objects. Several of his “innovations” utilized natural wood sourced from his family’s forested property. These included the “Soap Stick” (soap molded to a long, handcrafted wooden handle to increase reach), a “Clever Coaster” which solved the perpetual problem of knocking over one’s glass, and designs for imaginative and original pergolas that utilized lumber that he milled and produced himself.
In the summer after he graduated from high school, Harrison invented the devise that is the basis of his current entrepreneurial venture – AeroPest – an aerial drone spraying system designed to eliminate and prevent pests in hard-to-reach places. Harrison describes the “aha” moment that led to his invention: “I was on the roof of my dad’s second-story office building, on a steep incline, with my aerosol can in hand, spraying a wasp’s nest with wasps all around me on a 100 degree day. So, I was like ‘this is a problem, right? Is there a solution?’ And there wasn’t, so I decided to do it myself.”
With the advent of COVID-19, Harrison is back on his family’s ranch in Idaho. I am excited to share his answers to my questions in my 6th installment of “The New Normal: How Drexel Entrepreneurs are Pivoting in the Age of COVID-19.”
1) Describe your upbringing.
I have grown up my entire life in the pristine backwoods of rural North Idaho on a ranch. I am an only child. In middle and high school, (with the exception of my senior year), my father would drive me half an hour to the bus stop each morning so that I could spend another hour and a half on the long windy mountain route to attend a project-based Charter school: a daily four-hour round trip commitment for me, and a two-hour commitment for my father. This anecdote serves to demonstrate the unwavering commitment my parents had for my education. Drexel was a last-minute addition to my college applications list. I found The Close School because I had been doing lots of research on experiential entrepreneurial programs.
2) Tell me about the evolution of AeroPest.
AeroPest is a product project venture which creates drone-mounted aerial precision spraying systems for the Pest Control industry. It has evolved most during my freshman year at Drexel. My CTO and I are currently continuing the product development/prototyping process and refining the design and use of the product specifically for Pest Control professionals with no drone expertise. This technology will largely remove the need for dangerous ladder use to access elevated pest nests which is the main cause of significant injury in Pest Control.
3) How has your business pivoted in the age of COVID 19?
Being forced to come home to Idaho has been a curse and a blessing. The curse: our almost non-existent internet, which makes remote learning a complete hassle. I must drive an hour to an open coffee shop with Wi-Fi in Sandpoint, Idaho. The long orange extension cord running from the coffee shop to my car tells everyone that pulls up, “this kid has set up shop… a real out-of-home office.” The blessing: I’ve been able to put my attention to AeroPest. My CTO, Jason Giddings, is here in Idaho and this has allowed us to accumulate all the necessary hardware in one place and to hand-off parts when necessary. Jason is a forty-year-old aeronautical engineer whose daughter I went to high school with. I met Jason while attending the monthly Inventors Association of Idaho meetings as a member. Jason is a serial entrepreneur with his hand in many pots simultaneously. Previously, Jason has launched a glass-laser keyboard product, a phone rifle scope “Intelescope”, and a salivary health test which he is currently selling in bulk due to the pandemic. His other current company “RhinoHide” has created a hardening bulletproof wall filler to ‘harden’ any facility that he’s primarily selling to schools and US border facilities. Jason brings technical expertise to design, fabricate, prototype, build and eventually initiate small-batch manufacturing. Jason also has experience crowdfunding, securing investors, as well as marketing through trade shows which will be a primary sales avenue for AeroPest.
AeroPest has pivoted from a small office space in the Baiada Institute at Drexel University to a large acreage and workshop where prototype testing isn’t hampered by campus or Federal Aviation Administration laws preventing drone flight.
4)How are you turning the hurdle of social distancing into an opportunity for AeroPest?
Social distancing has resulted in more people quarantining at home, and this home living has resulted in more people becoming more aware of the other organisms that share their home! All people, and most importantly, homeowners, have been able to act as human surveillance for the past two months. This is great for Pest Control and great for AeroPest.
5)How specifically are you “thinking outside the box”?
AeroPest is thinking outside the box by creating a high-tech solution for a low-tech industry. To bring this invention to life, in a way that works in the context of Pest Control, we are developing hardware and software that presents a shallow learning curve for operators and an attractive payback analysis for ownership. We are taking an “out of the box” approach by assuming we will be able to educate the industry on the efficiency-increasing applications of drone technology. Drones don’t require physical proximity; this makes drones a great pest control solution during the coronavirus pandemic or a worse pandemic in the future.
6) How do you imagine your business will look post pandemic?
AeroPest hasn’t been adversely affected by the coronavirus. Pest Control isn’t an industry that fluctuates much on its own and it has seen steady growth due to global temperature increases contributing to rising pest populations. My business is so young and so early in development, that it never knew a pre-pandemic existence. Additionally, the basic premise of my product is mitigating downside risk: the remote spraying drone serves to mitigate high-risk situations such as ladder use. In a post-corona world, a remote spraying drone could also serve to de-risk physical proximity and the subsequent possibility for viral transmission.
7) Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
In 5 years, hopefully AeroPest will prove to be successful. In addition to having a hand in AeroPest’s future trajectory of product offerings, I hope to be involved in other product projects that overlay into the drone world, which is one of my passions. In 5 years, I see myself as a Drexel graduate with venture experience under my belt and a plethora of Pest Control and drone-related industry connections to support my future endeavors.
8) What makes a person an entrepreneur?
An entrepreneur forgoes the path of least resistance in an effort to make and share … entrepreneurship appears to be such a daunting mountain to climb – starting a business, doing anything yourself. The employer/employee track seems a lot easier. But, I guarantee entrepreneurship is more rewarding, even if you’re not successful.