For Second Year Coach Alex Zorychta (MBA ’21), the entrepreneurial mindset is contagious. It’s “caught, not taught,” says the decade-long Charlottesville resident, who’s been involved in the area’s teeming entrepreneurial ecosystem for nearly as long. He uses that mindset to inform his mentorship approach as SY Coach to Darden First Years seeking a similar path. Read on to learn more about how Alex coaches fellow Darden students interested in launching startups.
Where are you from?
I’ve been in Charlottesville for 12 years now, but originally from Northern Virginia.
What was your role prior to coming to Darden?
I co-founded a YC-backed startup called Gamebytes which almost precluded me from attending Darden. Before that, I worked for many years building the undergrad entrepreneurial ecosystem at UVA by building strong interpersonal connections between student founders.
What was your FY summer internship?
I didn’t have one, by choice. I instead did four things: 1) I explored a possible business idea around creating a pre-accelerator program for promising entrepreneurs; 2) I did some part-time work with the Batten Institute’s VP(x)2 as a startup coach for the 14 teams in the program; 3) I did some part-time work for one of my friend’s startups, Fret Zealot, in which I had conversations with the customers to learn more about them. I used this understanding in order to prepare for a Series A raise; and 4) I got involved with another early startup, Founder Pool, that de-risks entrepreneurship for founders of different startups by pooling equity.
What are your post-graduation plans?
I’m exploring a startup idea I began at the end of last summer around enabling people to create and maintain meaningful connections.
Why did you become a Second Year Coach?
I knew how frustrating it is for student entrepreneurs to find the one-on-one help they need, and how important it is for them to find someone who was just recently in their shoes. Entrepreneurship is a mindset, and it’s caught, not taught.
When you’re in a place like Darden, there is a monolith of career mindset, despite the wonderful diversity of the students. Unless an aspiring student entrepreneur is able to find and spend quality time with other students who are very passionate and actually using their time to launch a startup by graduation, it is easy to get caught up in the recruiting frenzy. Given my extensive knowledge of UVA’s entrepreneurship community and the actual practice of being a founder, I believed I could really be helpful to those First Years looking to be an entrepreneur.
What have you learned about yourself and your coachees as a SY Coach?
I learned that to be helpful to someone, you don’t need to have all the answers, or any at all. You can be helpful just by being an active listener and asking questions to help someone else find the answers for themselves.
What is a powerful question you have asked your coachees to invoke discovery for themselves?
What do you want to want?
What’s your favorite piece of career advice?
- It’s not which path you travel, it’s how you travel the path you’re on.
- If you want money, ask for advice; if you want advice, ask for money.
Any additional thoughts you’d like to share?
The best learning comes from people who are just 15 minutes ahead of you in something. One might look at Darden and think that the learning comes from the professors, but upon closer inspection it is really that the professors facilitate the learning between the students. The SY Coach program enables a structured way for this facilitation to happen between the class cohorts.