Ivy Estabrooke | Crain's

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ivy Estabrooke

Background:  

The Utah Science Technology and Research Initiative is a state agency focused on technology-based economic development. USTAR’s work has diversified the Beehive State’s economy by advancing ideas into technology prototypes and taking them to market, funding research at universities and in awarding grants to startup companies. The agency also provide two technology incubators where companies can rent space, get time on specialized equipment, and have access to mentoring and engineering assistance. 

The mistake:

I went to Georgetown University and was working on my Ph.D. in neuroscience. About halfway through, I realized I wasn’t cut out for an academic career.

I went to the career services office and filled out a survey questionnaire, using a number two pencil. The results came back a couple of weeks later, and the advisor said said, you need to quit your [doctoral] program right now and go to law school.

I said, ‘That’s crazy, I’m halfway through a Ph.D. and law school is expensive. I’ve been in school a long time.’

There was clear data that making a change would make me happier, but I didn’t take the risk of leaving the program I was in to make the pivot to another trajectory.

The lesson I learned was to be more willing to take risks.

The lesson:

I didn’t end up going to law school. The lesson I learned was to be more willing to take risks. I jumped off on my science policy career, and worked for the Department of Defense, but then when the opportunity came to come to Utah and join USTAR, it was a big pivot.

I could easily have stayed in the federal government. I had a great job, I was in a good position, with lots of autonomy, doing great things for Navy and the Marine Corps … but when the position at USTAR came up, it was a good opportunity to pivot.

It meant moving into state government, and really take a flying leap out of what was a pretty secure path to come to what’s been a very rewarding position. It’s also been an interesting one in terms of some of the challenges that USTAR has.

That experience of missing an opportunity to take that risk and go to law school taught me that when the opportunity came to take a risk and make a transition again, I was more willing to take the leap.

Most entrepreneurs are taking risks. They’ve got a new idea they’re trying to make work and so, I think the lesson that I can relate to very empathetically and understandingly, and push them to move forward where there’s an idea there.

I’ve been there; many of our entrepreneurs are transitioning from a corporate job, and that’s an experience I can relate to.

Follow USTAR on Twitter at @Innovationutah

Pictured: Ivy Estabrook | Photo courtesy Ivy Estabrooke

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