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A Harvard student shares her experience on successful startups.

Updated: Mar 23, 2022

We had the wonderful opportunity of interviewing Laura Sophie Wegner (Harvard '25) about Entrepreneurship.

"I am interested in entrepreneurship, music, and giving back. I founded two startups, one global technology club, and I worked with an Australian non-profit organization (AIME) that helps overcome the educational gap for underprivileged students in multiple countries. Furthermore, I play the piano as well as tenor saxophone and I am a blacklight photographer."

- Laura Wegner

Laura studied Economics at Harvard with a secondary in Psychology and French Citation. She was also a part of Harvard Ventures, Women in Business, and Club Sailing.

Key words of advice Laura shares:

  • "The key to reaching out to a broader audience is definitely getting your foot in as many doors as possible and reaching out to mentors."

  • "The best way to stand out is through an unconventional interest. However, that should not mean that applicants put pressure on themselves to find a hobby that no one else does and that will set them apart from others."

Q: You started the organization One.Education to connects high school students to each other over COVID. This eventualy placed 4th in a national-level German start-up competition. What was your motivation for starting this platform and how did you go about starting it?

A: The first lockdown in spring 2020 had just been announced and already during the first week of the lockdown, I experienced family friends and parents of friends with younger siblings having problems with helping their children deal with online school. I had been tutoring someone in French for a while and we moved our classes online.

One day, I made cookies and went on a run to leave small packages on my friends’ doorsteps. On my last stop, I had a long conversation with a friend from my high school band and right there, on his doorstep, we decided to build a startup. The name actually already existed as I built a startup called One.Education when I was 14 years old.

We then spent all of our time developing our idea, speaking to experts, creating a crowdfunding campaign, working out a business plan, and fostering partnerships with individuals and organizations in the education sector.

Q: One.Education is a national tutor platform, which means it has a significantly larger impact. Given your experience with this, what are some key components that students should keep in mind of if they wish to reach out to a broader audience or start a successful organization?

A: In the case of One.Education, there was serious need for online tutors in Germany, so my co-founder and I felt the need to fill this gap. Parents, schools, politicians, and the government were all looking for solutions, which definitely helped in getting our startup out there and managing a successful crowdfunding campaign.

The key to reaching out to a broader audience is definitely getting your foot in as many doors as possible and reaching out to mentors. I never think that someone is not worth reaching out to because they seem “too successful” for me. It is often particularly those people who love giving advice to teenagers.

Q: You raised $13,690 AUD through a charity run for AIME. How did you go about organizing this successful run?

A: I was referred to AIME by an Indian diplomat and truly loved my journey as their so-called “CEO4Good”. I had a mentor that taught me a lot about community-building, confidence, and the importance of learning from one’s mistakes. Once my senior year started, I pitched AIME at the Foreign Aid Club at my high school and everyone was amazed by their work. Everyone then brainstormed and we decided to organize a charity run. We still had to meet all the COVID restrictions, so there was a lot of re-thinking and re-planning needed and we adjusted the plan accordingly. Together with my team, it only took around two weeks to get the event approved and then each gym class from grade 5 to 13 performed an individual charity run over the span of two weeks. We did not know how high we could expect the donations of the sponsors to be, but in the end, we raised a lot more than we ever thought about. Two thirds were then given to AIME and one third was donated to the sports department of my high school.

The most important part of this success was definitely the team that did not only consist of members of the Foreign Aid Club, but also of my friends who volunteered to help.

Q: What were some of the hurdles you ran into when founding your startups and how did you overcome them?

A: It can be hard to have people around you that don’t believe in what you do. Luckily, I have very supportive friends that I’ve had for 5 to 18 years, but I often had to listen to negative comments from random people at my school that I did not know. There was a group of boys that kept making fun of my start-up, but I did not listen to them. If you really believe in what you do, then negative comments don’t matter.

Receiving constructive feedback from people, whether it is my seven-year-old niece or a politician, is something else. These kinds of comments are always important and I tried to get as much input as possible from everyone.

Q: Is there a lesson that you might suggest for students who are taking initiative but coming across hurdles?

A: Especially at a young age, I believe it can be hard to work on an idea without seeing any results after countless hours of work. Whether it is Instagram, TikTok or YouTube, it seems like we are only seeing overnight successes. I founded my first start-up when I was 14 and looking back, I was definitely not ready to run a business back then. However, it was an amazing learning experience and I could try and fail as many times as I wanted. The lessons I took from that experience helped me with One.Education and also with my current work. I now know that first entrepreneurial experiences are not necessarily about the product, especially not about inventing something entirely new (“don’t reinvent the wheel”), but it is about learning how to prioritize, to build a team that you trust, to figure out what kind of risk-taker you are, and much more. These kinds of lessons made all the work worth it and I am very thankful that I got to learn them very early on.

Q: What do you think were some of the variables that have driven your success in each of your initiatives respectively?

A: I think that the key to the success of my projects were the people I met, the relationships I formed with them, and future partnerships on new projects that followed. Whether I was looking for a co-founder, an expert to interview for a project, or a videographer to film a campaign video, I reached out to people in all kinds of places. I mostly used LinkedIn and messaged leaders in the field. Even when some of them did not have any free time, they referred me to someone else, and I was able to create a supportive network that keeps growing and that probably doubled in size since I started studying at Harvard.

I also regard trust in oneself as important. When I have to make a difficult decision, it might sometimes be the case that all options are not fitting into my initial plan, so then I need to trust myself that I can make something great out of every option.

Q: Blacklight photography is another one of your unique extracurriculars we quickly wanted to touch on. This is an activity many do not know, so could you let us know what you do as a blacklight photographer?

A: I put fluorescent makeup on the model’s face and take pictures under blacklight. There is not really a limit to what kinds of designs I can do, which is one of the main things I love about this art.

Q: Would you suggest that students who pursue unconventional extracurriculars don’t need to fear that their passion isn’t considered “competitive'' among other applicants?

A: Yes, for sure! I actually had a friend who was also applying to Harvard tell me that my pictures were not good enough and that only people who have won awards should submit a portfolio. It was my former professor from the Harvard Summer School who encouraged me to submit them. At the summer school as well as in many articles and YouTube videos, I heard at least 50 times that Harvard is looking for “holistic” people. Now I know that it is true. I have multiple, very different, interests, and not “the one thing” I am only spending my time on. Of course, I also know award-winning people who have “that one thing”, but I would say that I have met more “holistic” people at Harvard so far.

The best way to stand out is through an unconventional interest. However, that should not mean that applicants put pressure on themselves to find a hobby that no one else does and that will set them apart from others. I think that wanting to get into an Ivy League college definitely motivates to work hard in school, but it should never mean that someone develops a “fake” passion that will not mean anything to them after they submit their application.

I started blacklight photography kind of “by accident” over four years ago and now looking back, I cannot believe that I was close to not submitting my pictures at all.

If you really think about it: Would you rather hang out with three captains of the debate team or with one turtle-watcher, one baker, and one blacklight photographer?

Q: How did you find this passion for blacklight photography, and how did you present your passion to the admission officers?

A: I was always interested in photography and when I got my first camera, I would not stop taking pictures of everything. In 2017, I wanted to take pictures with one of my long-distance friends and ordered fluorescent colors. I thought that they’d glow in the dark, but they only glowed under blacklight (I should have read the product description). For my 15th birthday, I ordered more supplies and took blacklight pictures of all my friends. I was very impressed by how they turned out and wanted to take more. The first picture I took after that is one of my favorite ones to this day and it really motivated me to keep going.

For my application, I submitted a portfolio of my best works and wrote short essays about their background stories.

To get personal advice on how to get into schools like Harvard, apply for 1:1 mentoring through AlumniAdvisors.

Connect with Laura on LinkedIn.

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