What’s it like to be a Royster Lawton Fellow?
Over the course of my 1st year I worked on a few businesses and projects, from alternative college tours to online education programs. Although I learned countless hard and soft skills from these different ventures, the greatest take away was solidifying my passion for what had initially drawn me to UVA - entrepreneurship.
Flashback to fifth grade and I still remember devising plans with my best friend to start the next technological revolution - we decided that we would create batteries that could be recharged in the microwave. To test this, we went ahead and set up a microwave outside. Luckily my mom stopped us before it started. Yet this failed project allowed me to discover my passion for entrepreneurship. Soon after, my Dad gave me a piece of advice that has continued to guide me - “Don’t create solutions to non-existent problems, find real world problems and create the solutions.”
After 8 years I finally had gained real world experiences to solidify this passion I had come across while setting up my battery-microwave experiment. While I looked back on the different projects I had worked on since, I realized another common theme with them all. The mission of the projects was the true guiding force for me, and the mission had always been to help or improve the lives of others in some way or another. This is what I only recently found to be called social entrepreneurship, and the moment I found out about it I wanted to learn more. Thus I decided in the spring of my first year I wanted to find a summer internship that would allow me to learn as much as possible about entrepreneurs working to make a positive impact.
After talking to a close mentor of mine, we figured out the perfect place to immerse myself in a fast paced environment of creatives whose sole goal is to get things done - an accelerator. Over the course of my spring semester I researched dozens of accelerators in the US and the companies that had gone through them. I then dove deeper and researched the founders of the companies and sent as many cold emails as I could. After sending 100 emails and multiple follow ups, I was lucky enough to get 10 responses from founders who were all willing to get on the phone with me. We talked about everything from their founding stories to their passions for innovation, all the way to their life philosophies. These conversations lasted anywhere from 30 minutes to a few hours, but every time I walked out feeling more inspired and determined to dive deeper into entrepreneurship.
Around this same time I found out that UVA has an entire department dedicated to Social Entrepreneurship, and it was here that I learned about the Royster Lawton Fellowship - a fellowship that would fund and help guide and structure a summer internship of your choice. I was fortunate enough to gain a spot as a fellow and had another group of incredible mentors to help guide me in this process of finding an internship.
As the semester came to an end, I had two offers on the table. One was with a French accelerator in NYC called IMPACT, and the other was to stay in Charlottesville and work with an online education startup called Radify Labs , which I had been doing marketing work for during the semester. I was in a bind so I hopped back on the phone with my mentor and he asked me one question: “What do you want to get out of your summer?”
My answer was simply that I wanted to learn as much as possible. The second I said that, he showed me that this choice was a no brainer. Although it would be incredible to intern at an accelerator and observe from the background, if I wanted to dive into the life of an entrepreneur I should just get experience doing it myself, and I had the perfect opportunity to do just that. 3 months later and I truly do not think I could have learned more anywhere else than at Radify Labs.
With the help of the Royster Lawton Fellowship and the community that came with it, I was able to spend my summer in Charlottesville working full time with Radify Labs. This summer I was made a co-founder and will continue to work alongside 3 of the most incredible and motivated people I have ever met in my life. My 3 co-founders (Allison Garrett, Andy Page, and Yash Tekriwal) just graduated from UVA and turned down prestigious jobs at companies such as McKinsey and Company, APT, and Blackstone to work on this venture full time. Although I had planned on working part time again like I had last semester, a new opportunity came up that I would have never imagined even weeks ago..
“Seven months ago I was dreaming of running around an accelerator in NYC while making copies, getting coffee, and doing whatever there was so that I could observe an accelerator from the background. Now I have the opportunity to go through one of the best accelerator programs in the nation - except this time as a founder.”
After a few rounds of applications and interviews, Radify Labs become one of four companies accepted into the Lighthouse Labs Ed-tech accelerator in Richmond, Virginia. Seven months ago I was dreaming of running around an accelerator in NYC while making copies, getting coffee, and doing whatever there was so that I could observe an accelerator from the background. Now I have the opportunity to go through one of the best accelerator programs in the nation - except this time as a founder.
Thanks to Jill Royster and Drew Lawton, as well as the incredible staff at SE@UVA, I’ll have the chance to continue exploring this childhood passion through real world experience.
Spend your summer working towards an impact. Apply here!