Interview by Derek Grosso
Maria de Caris serves as Vice President of the Business Builders Club, a student organization that serves as a hub for problem-solving creatives, engineers, and business hustlers at The Ohio State University. It’s an organization she joined during her freshman year as a way to be around more like-minded and passionate individuals. Hailing from Cleveland, Maria decided to pursue her degree at Ohio State to continue on her journey toward community-building through innovation. What she likes about Columbus is the city’s open-minded approach to business, life and ideas. That, and it’s home to the Buckeyes.
Name: Maria de Caris
Year in School and Major Field of Study: Fourth year undergraduate at The Ohio State University studying City and Regional Planning
Neighborhood: University District
Where did you grow up and what brought you to The Ohio State University?
I grew up in the city of Cleveland, where I was introduced to the idea of innovation and entrepreneurship within business competitions and organizations at Magnificat High School. I chose Ohio State for its Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship scholars program where I was able to live and learn with like-minded individuals.
What are you looking forward to most during your senior year at OSU?
I am looking forward to blending my experiences together to shape potential possibilities post-graduation. I have also been enjoying interacting with freshman in my organizations and giving them some of the same advice that I needed at the time. I am not by any means excited to graduate — I love Ohio State, the experiences I’ve been a part of here, and the people around me.
Explain some of the challenges you face as a college student?
Like any other college student, I struggle with balance. It becomes hard to juggle academics with different organizations, internships, volunteer time, side projects, fitness, social and sleep. Whenever I am unbalanced I tend to get sick. I think that it is important to avoid being a ‘master of none,’ so lately I’ve been prioritizing personal health and delegating. If I am out of capacity to take something on, I usually look within my networks to find someone. You can’t pour from an empty cup.
What advice has helped guide you through college (so far)?
Steve Jobs famously said “Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something.” I find it hard to learn about entrepreneurship in the classroom—the best entrepreneurs were skilled individuals that went after the things that interested them. In his commencement speech to Stanford, Steve Jobs talks about taking a calligraphy class because it was ‘beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture” without foresight on practical application in his life. 10 years later, the Mac was the first computer designed with beautiful typography. I make a point of doing things that interest me without always justifying it practically!
Tell us about your role as Vice President of the Business Builders Club, and about how you first got involved:
I joined the Business Builders Club my freshman year as a way to be around more like-minded and passionate individuals. If there is one thing I love about people, it’s their story. I enjoy listening and gaining perspective on how other people experience the world. Many of our meetings feature speakers who talk about their entrepreneurial journey. The club has consistently proved to me that the opportunities are endless, and it is OK to take the unconventional path if you’re passionate about what you are doing.
In my role as Vice President, [BBC President] Mike Ong and I are to working to leave the same lasting impressions that were left on us. We are interacting with other student organizations and Colleges within the University to become even more inclusive, and we hope to offer more workshop-based meetings and events through our recent partnership with Adobe as student organization brand ambassadors.
Who has been one of your most memorable BBC meeting speakers or events?
I always love our kickoff meeting with Rob Nicholson. He is a former BBC president with a restaurant of his own and experience in startup consulting. He relates his personal experiences and the value that BBC added to his life to help new members consider joining long-term. From his meetings I learned that you are only a good as the people you surround yourself with, and it is absolutely the reason I stayed in the club and took on leadership.
You’re also the Economic Development Research Intern for Columbus 2020. Can you tell us about that?
Yes! Columbus 2020 serves as the economic development organization for the 11-county Columbus Region, working in partnership with state and local partners to generate opportunity and build capacity for economic growth. The research team accomplishes this by performing customized industry research to better understand the Region’s competitiveness, while assisting in business research and outreach. It has been an incredible opportunity to learn from and work with such a talented and passionate group of individuals.
What excites you most about the Columbus Region?
In 2010, business leaders across Ohio developed Columbus 2020 Regional Growth Strategy, which is an “aggressive, decade-long plan to ensure economic vitality in the Columbus Region.” I find it exciting that Columbus 2020 recently earned recognition as No. 1 “best in class” regional economic development organization, and is on pace to meet the other goals of 150,000 net new jobs, $8 billion of capital investment, and increase in per capita income by 30%. This is a great city to start life in.
What are your career aspirations? What do you want to do for a living?
I am interested in pursuing opportunities related to new ventures, market research and brand strategy. I have learned the process of design-thinking and apply visual communication strategies to most of my current work. I am currently working on a thesis that is exploring how city branding informs stigmatization and investment, so my ideal position might be working on city brand strategy and development.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
This a popular interview question that I’ve never been able to answer well. I have no specific answer to that, but I hope that in five years I am surrounded by people and things that encourage creativity and overall well-being.
When you were a kid, what did you say you wanted to be when you grew up?
“A guitar-playing ballerina.” I’ve made a few career path changes since then.
If someone were to put you in front of a large audience and ask you, “How can young people change the world” what would you say?
I would relate a quote from a book called City Life: “Make no small plans.” I once heard a professor at Ohio State say, ‘It’s easy to only focus on the problems that affect us. What’s more difficult is focusing on problems that affect others.’ That mindset shift is where world-changing things happen.
If you could have a superpower, which would you choose?
Absolutely teleportation. I love to travel, minus the waiting in airports part, and I still have so much of the world to see.
If you could have been the inventor of something, what would it be?
The Fitbit. The device is so useful to my everyday and inspires a largely sedentary population to be more aware of their activity. The founders saw potential for using sensors in tiny, wearable devices and took a circuit board in a wooden box to a company with a $4bn valuation. I have so many ideas for things that I would change or add to my Fitbit without pricing it at the absurd rates of Apple Watches.
What are 3 recommendations you would have to an incoming OSU freshman:
My go-to piece of advice is show up to things that interest you, even if you have to go alone. I am pretty shy and I have met people that I am still friends with now by doing this. Another piece of advice that has really served me is that if someone sounds interesting to you – regardless of their age/status – ask them to grab coffee because people here are friendly and willing to give their time. And finally, join the Business Builders Club and stay involved!
What’s the coolest thing about entrepreneurship right now?
As someone involved in entrepreneurial organizations within the Columbus Region, I think that the Smart Cities initiative is really interesting. Many people immediately jump to the super advanced ideas of driverless cars, etc. when they hear “Smart Cities” but there are many more small-scale innovations and connected-technology companies, like sensor technologies, that will drastically increase efficiencies across cities.
What is one thing that you think Columbus needs (or wish Columbus had)?
Out of 2,600 applicants, Hyperloop Midwest is one of 11 U.S. and 35 international finalists for the first Hyperloop One route. The pods within the Hyperloop tubes move at speeds of 671 mph, which would create very short commutes to Chicago and Pittsburgh. This would open up employment opportunities, drive economic growth by creating a “mega-region,” and enhance Columbus as a logistics hub. Sounds like the next-best thing to teleportation to me.
What other organizations are you involved with?
Right now I am focusing my efforts on the Business Builders Club, but I previously spent time with Alleviating Poverty Through Entrepreneurship, the Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship Scholars Program, and College Mentors for Kids.
If someone were to ask you what the “pulse” of Columbus is, what would you tell them?
The “pulse” of Columbus is its open-minded approach to business, life and ideas. Columbus is a great place to start a business and test ideas because of its market access from its central location between Chicago and New York. The metro is growing fast in terms of jobs, population, wage and GDP, which offers many advantages for businesses and its residents. The affordable cost of living gives residents the means to enjoy and explore things that they may not have access to in more expensive cities, which leads to a higher quality of life overall. The positive sense of place in Columbus is dependent on our diverse, creative and well-educated population.