Entrepreneurship is a word often reserved for business majors who have always aspired to work in startups, or geniuses who have started a massively successful tech company. But it is for anyone with ingenuity and creativity who has an idea and for all who dream of applying ideas in new ways or creating something worthwhile.
One individual who does not fit the mold of a business entrepreneur but has done incredible things within the world of entrepreneurship, leading her to the career of her dreams is Kayla Simon ‘19, a Syracuse graduate and a Blackstone LaunchPad alumna who literally was shooting for the stars as an undergraduate. Thanks to her SU experience, she’s literally doing that now at the job she long yearned for – a propulsion engineer at Richard Branson’s Virgin Orbit. It’s an opportunity to put her startup thinking and engineer skills together at one of the world’s leading innovation companies.
Simon, who graduated from the College of Engineering and Computer Science with a degree in Aerospace Engineering, was not someone intrinsically drawn to entrepreneurship. She came to Syracuse to pursue a degree in her chosen field, engineering, not drawn to work in business or to incorporate entrepreneurship into her college career. “I didn’t think I wanted to be an entrepreneur. I was going to school to be an engineer. But I always had this creative side but I didn’t know how to express it.”
Simon found a place for her creativity and at the intersection engineering and entrepreneurship. In 2017, her sophomore year, she signed up for Invent@SU , a summer accelerator program where students design, prototype, and pitch an invention. Originally drawn to the program because its technological innovation and engineering to solve problems, she ultimately fell in love with the business and marketing side of innovation.
Through the program, she and her partner created a wearable asthma inhaler called InSpire. Yet Simon’s passion for InSpire didn’t stop at the engineering aspects of designing the device but continued into building a business model for what she had created. She and her partner competed and won in several different business competitions hosted by Syracuse University, including Panasci Business Plan, Hult Prize, the Impact Prize, and as campus winners of the ACC InVenture Prize.
Simons was not deterred by the challenges of business but was rather her enthusiasm for the innovation in her on field was kindled by what she could create with it. Simon’s newly found passion for entrepreneurship led her to immerse herself in networks of innovators and eventually led her to the LaunchPad, where she worked her senior year as a Global Media Fellow and as a Hunter Brooks Watson Scholar. “The vibe of the LaunchPad – I just fell in love with it.” In her work at the LaunchPad, she found a place for her creativity — a mix of business and engineering where she could design what she dreamed of.
Today, Simon credits the LaunchPad and her journey through entrepreneurship as vital to the success of her career. She currently works as a propulsion engineer at Virgin Orbit, a company that creates launch systems for small satellites. As a small company with under 1000 employees, Simon was there for the company’s development from just a startup into a company that had its first successful rocket launch this past year in May. For her field of aerospace engineering, it is a fascinating and ideal job. She continues to pursue entrepreneurship beyond her career and but works in multiple startups on the side. She’s currently learning web development to help a friend set up her business.
Simon has gone far in her career in part because of the confidence and initiative she took from her experience in the business field. When she first began her studies at Syracuse, she was shy and lacking in self-confidence of her own talents. “I was insecure about my abilities in my career and as a businesswoman. Throughout the process at the business plan competition I had to learn so much so fast.” The fast-paced environment of business competitions forced Simon to rely on her best abilities and the warmth of the LaunchPad’s encouraging environment grew her self-confidence.
These skills of connecting with others and presenting herself with assurance assisted her to grow into the successful businesswoman she is today. Like Simon, many people view entrepreneurship with aversion because they have no interest in business or are doubtful of their own abilities. Yet entrepreneurship does not belong to the confident business owners, but anyone with an idea.
The work that goes into realization of ideas inspires personal growth and learning of skills that lasts a lifetime and helps students become trailblazers in their lives and careers. “I definitely wouldn’t have gotten my job if it wasn’t for the LaunchPad.”
The LaunchPad is so proud of Kayla Simon, and never doubted she would not only set her sights on the stars, but bring them into focus and reach them.
Story by LaunchPad Global Fellow Claire Howard ’23, photo supplied