An Entrepreneur’s Hunger for Understanding

by Francesca Polycarpe

2014-04-25-file0002038379783The radiant sun shone on my face as I moved through a swarm of people at a street fair. I squinted in a desperate attempt to see the colorfully dressed contortionist who stood before me. At five, my height and the overbearing sun made it difficult for me to see him folding into a small box. Yet, I continued to look, pushing my head through the crowd to see. Neither the overwhelming brightness nor the tall people could stop me.
My drive to comprehend the world produces passions that surprise others since the diversity of my interests does not fit neatly in the box of a unified resume. Three summers ago, I told my friend Christie that I was taking screen-printing classes and working with the treasury office at Hebron, the Haitian church my father attends. Stunned, she replied, “Well that’s weird; what an unexpected combination.”
Last summer, I discovered why such a combination was not “weird” for me when taking an entrepreneurship class at Summer@Brown. It clicked when Professor Ramos said innate entrepreneurs constantly “strive to understand the world around and beyond them with great depth.” I understood why I squinted to see the contortionist and why my combination of interests is so diverse. In order to create and invent, entrepreneurs must be consummate students of the world. I aspire to be an entrepreneur and my path to that goal turns me into a scientist, a writer, a photographer, a mathematician–the list could go on.
As a young child, I searched for understanding through my world of make believe enterprises. My beloved American Girl Doll, Tiffany, was not only there for me to dress. Since I never had the chance to take her to the spa at the American Girl Place, I started a spa for both people and dolls, and she was a VIP patron. I also employed Tiffany at my card shop. After receiving intricately crafted birthday cards every year, I decided to make cards of my own that I sold to family and friends, both real and imaginary. I strove to make my ventures as realistic as possible, such as the Silver Cradle Restaurant. I had seen others around me cook, and therefore I learned to prepare the toast for my restaurant with perfection. I wished to learn business techniques as well. At seven, I drafted my own version of the spreadsheets, charts, budgets, and graphs customized for each of my businesses.
When I outgrew the world of make believe, I became a sponge for a diversity of information– everything from medieval bookbinding to conducting research with a professor of epidemiology to learning about Filipino culture from a newfound friend. My unending drive for understanding has turned biology and chemistry into strong passions. During my first successful titration in chemistry class, I performed a series of precise measurements and eagerly waited for my pink sample of nitric acid to turn clear. It happened in an instant, but when it did, I felt myself smiling. I finally saw something from a book actively occur in front of my eyes. My desire to witness science in the real world has led to internship opportunities where I spend time learning about war veterans, mental health care, and the impact of psychoactive drugs on human research patients.
In my sophomore year I discovered photography, as I was amazed at what I can learn about a person through movements, facial expressions, and stances in a picture. In one photo of my sister and her two friends walking, all three have their right foot forward and left arm to the side. This pattern creates rhythm within the photograph. In another photo taken at Occupy Wall Street, a man leads a rally. He stands with his feet firmly planted on the ground, arms completely spread, and mouth wide as he yells. His movement is dynamic, yet for the moment it lives in the still of a picture.
Somehow, I expect the world of photography to find itself in an entrepreneurial venture of mine one day. Yet who knows what I will ultimately create: A bite size food franchise? A social entrepreneurship venture? I do not have to decide at this moment. For now, I will just keep learning about the world.

Francesca Polycarpe, a 2013 graduate of The Dalton School, is a freshman at Columbia University.