By Kayla Sosa
With years of business experience, and waves of failure and success, entrepreneur Matt Gira is settling into his new role as the Entrepreneur in Residence at the Grand Valley State University Center for Entrepreneurship and Innovation.
Navigating the ups and downs of entrepreneurship
Gira, 25, hails from Hope College, where he got his start as an entrepreneur while getting his undergrad degree in Chemistry.
It all started when a friend introduced him to a group of guys who “had ideas.” While he wasn’t necessarily an entrepreneur at the time, his friends knew him has the guy who could talk through ideas with people, so that’s what he did.
“The four of us were sitting down every night at 10 o’clock at night, I’m drained from the day, but they just wanted to talk ideas, so we did,” Gira said.
Pretty soon, one of the ideas became a reality: underwater drones. That was the start of Gira’s first entrepreneurial venture.
The drones were prototyped and built by the team, and last year over 400 units were shipped out. They were marketed to individual consumers, specifically boaters, fishermen and scuba divers.
But, as many entrepreneurial experiences go, the results weren’t exactly what the team had hoped for.
“A lot of units had issues, so we had to send them back to us,” Gira explained. “By January 2nd, almost all the units we had sold on Christmas, came back to us, because of different issues like overheating, the sensor’s bad.”
Gira said the team concluded that they would have to redesign the entire product from scratch if they wanted to keep going.
“It wasn’t really worth it,” Gira said. “We ran out of money… we decided to cut our losses there and set sail.”
Gira said they did have some successful product, and there are still 400 units out in the world somewhere.
“The biggest lesson we learned is you have to be really passionate about the problem you’re solving,” Gira said. “If you’re not… there’s going to be a hurdle that’s really big and you can’t get over because you don’t live and die for that problem.”
Other lessons learned had to do with forming the right business team, fundraising, and the difficulties with launching a physical product.
Another venture Gira took on started in an Intro to Engineering class, where he built mason jar speakers and started selling them on Etsy until he broke even.
After getting his bachelor’s degree, Gira was invited to a 10-week entrepreneurship program at Yale University. He learned that Yale students aren’t necessarily all geniuses with the best IQ scores, but they have a specific mindset and culture about ideas.
“There’s no limit to how big they can build something or what they can do,” Gira said. “Whereas here (some people say) ‘We’re just in Michigan, we’ll just create a small business.’ We kind of cap what we’re trying to do.”
After the Yale program, Gira went back to Hope to be the Entrepreneur in Residence in their entrepreneurship program. In that role, he designed an entire summer program for students to work on their start ups over the summer.
Gira started another business venture not too long ago called Founder Co., which seeks to fill the gaps in the entrepreneurial ecosystem.
“Our whole thing is to help entrepreneurs become more impactful and do that through making ecosystems more collaborative through education, mentorship and community,” Gira said. “We’ve been spending all summer figuring out where the holes are in ecosystems and how we can support entrepreneurs better.”
This fall, Gira said educational opportunities will be announced for entrepreneurs to learn more about how to get funding, among other topics.
What’s new for GV students
Next semester, in early 2020, Gira plans to kick off the very first GVSU student entrepreneur accelerator program. Free to any student, the students in the program will meet weekly and participate in workshops, learn from guest speakers, and more.
“One of the best parts about doing this, is you get to see the spark happen across the table,” Gira said. “I’ve seen people that were like, ‘I never thought I was an entrepreneur’ and then they go create a business and now they’re on fire.”