Unconventional Approaches to Finding & Creating Work

Our mission at the LaunchPad at UT Austin has always been to encourage students to explore entrepreneurship at their own pace, in an inclusive cross-disciplinary environment, and to make an impact through entrepreneurship and innovation.

We recognize that, while not every student who engages with us will go on to start their own companies, they will be better prepared to enter the modern workforce with an entrepreneurial mindset — a set of skills that enable people to identify and make the most of opportunities, overcome and learn from setbacks, and succeed in a variety of settings. This pandemic has only accelerated and emphasized the need for unconventional and creative-problem solving in a rapidly changing economy.

Project Forward

Our response is Project Forward — a pilot program with the mission of encourage entrepreneurial thinking to help students continue moving forward in their professional journey.

Our first initiative was a partnership with Second Day, a non-profit building a social impact talent pipeline by supporting college seniors through a fellowship program centered on professional development and mentorship. Programs currently run at Harvard, Rice, Georgetown, and The University of Texas at Austin.

Together, we produced a four day virtual bootcamp, Unconventional Approaches to Finding & Creating Work, that covered the following topics:

  • Know Yourself, Know Your Worth: Assessing Your Voice & Effective Positioning
  • Networking in 2020: Identifying Opportunities & Conducting Outreach
  • Take the Lead: Creating Your Own Work Opportunities
  • Self-Manage & Reflect: Making the Most of Your Work Experience

The Entrepreneurial Mindset

Each workshop kicked off by highlighting the Entrepreneurial Mindset (a set of skills that enable people to identify and make the most of opportunities, overcome and learn from setbacks and succeed in a variety of settings) and which skills would be covered in each workshop. They included:

  • Initiative & Self-Reliance
  • Flexibility & Adaptability
  • Communication & Collaboration
  • Creativity & Innovation
  • Critical Thinking & Problem Solving
  • Future Orientation
  • Opportunity Recognition
  • Comfort with Risk

1. Know Yourself, Know Your Worth: Assessing Your Voice & Effective Positioning

The first session was led by Mariam Matin, co-founder of Second Day. She touched on how to cultivate and leverage entrepreneurial skills like Flexibility & Adaptability, Communication & Collaboration, and Future Orientations in job and opportunity search. A major hit with participants was the “Taking Inventory” portion of the presentation where she explained the differences between hard, hybrid, and soft skills. She gave us a great overview of how to identify, market, and track those skills, especially in the current job market.

2. Networking in 2020: Identifying Opportunities & Conducting Outreach

In the second session, Phil Dearing, co-founder of Second Day, gave us an in-depth guide to networking, especially during the pandemic. We dug deep into the secret recipe for networking that was even more significant in 2020. The (IOEF) recipe (Identification, Outreach, Engagement, and Follow Up) ensures that students know how to thoughtful engage and communicate with organizations once they are connected.

3. Take the Lead: Creating Your Own Work Opportunities

Next, we consolidated all the information from the previous two sessions with a hands on discussion led by our Assistant Director, Nina Ho, on creating your own work opportunities. In this discussion, she introduced us to the fundamentals of using proactive problem solving to recognize potential work opportunities. We learned how to pitch micro-internship projects to organizations and how to drive the conversations when pitching. She went further to present a Statement Of Work (SOW) framework — a tangible tool that students can use to set and manage a project’s expectations.

4. Self-Manage & Reflect: Making the Most of Your Work Experience

To close out the series, Mariam reminded us of the importance of goal setting, collecting feedback, assessing productivity, and reflecting after securing an internship or work opportunity. She used the SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time Bound) framework to break down how to communicate personal and professional goals with employers. She emphasized the core components of productivity as being Prioritization, Self-Awareness, Accountability, and Focus. Finally, Mariam rounded out the workshop by sharing how to meaningfully track progress and results to leverage for the future.

What We Learned

Our main takeaway from this virtual bootcamp was that our tactic-focused content hit on the personal effectiveness skills and business and process skills of the professional competency delta. While subject matter knowledge is well covered in their classes, students really benefited from learning about the professional “hidden expectations and best practices” that they don’t encounter until 1–3 years into the workforce.

Here’s what students had to say about the overall experience:

  • “This workshop was amazing thank you so much for founding it. As a first-gen student, I found it extremely insightful and helpful.”
  • “This workshop really embraced our value and worth and encouraged us to be proud of that when approaching opportunities.”
  • “As an incoming freshman I have many questions yet had no answers but I believed this sessions will help me out tremendously.”

We’re excited to continue helping students leverage the entrepreneurial mindset to advance their professional journey. Please feel free to reach out to us with any questions or thoughts at launchpad.utexas.edu!


The decks for all of the workshops can be found here. Below are more resources that we shared with participants to help them dig deeper into some of the concepts covered:

  1. LunchClub.ai: AI superconnector that makes introductions for 1:1 video meetings to advance your career.
  2. Hookedin: Alumni network of Longhorns working in every industry.
  3. Toggl: Project and time tracker that helps you better understand your work output.
  4. Boomerang: Gmail add-on that allows you to write emails now and schedule it to be sent automatically at the perfect time.
  5. Pomodoro Technique: Productivity technique that alternates between 25 minutes of focus time and short and long breaks. (There are lots of timers out there including Pomofocus.)
  6. Kanban Process: Project management framework for managing and overviewing work.
  7. Eisenhower Matrix: Framework that helps you prioritize tasks by urgency and importance.

Written by LaunchPad Innovation Fellow, Seun Ibitoye.

Helping students of all backgrounds navigate and explore #entrepreneurship @UTAustin. Learn more at www.launchpad.utexas.edu.