By Josh Miller
What a cliche title, right? It is really difficult to put experiences into words. It’s even more difficult to understand experiences that one has yet to undergo. It is a concept that struck me quite quickly the moment I touched down in Europe for a program called the European Innovation Academy. This program is a 3-week accelerator for startups and is geared primarily toward college students, but open to anyone who can attend. From the very start in Milan, where I first landed, I was tested in every way I didn’t think I could be. I wasn’t mentally prepared to be out on my own in the way that I was in a different part of the world. The situations I found myself in quickly changed my perspective and my decision making. Within the first few days my travel partner Altarik Banks, and I, found ourselves stuck without a place to stay and a rather large load of personal items and clothes. Let it be said that this part of the trip was not affiliated with the school as Altarik and I decided to go to Europe a few days early to, as we called it, “get lost.” We were living in hostels until we reached Nice, where a sponsored residence became our home for the duration of our stay. We had no idea where we would end up or how we would sleep that night. This was the first of many tests. And sure enough, it was a test that changed my “under pressure” skills. I’d like to thank David Bowie and Freddie Mercury for forever allowing me to sing those two words in my head whenever they are mentioned. One of the greatest parts about this entire trip are what I called the “tiny miracles.” These situations were the ones where I knew I was going to be okay, no matter what I was enduring. The very first night in Nice I decided it was okay to drink an entire bottle of wine by myself… Lesson learned. The next day, I needed to be able to rapidly communicate with about 400 people in three hours. I don’t believe I have ever had a better poker face. In both the Milan situation, and this scenario of 400 people meeting each other, I found tiny miracles that taught me how to handle myself at my worst.
The next few tiny miracles came in the friends that I made. Truthfully, they are anything but tiny. These friends of mine are people that I learned to trust quicker than my own cat (he loves to be scratched and petted until he doesn’t love it anymore). I learned that I could count on them during the best times and the worst times. We quickly learned just how bad it would get. But yet again, more tiny miracles. I met a group of people who taught me how to work in a business setting with different cultures. I learned how to argue respectably with fellow partners. I learned how to order food in French from the three Frenchmen on my startup team. Oh, and I did learn how to actually start a business which is the whole point of the trip… I’ll get to that part soon.
I learned that not every country in Europe (only the British of course) drive on the left side of the road. This was a little disappointing to me as I am always fascinated by the sheer barbaric nature of not driving on the right side of the road. I learned how to root for a country that I didn’t expect to treat me as hospitably, as France did. So far all I have written are the lessons I’ve learned. Yet, it’s the lessons that become the big takeaway in all of this. The majority of content that EIA taught was related quite strongly to what Montclair State University teaches with their Entrepreneurship courses. Both programs believe in Steve Blank and his ability to teach startups. Both used the Lean Model Canvas and stressed that it is a good path to find the solution. The solution is surely the only thing that is truly important to a startup. Although I didn’t need to leave the country to understand that, it certainly helps to have reinforcement from a place so unfamiliar as France. Fifteen days surely is not enough to get a company off the ground, but it is enough to go more in-depth than any single class could do. One of the things I will tell students until the day I die is that if they wanted to learn entrepreneurship without the classroom but still having the teacher guidance, EIA is the answer. I believe all Feliciano Center Entrepreneurs, young and old, should attend this program. In terms of understanding the lifestyle that belongs to startups and companies, the real world glimpses from people who have done it are unparalleled. Of course, let’s not take away from the teachers at Montclair State who have done it also. But really, who listens to their teacher the first time they say something important?
One of the hardest things I have been asked to do for this entire trip is to put it into words. I could talk for hours, and probably write a novel on every experience I shared in Europe. I learned what it meant to be a survivor, surrounded by survivors, after being in Nice during an attack where a man drove a truck through the beach promenade, killing over 80 people, including three from the EIA program. Although my experiences are different from those who were physically on the beach, Bastille Day will forever ring in my mind as the day my life was impacted in a way I did not know possible at the time. I watched people fall and pick themselves back up. I saw blood where blood shouldn’t be, but that didn’t stop the brave from jumping in to help. I saw tears and changes in people I never thought I’d see. But again, there managed to be another miracle. Maybe the largest of all was the sight of seeing people destroyed by hate, and managing to stand back up, stronger than ever. There were people that night who jumped forward without a second thought to do anything they possibly could to console the distraught. I’ve never physically seen anything like that before. I now have a family that spans the entire world, and no amount of hate could change that.
As humans, we have certain instincts that prevent life from being the same monotonous pattern of nothing. We are instinctively travelers, eaters, romancers, etc. I found out why France is a romance city. I learned that France is a huge sponsor of pizza and kebab (so much so that I don’t believe I’ll taste kebab as good as I did over there). The biggest aspect of all that I learned was that through and through I am a traveler. I was put here to understand the world in the way that the world wants me to understand it. I’ve come back to New Jersey with a new mindset and outlook. I find a lesson (and a tiny miracle) in everything that I do. I find that I am a stronger person, and perhaps someday, a strong leader. I find that I am no longer the child I was before I left, but a man set out to learn what it means to live in this world, for this world.
I want to thank every single staff member in the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship who did all they could to send me on this trip. I want to thank Profs. Jason Frasca and Iain Kerr, for believing in me and for pushing to send me to Europe, even when I didn’t believe I could do it. I want to thank my family for having the faith and pride in me that I needed to learn. Most of all, I want to thank the man from France who has no idea just how much he changed my life with a single word – Introspection.
Josh Miller is a senior Management major who has obtained the Feliciano Center’s Certificate of Entrepreneurship and is now pursuing the Center’s 3D Printing Certificate in Digitally Mediated Innovation Design.