At the Dartmouth Entrepreneurs Forum on April 1, 2016, dozens of students, aspiring entrepreneurs and interested individuals attended informative workshops and sought out the advice of esteemed speakers. Among the speakers were Amanda Reed, a general partner at Palomar Ventures, and Alex Tonelli, current CEO of Vocate. Speakers detailed general entrepreneur principles, stating that a successful entrepreneur radiates a selling ethos and that the entrepreneur’s main motive for work should be passion.

Keynote speaker Langley Steinert, the co-founder of TripAdvisor and founder and CEO of CarGurus, gave an interesting piece of advice to entrepreneurs about their mission and product. According to Steinert, what matters is not whether an entrepreneur can raise money and build a profitable, growing business, but rather if the entrepreneur is able to solve an individual consumer’s problem with the offered product or service.

Inherently, businesses offer products or services that attempt to solve consumer problems. Some businesses offer products that are reductive, providing the consumer convenience, while others are more empowering, they allow the consumer to be able to do more than what they are capable of alone. And to generalize, there are really a myriad of ways the consumer-business interaction takes places and the consumer’s motive for remaining in that interaction is is generally dictated by the way in which the business can solve his or her problem. To generalize, consumers face essentially an unlimited number of problems that are resolved by seeking products or services. On the flip side, businesses attempt to meet the demands of a certain group of targetable consumers as efficiently as possible.

What Steinert is putting an emphasis on, however, is not the fact that businesses exist to offer solutions to consumers. Rather, Steinert urges intelligent product architecture that allows entrepreneurs to solve an individual’s problem. In today’s society, the paradigm of an average consumer with a representative set of problems and needs does not exist. Each individual is different in that they have their own unique set of problems. And even when taken to a further level of distinction, among individuals with similar problems, the best solutions to their problems may be distinguished for each individual by things such as personal preference and adaptability. Essentially, what Steinert is arguing is that in order for a business to be successful, it must offer a high level of personalization in its products or services.

When we dissect Steinert’s emphasis on personalization in product design, it is apparent that in principle, the benefits of personalization are quite clear. At a very base level, when a business provides a level of personalization in their product or service offerings, it provides a more wholesome, satisfactory customer experience than if it had not. The clear benefit here is the establishment of customer loyalty, consequently decreasing customer attrition. Through a cascading effect, personalization is a company’s tool in differentiating itself from competitors, obtaining a more defensible business model and increasing business performance.

Although the theory proves appealing, it is interesting to see uses of personalization in practice, and how it has affected the relevant business. An example of a business that has successful adopted this model is Pandora Internet Radio (commonly known as Pandora), a music streaming and automated music recommendation service. When Pandora was conceived in 2000, the initial vision for Pandora involved creating individualized radio stations that only contained music that the user enjoyed based on his or her patterns of musical preferences. Thus, from the very beginning, Pandora had attempted to incorporate a level of personalization in its product. An article by Henry Truc, an experienced financial writer and editor of, shows the lengths to which Pandora goes to create a personalized experience for users. Truc states that “what Pandora does better than anyone else is collecting and utilizing data” and that the number of ways in which this is done, most notably a simple system of giving a “thumbs up” to preferable songs and artists. This is a key driver of what lends to Pandora being able to boast that “it knows its users’ music preferences better than anybody else”. Pandora has reached tremendous success since its conception, boasting $1.8 billion in revenue in 2014 with more than 250 million users worldwide. And it’s hard not to attribute Pandora’s success to the way in which its personalized product is able to completely trounce terrestrial internet radio (radio that is constituted by stations which play their own selection of music) and curate content for its users.

During his talk at the Entrepreneurs Forum, Steinert himself describes how his personal venture at TripAdvisor, a travel website company now dedicated to providing reviews of travel-related content, nearly faced bankruptcy because he did not buy into the importance of this concept. In its early stages, TripAdvisor was a content search engine. During this time, Steinert found himself at a point where growth had halted and only four months’ worth of cash for operating expenses remained. Steinert took great strides in attempting to make changes before realizing that he had the wrong product and the wrong idea for how TripAdvisor could serve the customer. Upon moving from the content search engine it was before to the input based, user behavior-tracking tool that it is now, Steinert and TripAdvisor have reached tremendous success. As Steinert put it, showing the most popular hotel in Boston for you versus showing the most popular hotel in Boston on TripAdvisor has made the difference.

When organizational processes and customer offerings are constructed with the needs of the individual customer in mind, the business and consumer are co-creating a mutually valuable outcome. In the case of Steinert’s TripAdvisor and the nearly ubiquitous Pandora Radio, customers receive a rewarding experience that should, if correctly catered and executed, solve their problem. As a result, the business is able to generate revenue, establish customer loyalty and orient itself to retain both as a positive feedback loop for long-term success. Thus, personalization should be considered as a key component of product architecture and a driver of business value.

The mention of “Africa” typically does not echo back notions of “technology,” “innovation” or “entrepreneurship” in the minds of many people. Many countries within the continent are still associated with ideas of war, poverty and famine – but this is an incomplete story.

The so-called millennial generation is reshaping Africa’s entrepreneurship culture one startup at a time, with 90 tech hubs having already been established. Unlike previously when young talented entrepreneurs left their home countries, there is a greater incentive now for entrepreneurs to stay and establish their own companies.

“There is a paradigm shift [in Africa] from seeking employment or the opportunity to leave the continent to creating a future with opportunity,” Eric Osiakwan, co-founder of Angel Fair Africa, which invests in high tech and high growth ventures in Africa, said.

With a flurry of new startups and capital raising occurring on the continent, Africa has the potential become a hub for social entrepreneurialism that can support pioneers and help solve socioeconomic problems that hamper its growth and development.

Today, many African countries face critical socioeconomic issues, namely high rates of poverty and unemployment, and widespread inaccessibility to education. According to Gallup World, the ten countries with the highest number of residents living in extreme poverty, defined as earning less than $1.25 per day, were all from Africa. The World Review predicts that, by 2020, Africa will have more than 122 million jobseekers. These statistics demonstrate the need and market opportunity for entrepreneurial projects that will reduce unemployment, boost the continent’s economic growth and mitigate its socioeconomic problems.

Fortunately, there has never been a more willing generation of young Africans. The Future Awards Africa, an annual award ceremony that spotlights young Africans who have showcased exceptional vision, passion, and commitment to a social or developmental cause, received close to 800 nominations for last year’s count of Africa’s brightest young entrepreneurs below 30 years old. For instance, Alain Nteff, concerned by the high mortality rate of pregnant women and newborn born babies in his own local Cameroonian community created an app called Gifted Mom that helps mothers and health workers calculate due dates. According to Forbes, there has been a 20 percent increase in antenatal attendance rate for pregnant women in 15 rural communities due to the takeoff of the app.

Other impactful African startups include Eco Shoes Projects, which sells crafts made by artisans with disabilities, SunSweet Solar which builds inexpensive small-scale power plants for Tanzanian homes and businesses and Njorku which connects jobseekers with employers across Africa. Several startups, such as Obami and Shasha Iseminar, are geared towards making education more accessible for the masses.

Considering the potential power entrepreneurship has in shaping Africa, it is not surprising, then, that investments in African startups have increased. VC4Africa was founded in 2008 as an online community of venture capitalists, angels and entrepreneurs dedicated to building businesses in African countries. VC4Africa reported in 2015 that 104 investments in startups across Africa were listed in their platform, with a total amount of USD 27 million, which is more than double the prior year’s figures.

Yet, it would be premature to overstate that entrepreneurship will eradicate all of Africa’s problems. It is, however, reasonable to suggest that it will likely move the continent in a better direction socially and economically. Job opportunities are increasing in almost every African country due to the creation of new businesses. Approximately six jobs are created for every new venture, and that number is expected to quadruple resulting in about 4176 new jobs according to a report released by VC4Africa 2015.

The belief that investing in Africa is risky, however, stands in the way for obtaining yet more funding. The costs of service in Africa as well as the cost of electricity and Internet connection are extraordinarily high according to Global Risk Insights. There is a fear that these high costs will eat away at revenue for foreign companies.

Additionally, the majority of African entrepreneurs lack the formal education needed to succeed in the business world. Education is still inaccessible to many citizens in various parts of the continent and the quality of education is still subordinate to that of many non-African countries. The budget allocated to education of a single country such as France, Germany, Italy or the United Kingdom outweighs education spending across the entire sub-Saharan African region, according to a new report from the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS). This naturally begs the question: is it realistic to expect people with an inadequate education to start a business and be successful? Shortage of local talent can be seen as a red flag, especially for investors and executives of foreign corporations.

But despite these systematic problems that might deter foreign investment, this generation of African entrepreneurs is attempting to find big solutions to big problems. Their positive impact is evident today as it pertains to the continent’s growth and development, and it is still possible that Africa will look drastically different years from now with its growing crop of entrepreneurs and investors.

A two-year stint in investment banking or consulting has long been considered the first step on the post-graduate career path for many a business-minded graduate from a top university. But the global recession and the contraction of the financial industry have made Wall Street jobs harder to get and even harder to keep, and backlash to the financial turmoil, stoked by the Occupy Movement, has some students rethinking their views on the best place to gain experience before heading back to grad school or entering the business world. More and more recent graduates are choosing to bypass the traditional track and jump into their own entrepreneurial endeavors.

Dave Mainiero ’11, is one such entrepreneur. During his senior year at Dartmouth, Mainiero was contemplating what to do in the year or two before he attended law school. He considered more traditional avenues, but by the summer after graduation, he had decided to start his own business: a fast-casual burger joint in Santa Monica, California. Starting his own restaurant seemed like the ideal way to pursue his talent in and passion for the food business, while providing a source of income to finance his future law degree.

A fourth generation restaurateur, Mainiero drew on his years of exposure to all aspects of the restaurant business, to become his own boss at 22. Although Mainiero considered working for his uncle, a successful restaurateur in California, “I want to make a name for myself in the industry independent of my family. Given the choice between working for someone and owning my own business, it seemed like the logical decision,” he said. Mainiero has “been able to do most of it on [his] own” he said, of carrying out his project, “my family lives on the East Coast, but if I have questions on things, I always verify with my family…I have them advising me.” He also utilized his time at Dartmouth praising the “networking opportunities that naturally present themselves to a Dartmouth student. You’ll have a lot of friends who go on to be very successful, and many who have a lot of money in their first few years after college that they are looking to invest somewhere. That’s a good inroad to some startup money.”

Mainiero recently completed a business deal with his father’s company BurgerFi, a Florida based franchiser with two current burger spots and two more opening up in the near future. Now, Mainiero’s project will become the first west coast outpost of BurgerFi, with certain features unique to the Santa Monica locale. Although Mainiero did not originally plan to open a BurgerFi, he describes the deal as “mutually beneficial” given that he has access to an already established brand network, and BurgerFi will benefit from the prime positioning in Santa Monica, and provide brand visibility to attract potential franchisees on the West Coast. BurgerFi prides itself on sustainable building and products and all natural, locally sourced ingredients and menu offerings like natural, antibiotic and hormone free beef, and sugar cane sodas.

In the summer of 2011, while visiting his uncle in California, Mainiero drove by a deserted KFC in a prime location in Santa Monica. He researched the property, and a week later saw an eviction notice on the door. He called them the next day and acquired the property. He then embarked on the long journey of building the business. Mainiero says he’s “been fortunate not to run into any major obstacles so far” and has mainly been dealing with the back and forth of various approval steps, “going through city zoning and design review and permitting, is necessary for any business. It’s frustrating, you feel like you’re getting started right off the bat but then you run into a lot of bureaucratic red tape.” Government zoning and permitting has been a particular challenge in Laguna, where stringent laws exist to try and prohibit fast food restaurants like the former KFC from setting up shop. The town is resistant to franchisees and chains, which means Mainiero will be creating a unique restaurant, exclusive to the Laguna beach area, but still under the BurgerFi banner. Currently in a holding pattern, waiting for responses and approval on construction, building and electricity plans, Mainiero has been working on crafting the menu, developing interior design ideas, and establishing agreements for local food sourcing. After the official announcement of the BurgerFi partnership, Mainiero will begin a major press push to advertise the deal.

Mainiero anticipated his age might be a challenge in the process of building his own business. Instead, he said “I’ve had a generally positive experience, you have to have no tolerance for people trying to pull wool over your eyes for price gauging and things like that…then they respect you as a business person” His restaurant background has served as a deterrent for people trying to take advantage of him, he says, and “in this economy people are really hungry for work” which makes them less inclined to jeopardize possible job opportunities.

For Mainiero, his depth of experience, knowledge, and connection to the restaurant business “was something that I felt I had a lot of talent and advantage in” he said, which gave him the confidence and the skills to dive in head first. Particularly in the restaurant and food business, according to Mainiero, having as much experience as possible is crucial for starting off on your own. His decision to take time off before law school allowed him the freedom to pursue his own venture, saying “taking a year off isn’t a bad idea, even for those that have always thought, like I did, that taking a year off would be a complete waste of time.”

Mainiero encourages potential entrepreneurs “not to feel compelled to jump into a job you’re not passionate about through corporate recruiting or other opportunities that may arise out of convenience.” He cautions, however, that starting your own business early on is dependent on one’s “background, needs, and desires.” He also noted that there are still numerous benefits of the more traditional track for someone interested in starting their own business, saying “the opportunities that present themselves to Dartmouth students in terms of high-paying entry- level jobs are not something to be overlooked” because you can accumulate money to finance your own endeavors and “gain more access to people who might be willing to invest in your business idea at that juncture or later in your life.”

As for what the future holds, Mainiero still plans on attending law school in the next year, and has put a plan into place that will allow him to manage the business from afar. He found potential managing partners through Craigslist postings and relationships with other Laguna Beach food purveyors. He has also partnered with his uncle and his network of restaurants. After the restaurant opens in May, Mainiero plan to spend four or five months training the staff, and hopefully install a good network of people who can run the business while he’s in school. While he “definitely has an eye towards expansion” he’s waiting to see what happens with the opening of his first BurgerFi and says his post- law school career plans are as yet to be determined.