Oracle Exec Tells E-Academy ‘Create New Dreams’

SHARON, Pa. – Just over a year ago, Mark Rossi took the plunge into full-time entrepreneurship. A graduate of eCenter@LindenPointe’s Entrepreneurship Academy, he dropped out of college, quit his job and began operating Earthbound Crystals full-time.

From the beginning, he said, people told him it was a crazy idea, that it wouldn’t work.

“On a daily basis, people told me that when I first started,” he said.

Today, he works on Earthbound Crystals – an online retailer of rocks, minerals and crystals, as well as jewelry he makes with them – with his mother and grandmother working as interns.

What helped him reach this point, was the Entrepreneurship Acacdemy, better known as the E-Academy, at the eCenter in Hermitage.

“Without that experience, I wouldn’t have even started. It’s 100% – not to blame them, because it’s a good thing – the E-Academy that caused all of this,” he said.

The E-Academy draws in students from 10 high schools in the Shenango Valley. Students spend the morning at their home schools and afternoons at the eCenter four days a week, learning how to develop entrepreneurial ideas, prototypes and business plans.

“By the end of the year, they’re pitching the plan to judges and investors,” said eCenter Executive Director Ketaki Desai. “They learn the entrepreneurial mindset. It isn’t just about teaching them to start a company, but changing how they think about life.”

Programs like the E-Academy are preparing young entrepreneurs for the “golden age of entrepreneurship,” said Bob Evans, a Sharon native and chief communications for Oracle Corp., one of the world’s largest technology companies.

“It’s incredibly exciting and heartening to see in this region opportunities for young people to jump into this and not just follow their dreams, but create new dreams,” he said. “Digitizing the human experience creates amazing opportunities in how we work, how we live, how we play, how we think about the future. There’s an unbelievable number of opportunities.”

Evans was the keynote speaker at the eCenter’s annual Fall Gala last night at the Penn State Shenango Campus. He then participated in a discussion with Rossi moderated by The Business Journal Publisher Andrea Wood.

With an increasingly digital world, young entrepreneurs are presented with opportunities that, even a decade or so ago were thought impossible. To break into the tech industry, they don’t need to have a startup company in Silicon Valley and, in some cases, don’t even need to have a company.

And industry giants such as Oracle, General Electric or Xerox are looking for those with an entrepreneurial mindset.

“We have to remake ourselves all the time. These new ideas can come up and we can embrace them, develop them ourselves and succeed or we can not,” Evans said of Oracle. “The environment in big companies today for young, entrepreneurial-minded people isn’t as much of a clash of civilizations as it was a few years ago.”

The digital revolution isn’t confined to jSilicon Valley tech companies, he noted. Visa has been pushing into digital marketing. Xerox, long known as a document company, has gotten into the traffic and shopping data market. Monsanto is using technology to work toward its goal of doubling the efficiency of its agricultural products from 150 bushels per acre to 300 bushels per acre.

“This is happening in every single industry in every country in every region. It’s a phenomenally big, open opportunity,” Evans said.

But for those who aren’t interested in joining corporations – and maybe even for those who are – Evans imparted two pieces of advice: “Make the contents, not the container” and stop accepting “the least crummy product.”

He pointed to a video featuring the manufacturers of a 3-D-printed flute that was eventually used by a performer in the Boston Philharmonic. The value of this, he said, is that rather than having the flute be the same as hundreds of others that rolled off an assembly line, the artist could ask for a different mouthpiece that’s unique to her.

“The content isn’t so much that they want to make a factory. They want to make a flute today and using 3-D technologies creates a totally different world,” Evans said. “It changes what’s possible. It changes the value of certain things. It changes the opportunities we can create.”

The second piece of advice to entrepreneurs he offered is to embrace the digital marketplace and use it to offer what customers want. It used to be that if you looked for a certain product and couldn’t find it, you’d simply purchase the next best thing.

Today, that’s no longer acceptable. Customers won’t buy “the least crummy product.

“You have to understand what people want and deliver it to them,” he said.

While most of the speech and panel discussion was aimed at young entrepreneurs, Evans noted that there’s also a place for “seasoned citizens like me,” in entrepreneurship, especially in the Steel Belt where additive manufacturing is gaining traction. Those who worked in manufacturing in the region have an expertise that will be invaluable in the midst of the manufacturing revolution, he said.

“There’s an extraordinary amount of expertise in manufacturing here. Who’s going to understand how the pieces all fit together and how to build a house from a 3-D printer or how to build cars and planes?” he said. “The people with that [skill set] can’t say, ‘I want the job I used to have.’ They have to go where the jobs are because you have the expertise and you can make a difference.”

For Rossi, who’s company is still young, being able to talk to Evans, a senior vice president at a Fortune 500 company, was indispensable.

“It was fascinating to be able to meet someone on his level. Everything was great. …This was an amazing experience. I urge people to take any opportunities that they have,” Rossi said, referring to Evans’ points about what’s available for entrepreneurs if they’re willing to shake up existing systems.

In the end, Evans did have one question for Rossi, that took the Earthbound Crystals founder aback: “What’s it like having your mom and grandma as interns?”

With that question, Rossi seemed to have sufficiently shaken up the traditional employee systems, like any good entrepreneur.

Pictured: Bob Evans, a Sharon native and chief communications for Oracle Corp., addresses the eCenter@LindenPointe’s students and supporters last night at the Penn State Shenango Campus.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.