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Generation Z’s Perspective on Entrepreneurship Showcased at Event

By Colin McEvoy on September 14, 2022

The LaunchBox Ladies event featured Penn State Lehigh Valley students (from left, respectively) Mishell Ortiz, Qofi Quainoo, and Lara AbdelAhad in a panel discussion moderated by senior Viacmely Jimenez (right).

For the last five years, Penn State Lehigh Valley and the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox have partnered to host successful female entrepreneurs and allow them to share their perspectives and advice through the LaunchBox Ladies speaker series.

In the latest entry in the series, Penn State Lehigh Valley looked inward at their current student body, hosting a panel discussion with juniors and seniors at the Upper Saucon Township campus to share Generation Z’s perspective of innovation and the future of entrepreneurship.

“Gen Zers are rapidly becoming known as the most entrepreneurial generation ever,” said PSU-LV Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson. “Can you believe that? Because we’ve seen a lot of innovation in our lifetime. But this generation is the most diverse, it makes up about 35% of the total population globally, and collectively they have buying power of $143 billion.”

Penn State Lehigh Valley Chancellor Tina Q. Richardson speaking at the LaunchBox Ladies event.

Nearly 100 people attended the Sept. 14 event, entitled “Is Entrepreneurship in My DNA?” at the Penn State Lehigh Valley campus. Though virtual sessions have been held over the last two years, this was the first LaunchBox Ladies event held in-person since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

It featured a panel discussion that included junior Lara AbdelAhad, junior Mishell Ortiz, and senior Qofi Quainoo. The program was moderated by Viacmely Jimenez, a senior who also works as an office coordinator at Penn State Lehigh Valley. 

AbdelAhad is majoring in business with a minor in financial services, and is also a STEM, calculus and statistics mentor at Penn State Lehigh Valley. Quainoo is majoring in business with a concentration in marketing and management, and completed a certification program with the Digital Marketing Institute this past spring.

Ortiz is working on her second degree in business and marketing, having already earned a degree in Digital Media Communications from the University of Valley Forge. She has also completed two internships at B. Braun Medical during her time at Penn State Lehigh Valley, and owns her own small business called Ann.Rose Photography.

Ortiz discussed how her father was a middle school dropout who worked on the streets of Puerto Rico since a child, later joined the military to provide for his family, and stressed upon her the importance of education. She was also adopted, and said both her biological and adoptive mothers encouraged and guided her on her entrepreneurial path.

“I never got the opportunity to really learn from anyone, I learned from my mistakes. But I do appreciate the road that they have paved for me to get to where I am now,” she said.

AbdelAhad and her family are originally from Lebanon, and her father now runs a car repair shop in Easton. She was drawn to entrepreneurship because her international travels inspired her to one day operate her own hotel.

Richardson said many members of Generation Z already have “what they would call a ‘side hustle,’” which usually refers to a means of making money alongside one’s main form of employment, and that they tend to turn their hobbies into job opportunities.

“Research has shown that Gen Zers already understand that they will probably experience some sort of failure before achieving the levels of success that they are interested in, and this is true of most entrepreneurs,” she said.

Ortiz said entrepreneurship is challenging because you have to wear many hats, from product developer to marketing director to chief fundraiser. She and the other panelists were asked how they cope with having doubts about their entrepreneurial efforts.

“Well, everything seems impossible until it’s done, right?” AbdelAhad said. “But I always say that ‘impossible’ spells ‘I’m possible.’ There always needs to be hope. We’re going to hear 100 million ‘no’s, but if one door shuts, another opens.”

Quainoo added, “There is no barrier to entrepreneurship; you just need to fight fearlessly for what you want.”

Since it was formed in 2015, Lehigh Valley LaunchBox has been connecting aspiring entrepreneurs with microgrants, co-working space at Velocity in downtown Allentown, legal and intellectual property services, business advice and mentorship.

LaunchBox is a Penn State- and community-sponsored business accelerator program created as part of the Invent Penn State initiative. George Lewis, Vice President of Marketing, Communications and Research for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation (LVEDC), serves on the Lehigh Valley LaunchBox Advisory Board.

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