Serial entrepreneur Trip Sanders is passionate about networking and entrepreneurship. As an Entrepreneurship and Career Development Professor at Quinnipiac University, he helps students realize their entrepreneurial potential. MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price spoke with Trip about experience.
NAN: Give us a little background about your entrepreneurial evolution.
TRIP: Believe it or not, my undergraduate degree is in environmental science. I graduated in 2000 thinking I was going to save the world and ended up saving it one gas station at a time. I was miserable. I had three consecutive poor job experiences.
NAN: How did you get out of that rut?
TRIP: My sister, who was a teacher, has always been one of my mentors. We talked a lot about her experience and, in 2004, I got the opportunity to teach for the first time at Avon Old Farms. It opened up a new world. Being in a classroom, helping younger people figure things out—not just teaching them information—was fun. It didn’t feel like work. So, I figured I was on the right track.
I took another couple jobs teaching and then, at the downturn of the economy, I decided to get my Master of Business Administration from the University of Connecticut School of Business. I had the opportunity to take a class where I developed my own business plan for a company that never worked out—but I did enter and win a business plan competition.
NAN: Is that when the entrepreneurial bug started?
TRIP: Kind of. A little backstory: My given name is Whitney Albert Sanders III. My nickname, which fits my personality better, is Trip (as in the third “triple” Whitney). My grandfather, Whit, was an awesome entrepreneur who started an engineering firm just after World War II. It’s now STV, a multinational firm with 2,200 employees. My father, Sandy, continued in his footsteps with STV. So, entrepreneurialism was ingrained in my brain early on.
When I won the business plan competition, it was validating and exciting to think my grandfather was right; entrepreneurship is in our blood! We can do this. I can do this!
After that, I took a role as a Business Coordinator with Junior Achievement, where I realized my superpower, which is to meet people, make connections, and see how I can help them. That translated that into me launching Networking. Simple. and Coffee Club Networking.
One thing that’s important to know is that my wife has very successful job as a frontline healthcare hero, which enables me to pursue my entrepreneurial dream. I’m really lucky I get to do all these things and I wouldn’t be able to without her or the support of my family.
Sadly, my businesses, like many others, got crushed by COVID-19. Fortunately, I’ve continued teaching at Quinnipiac. I found a real passion helping people looking to jump into the entrepreneurial space. It gets me up in the morning. It doesn’t feel like work. So, my recent work with Quinnipiac has been awesome.
NAN: Let’s talk about your role there. What courses are you currently teaching and what types of students are leaning into entrepreneurship?
TRIP: I’m currently teaching a January term class. I’ll be teaching two Intro to Entrepreneurship classes this spring and a few others too.
What I love about entrepreneurship is that it doesn’t know age, gender, or race. It just knows hustle and passion. That’s the best part of what I do. I help people tap into their passion, refine it, and watch that passion grow. To me, it’s the most exciting thing on the planet.
Between Quinnipiac and consulting with my own business, I’ve coached about 75 to 100 business owners. I’m someone they can bounce ideas off of to say: Is this a good idea? What would you do? Providing that mentorship and that comfort level for them to reach out to ask those very personal questions connects us—and knowing that I’m helping them is extremely fulfilling.
NAN: Why do you think entrepreneurship is a viable option for students?
TRIP: Entrepreneurship is available to anyone who has the right mindset and is prepared to put in the time and effort. The opportunity for anyone is there. It’s one of those things where you can determine your own destiny. You have the opportunity to control your future with a business you create versus being at the mercy of a company or a boss and working a typical 9-to-five.
With entrepreneurship, you have the ability to create independence and freedom. I always refer to it as the American dream. But it’s a double-edged sword. You have to be committed, too. You can’t just sail off into the sunset when you start your business. You’re kind of married to it.
NAN: There’s an ongoing debate about whether entrepreneurship can be taught or it needs to be learned. What are your thoughts?
TRIP: A lot of entrepreneurship is experiential. You may have an idea but it’s never going to become real if it’s just an idea. You have to try to sell it and find a customer who can provide feedback to help you develop that idea. So, I never consider anybody being an entrepreneur until they’ve actually started a business and made a sale.
NAN: I think there’s a huge difference between being an entrepreneur and being entrepreneurial.
TRIP: Correct. Yes. And you can teach people to be more entrepreneurial or be better at entrepreneurship, but it’s a nuanced tweak. Someone who is entrepreneurial will naturally be able to jump into a business without asking too many questions to start. Or, when they run into roadblocks, they’ll ask questions, but they naturally gravitate toward it. Someone who isn’t entrepreneurial will have more trepidation. I feel like it’s more of more of a calling. It’s either a part of you or it’s not.
NAN: Tell us more about the “nuanced tweaking.”
TRIP: When I work with aspiring entrepreneurs, the first thing we always discuss is your personal approach. Every entrepreneur, whether you’re a solopreneur or somebody who’s trying to develop a giant organization that’s going to employ hundreds or thousands of people, you need to know yourself, understand yourself, and maximize your personal worth and productivity. So, we do a bunch of activities to help figure out who you are, what’s your personal brand, how do you manage your brand, and then, given your strengths and weaknesses, how do you work with some of those weaknesses?
NAN: Aside from consulting and Quinnipiac, how else are you involved with our entrepreneurial ecosystem?
TRIP: I’m a member of Connecticut Colleges and Universities Statewide Business Plan Competition Committee at the Entrepreneurship Foundation, which oversees the state of Connecticut college system for community colleges and four-year colleges. I’ve supported their business plan competitions by encouraging student participation, helping with pitch preparation, and providing coaching and advisory post-competition. I’ve also been a CTNext Entrepreneur Innovation Awards volunteer judge and application reviewer.
NAN: Any advice to others thinking of starting their own business?
TRIP: Think about what it is that you’re truly passionate about. Try to find something in that realm. And it doesn’t have to be a full-time gig. It can be a side hustle. I always encourage people to do that, because that’s the creation of happiness. Find something you look forward to doing and it won’t feel like work.
Then, if you make a little bit of money at it, maybe you can make a livelihood out of it too. And that would make me happy for you. I try to point people in the right direction—sometimes they need a little nudge—but I try to encourage people to figure it out themselves and be there when they need help.