From SIP to social entrepreneurship
“The Study & Internship Program was what really solidified my desire to become an entrepreneur. I interned for a small start-up tech company in Berlin, so I got to know the joys and pains of trying to build something with creative ideas. Because of the smaller team dynamics, I had a lot more input and contribution to the whole process, but also a lot more responsibility to back ideas with hard work.”
- Jeremy Pingul, SIP Alumnus 2009-10
In July 2011, after graduating from Indiana University at Bloomington, SIP 2009-10 alumnus Jeremy Pingul took a one-way flight to Spain, and proceeded to make his way east to Turkey. This may sound like a particularly adventurous version of your typical post-graduation travel spree, but in this case, there's more to it. Jeremy's travels are the footwork for a new social venture - Connect One Threads - he’s preparing to launch in Turkish organic textiles, including building working relationships with various stakeholders in the organic clothing supply chain in the region.
Tell us a little about where you've been since graduating and where you're headed.
My idea was to travel the sustainable clothing supply chain from the clothing brands all the way to the farmers, though I did make some random stops along the way (e.g. Morocco and Iraq). Because there’s a more environmentally and socially conscious mindset in Europe, I was able to find brands, retailers, designers and NGOs from Barcelona to Berlin.
Two months later, I arrived just in time for the cotton harvest in Turkey, one of the biggest producers of organic cotton in the world. Starting from the northwest corner of Turkey in Istanbul, I made it to its southeast border, visiting textile manufacturers, farm cooperatives, and cotton gins along the way. After four and a half months of travel, I decided it was time to apply the knowledge I had gained. Now I’m living in Istanbul, where I’m starting a venture to promote the organic clothing supply chain in Turkey.
Social entrepreneurship is becoming a bigger part of the mainstream consciousness in Istanbul. From attending sustainable entrepreneurship workshops at universities, volunteering for relevant NGOs, and meeting with various companies and individuals, I’ve been lucky to be able to grow an amazing support network as I start my venture.
How did the idea to “travel the supply chain” come about?
During my last year of college, I took an American consumerism class where I learned a lot about the problems of the clothing supply chain. From the child labor factories to the use of pesticides and GMOs for the sake of industrial agriculture, consumerism [is] fueling a cycle that’s negatively affecting the environment and the people that supply it.
Luckily there are people in the industry trying to address these issues, and once I realized Europe and Turkey were some of the main leaders of organic clothing and agriculture, I saw an opportunity to pursue my entrepreneurial aspirations.
You spent time studying and interning in Germany through the Study and Internship Program (SIP), and interning in Turkey during college. How did both experiences equip you for such a self-structured career path?
I can’t imagine how any of this would have been possible without my experiences in Germany and Turkey. I went to Turkey in 2008 through AIESEC, and because there are a lot of Turks living in Germany, I was able to improve my Turkish to a decent level during my year spent in Berlin through the UAS7-DAAD SIP program.
AIESEC was especially helpful as I made my way across Turkey in 2011, not only offering me places to stay but also connecting me with various people in the textiles and cotton industries.
The Study & Internship Program was what really solidified my desire to become an entrepreneur. I interned for a small start-up tech company in Berlin, so I got to know the joys and pains of trying to build something with creative ideas. Because of the smaller team dynamics, I had a lot more input and contribution to the whole process, but also a lot more responsibility to back ideas with hard work. This meant that I wore many hats (i.e. blogger, social media marketer, business strategist, market analyst, etc).
Just as I was able to expand my skills-base through the internship, I was also able to expand my knowledge-base through the classes I took at the Berlin School of Economics and Law. I took an online marketing course (which wasn’t available at Indiana University), as well as various international economics and business classes.
I especially appreciated being in classrooms full of people from around the world, since the conversations that emerged in these classes came from various perspectives that really enriched my global understanding.
Two of my main mentors are my former boss from the internship and my online marketing professor at BSEL, and both have been helping me a lot as I try to start my venture.
My experiences living in Germany and Turkey allowed me to pursue this adventure with confidence. The confidence comes from things like learning how to travel on a budget, which I learned traveling around Europe during SIP, and from knowing that I have friends and support all around Europe and Turkey.
What advice do you have for students and recent graduates considering alternatives to the conventional career track?
Pursue your interests and be proactive and vocal about it. I was proactively looking for an opportunity to live abroad, and that’s how I found AIESEC, which allowed me to go to Turkey.
When I was a junior I knew I wanted to go to Europe, and when I mentioned that to my philosophy professor, it turned out that she was a DAAD alumna and recommended that I check out its website. I found the Study & Internship Program and the rest, as they say, is history. Being vocal about my interests has been more helpful than I could imagine.
These days when I tell someone about my venture, they usually seem to know someone or something related to what I want to do. It’s the main reason I’ve been able to build such a strong network here in Istanbul.
There’s a gap between the theoretical knowledge taught in schools and the actual work, and so few are aware of great opportunities out there. Organizations like the DAAD, UAS7 and AIESEC that allow young people to travel and have life-changing experiences have never been as available to any generation as they are to ours today. Living in a foreign country independently is one of the best things you could do for yourself--professionally and personally.
In short: Pursue your interests, take advantage of opportunities, and go for the adventure -- whether that means traveling or creating your own career.