"Become a serial entrepreneur," is not the standard answer to the question: "What will you do after graduation?"
Kalli McCleary doesn't give standard answers, however. Nor does she dream standard dreams.
Treating entrepreneurship as a profession takes a certain personality. And McCleary, a senior marketing major who graduated in December, might just have what it takes. Her experiences are certainly numerous and varied.
In the past year, she has participated in two "Startup Weekend" incubator team exercises across the Midwest. At those forums, business ideas were pitched and teams were formed around the top concepts. A 54-hour frenzy of building business models and validating their market worth ensued. In her first "startup," McCleary's one-stop-shopping website idea won top votes by her team and received kudos from the judges.
An artist and fashion designer as well, McCleary has designed T-shirts for student clubs and created art for community events. This past summer, she applied her talent, education and experience to launch a business: researching, creating, packaging and marketing soy coffee. "I really enjoyed the process," she said.
This semester, McCleary is engaged in a marketing internship with a retail incubator in downtown Rock Island, Ill., working in social media and print marketing for the "Shoppes on Second."
McCleary said St. Ambrose professors have both pushed and encouraged her. "One of the biggest ideas that has stuck with me is to work smarter, not harder," she said, describing college as a time of "building connections and learning how to accept feedback."
Sometimes, she said, it has been the questions, not the answers, that have impacted her the most. "I really stop and listen when (Professor of Marketing Studies) Frank Borst says,
‘Well, Kalli, how are you going to go about this?'''
The short answer, of course, is any way but the standard way.
"I'm not a nine-to-five type of person," she said. "I enjoy all aspects of a business. I have so many things I want to do each day; so many things I want to learn about."
And as a good friend said to her recently, "I definitely don't see you working for anyone else."