Leading the Pack: Jelyse Dawson ’16
Jelyse Dawson is a 2016 Jenkins MBA alumna. As the founder of Fusion Fitness by Jelyse, Dawson says that NC State offered hands-on projects with local and global companies where she was able to solve real problems for companies like Runologie and Burt’s Bees.
In the following Q & A, Dawson goes into more detail about why she chose NC State, advice for prospective students, and her thoughts on Raleigh’s entrepreneur community.
Q: Why did you choose the NC State Jenkins MBA program for your graduate education?
A: I was looking for programs with a strong focus on entrepreneurship and marketing. At the time, I had just launched my business and wanted to bring my product to market. In addition, I wanted to grow as a marketer and learn more about consumer behavior. Unlike other programs, the NC State MBA offered hands-on projects with local and global companies starting the second semester. Solving real problems for companies like Runologie and Burt’s Bees was a game changer. Working with leaders in both organizations taught me things I never would have learned in a classroom. Lastly, Jenkins was the only program to offer a full scholarship, TA position, and health insurance. Who could pass up such a blessing?
Q: What are your thoughts on the entrepreneurship scene in Raleigh?
A: The Triangle is a great place to start a business. Unlike bigger cities, there are fewer barriers to entry and opportunities to innovate. Resources like the Greater Durham Black Chamber of Commerce, NC State Entrepreneurship Clinic, Duke Law Start-Up Ventures Clinic, and Raleigh Founded have helped me. For female or minority entrepreneurs, I highly suggest joining an organization to grow your network.
Q: What advice would you give for prospective and current students who are interested in starting their own business?
A: First, look at what you’re good at and what you’re passionate about. Then, consider a product/service needed in the market that overlaps with your strengths and passions. Start offering your product/service to friends and family for free. As you gain momentum and confidence, start selling.
- Pursue training and certifications needed to be the best at what you offer.
- Establish a digital presence that you can commit to. This can include using one social media platform or creating a website (I use wix.com).
- Build a team of talented, trustworthy people.
- For funding, crowdfunding campaigns, personal savings, and grants are great places to start.
- Limit the pitch competitions you pursue because they take up lots of time with little reward!
Q: What were the most beneficial things you learned and/or experiences you had while in school or in previous roles? How have you used what you learned in your current role?
A: One of the best experiences I had in school was meeting people from all walks of life. I made friends with people from Africa, China, and India. I took classes with people in the military. When you learn from people who are different than yourself, it changes you. It expands your worldview. For the past year, our world has been shaken by loss and inequality. When we listen and learn from those who are different than ourselves, we grow. I strive to implement this in my business.
Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your business? How did the MBA program help prepare you to navigate the challenges you faced during these times?
A: Prior to COVID, I worked a full-time job in the tech industry and ran my business part-time. A month before COVID I was laid off and my business became my full-time gig! I offered 3 months of free fitness classes via Facebook live to help people decrease stress and build community. Then, I transitioned the business to paid classes via Zoom. For the first time, I was able to grow beyond North Carolina and reach clients in Georgia, New Jersey, Alabama, and Florida! As demand grew, I hired dance instructors, yoga teachers, mindfulness experts, personal trainers, and physical therapists to teach classes.
I owe a big shout out to Ritika Bhatnagar, Jenkins MBA Alumna, for being an amazing team member! Helping people take charge of their health at home, work, and beyond is our mission. Make no mistake, entrepreneurship isn’t a crystal staircase! Everyday brings new challenges and you’re constantly learning on the go. Classes like the Product & Innovation Lab with Dr. Bohlmann prepared me to research a problem, collaborate with experts, pivot when an idea wasn’t sustainable, and lead with humility and confidence. Lastly, the friendships I built at Jenkins keep me going today! There’s nothing like meeting up with friends for a taco on Hillsborough Street (mask on) for some laughs and memories!
This post was originally published in Jenkins MBA News.