‘The climb is the fun part’

Design Thinking, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
September 25, 2023

James Clear ’08 designed his own major while a student at Denison.

Fifteen years later, with a New York Times bestseller to his name and millions of subscribers awaiting his next newsletter, he’s still charting his own path.

And that, he told a packed house in the Burton D. Morgan Center during Denison’s ReMix 2023 entrepreneurship summit, might be what he likes best.

“That’s one of the most beautiful things about it,” he said. “You don’t need anyone’s permission.”

ReMix, created and led by alums, was founded in 2018 to provide high-value professional development and networking for alums and to expose current students to entrepreneurship.

“Denison needs to have its foot in the door of entrepreneurship,” said Jack Tankersley ’72, a Denison trustee who has shared his insights on venture capital, growth equity investing, and business creation at every ReMix.

He said ReMix encourages students to see their own entrepreneurial potential, helping them to network and learn valuable lessons on everything from resilience to risk mitigation.

The 2023 summit kicked off Wednesday, Sept. 20, with student entrepreneurs pitching their business ideas in a competition moderated by Rick Coplin ’85.

Some attendees started their mornings with a meditation session or with yoga led by Michelle Dillon ’13. They could sign up for alumni-student coaching, visit the Red Frame Lab to learn how entrepreneurship is fostered at Denison, and build relationships during Friday’s Women’s Networking Lunch.

Anchoring the schedule were speaker sessions offering a wealth of expertise, knowledge, and experience from alums who have succeeded in all walks of professional life.

“ReMix exceeded my expectations,” said Emily Merrell ’09, who helped plan this year’s event. “I felt so fortunate to reconnect with old ReMix friends and meet many new ones. I left energized and inspired and more in love with Denison.”

Clear, who has built a personal business empire by writing about habits, decision-making, and continuous self-improvement, is another ReMix veteran.

“There’s a lot of great energy whenever I’m here,” he said.

Creators, visionaries, and innovators from a range of fields and industries offered secrets of their success but were equally willing to share lessons learned from their failures.

Clear talked about some of his early ups (winning $10,000 in an international essay writing competition) and downs (squandering $1,500 of the prize money to develop an iPhone app that flopped).

“I think it made $17, total,” he said.

But he kept following his nose, as he put it, and built a devoted online following over the span of several years. That audience ultimately led him to land the book deal for Atomic Habits.

Reaching that point took persistence and hard work, but he encouraged budding entrepreneurs to enjoy the ride.

“It may not always feel fun in the moment, but I promise you the climb is the fun part,” he said. “If you always feel like happiness is somewhere else, then it’s always going to elude you.”

Alan Phung ’22 attended every ReMix while a student at Denison and returned this year as a speaker.

Phung has spent five years getting his Vietnamese coffee business off the ground. With much work and a little luck, he said, he’s finally feeling some traction beneath his feet.

He sees now that he was naïve in thinking that simply having a good idea would transition smoothly and quickly into a business reality.

This year he found himself giving advice to students with good ideas of their own. And?

He laughed.

“If you can, don’t do the food business,” he said.

But his main advice is for them to follow their passion, even if it does mean following him into the hard-to-crack food industry.

“You have to really love what you’re doing,” he said.

The 2023 ReMix sessions had something for every entrepreneur:

  • Alison Nissen ’89 and Marcy Stoudt ’94: The Unstoppable Entrepreneur Workshop: Mastering the Mindset for Long-Term Success and Motivation
  • Zackary Johnston ’22: Selling What You Can’t Put in a Box
  • Hartley Johnson ’95 and Alan Phung ’22: Tea + Coffee: Two Businesses Steeped in History
  • Taylor Nissi ’08: The Value Acceleration Methodology
  • Ben Murphy ’02, Bill Thomas ’85, Kevin Chase ’92, moderated by David Frederiksen ’92: Grit of Entrepreneurship: How to Start, Scale & Exit Like a Pro
  • Jason Barger ’98: Thermostat Culture
  • Robert Tate ’16 and Joseph Holbert ’16, moderated by Paige Robnett ’14: All from Rap
  • Thomas DeCarlo ’05, Chris Wolfington ’90, and David Frederiksen ’92, moderated by Steve Krak: Building Strong Teams: Strategies for Effective Collaboration and Leadership
  • Hon. Chris Cross ’74 and Joy Roller ’76: Breaking Through; The Unique Path From College Majors to Careers
  • Brennan Waters ’15 and Michelle Dillon ’13: Building a Business & The Things You Learn Along the Way
  • Olivia Pearson ’15 and Allie Colina ’14, moderated by Paige Robnett ’14: How to Leverage Your Strengths to Stand Out in Your Industry
  • Simms Jenkins ’96, J.B. Kropp ’96, and Chris Wolfington ’90: Reimagining The Tech Startup Landscapes: The AI Revolution and Lessons Learned.
  • Peter Kennedy ’98: From Startup to Global Enterprise: Lessons Learned in Starting and Scaling a Tech Company
  • Charles Emrich ’83: Elements of a Business Case: Crafting a Compelling Proposal for Success
  • Mags Chamberlain ’19 and Merlin Bell ’15, moderated by Paige Robnett ’14: Centering Media in Marginalized Communities: Lessons from Resilient Young Entrepreneurs in the Arts
  • Tanya Dempsey ’01: Continuing to Shatter the Glass Ceiling: Empowering Women in Finance for Future Leaders
  • Jack Tankersley ’72; two sessions: Ask Me Anything, and Why Don’t You Do it My Way? An Introduction to Kolbe A Index
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