Profile: Maria Arabatzis, Clark Student, '09 GREEN RUN
Maria Arabatzis doesn't like being told what to do.
While that might make things a little hard in most college settings, it makes her a perfect fit for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship program at Clark University - because I&E is teaching Maria the skills she needs to be her own boss. We sat down with Maria to find out more about her time at Clark and what it's been like starting her own venture:
I&E: How did you find the I&E program?
MA: I took my first I&E class as a freshman - I needed a class to fill my schedule and I decided to take George's [Gendron - the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Founder and Director] by chance and I wound up really liking it. Coming from pre-med with structured labs it was so refreshing to enter a more flexible environment where people actually care about their work and projects. In I&E people are enthusiastic and do their share of group work, which makes the whole process so much more fulfilling.
I&E: Talk about your capstone project - the group idea you work on in I&E in order to start your own business or venture.
MA: After taking a class on Social Entrepreneurship I really wanted to do a project that could help raise money for a cause, but I also was very interested in incorporating my passion, which is running. Putting the two together, my team and I formed the idea for a charity road race here at Clark, and also of a consulting firm that would be able to help others plan their own road races across the country for various causes.
I&E: Why the consulting side?
MA: Because it's one of the easiest types of businesses - you produce an initial design and then sell it to other colleges or student organizers. The business is selling your ideas, which is less complicated than selling a service or product. It allows us to do good by helping others plan these charity events, but to also enjoy an income from it.
I&E: What has been the hardest part of the road race planning?
MA: It's been difficult setting up the online registration, because our team doesn't really have enough knowledge of computers in order to create that possibility, so we've had to look for outside help. Also, dealing with permits and allowances from various city departments has been a bit of a headache - that's one of the things that we're planning on offering lots of help with when we reach the point where we're coaching others to set up similar races. Another thing that's difficult is just getting the team together for planning meetings - everybody is so busy and has different schedules.
I&E: Are you enjoying yourself?
MA: It's hard work, but it's very fulfilling. I'm so happy to be able to share running with others - to help non-runners become interested in the event. We're hoping to name a green initiative (such as reducing carbon dioxide emissions) as the recipient of the charity funds we raise, so being able to make a difference that way feels good. We'll also have a rally at the end of the race to help raise awareness.
I&E: Well good luck! So tell us, what's your favorite thing about being here in I&E?
MA: The best thing about I&E is that anything goes - if you have an idea that you're interested in, you'll be supported. The documentation process is light, presentations are casual, rules are flexible - so you can spend your time working on your actual idea instead of spending that time turning it into a school project for a grade. It makes it easier to do what needs to be done. As with anything in life, you get out of I&E what you put into it, and it has taught me leadership skills and how to put ideas into action. I always knew I wanted my own business, but wasn't really sure what I wanted to do. I'm still not entirely decided, but the reinforcement I've gotten here that it's possible and you can be happy living that way is really encouraging.
I&E: What are your plans for the future - do you have any ideas in the works?
MA: Short term, we'd like to extend this road race as a yearly event, which we can put together while we're here, and also to assemble a kit that helps future students continue the tradition. Long term... well, as long as I get to be my own boss, I'll be happy! Owning a vineyard is something I'd love to get into later in life.
Maria is a 4th year student at Clark, who will be attending the 5th year MBA program.