December 18, 2017
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Perseverance and a lot of hustle helped a Cleveland entrepreneur launch his invention

Brandyn Armstrong's innovative recording studio product got off the ground with help from a local nonprofit

Brandyn Armstrong is the creator of Studio Stick, a portable recording studio. Photo courtesy of Brandyn Armstrong

It’s only been two years since Brandyn Armstrong gave his first pitch at a startup business competition. Recently, at another pitch event, the 25-year-old entrepreneur and inventor of Studio Stick sat in a much different seat, this time as one of the judges on the panel.

Brandyn knows that to a lot of people, he wasn’t supposed to be there. A native of East Cleveland, one of Ohio’s most impoverished cities, much of his life has centered on loss. The killing of his father when he was four. His grandmother and mentor losing her vision when he was ten and then passing away when he was 16. The loss of education and opportunity when he began acting out and ended up a high school dropout.

Yet today, Brandyn is just months away from bringing his own invention to market. Like a chain of tumbling dominos, perseverance and an entrepreneurial spirit have taken him from unemployed to CEO of his own company. Studio Stick has collected accolades and awards, even taking first place in a recent episode of “Steve Harvey’s Funderdome” TV show. The portable device provides all the technical benefits of a recording studio in a small, 20-inch container. For a fraction of the cost of studio time, artists can now capture their ideas wherever and whenever inspiration strikes.

While many factors aligned to help create Brandyn’s success, his story highlights three noteworthy pieces of advice for any budding entrepreneur:

Embrace imperfection

Entrepreneurs can often be their own worst critics. While it’s true that some of the world’s most amazing accomplishments came at the hands of perfectionist (think Steve Jobs, who was notorious for his drive and focus on excellence), aiming for perfect means you miss seeing the valuable lessons that only mistakes and failures can bring.

For Brandyn, reminders of his imperfections were many, especially in his early days as an entrepreneur. Instead of burying them, he chose to embrace them. The best compliment he claims he’s ever received came from a man who approached him after a speech and stated: “I’m not sure how to say this, but it’s your imperfections that make you so perfect.” At first, the words stung a little. But as they sank in, they struck a chord with him:

“Sometimes when I’m speaking, I may not have the best pronunciation of my words like someone else, but you know what? I’m still up there speaking and I’m learning every time and I’m making my next time better than my last time. It went to show that even though I’m not perfect and I’m still growing into where I want to be, it was still ok. It meant a lot, it was special.” Brandyn recalls.

The more you push for perfection and ruminate on each mistake (and you will make mistakes!) the less time you have for learning and growth. Embracing and accepting yourself and your flaws allows you to apply the lessons you learn when you stumble, while keeping you from falling into the vicious cycle of self-criticism.

Master the art of the hustle

It’s no secret that entrepreneurship is hard. The catch-22 of needing money to get money can make finding capital feel impossible. The old adage of “who you know” often still seems to determine whether or not you get your foot in the door. If you’re young and from the inner city, these challenges can seem especially daunting. Emerging entrepreneurs must, therefore, master the art of the hustle. There are challenges for sure, but the truth is, there are resources out there, they just need to be found. And more importantly, after they’re found, they need to be leveraged.

Brandyn’s story highlights the importance of approaching each opportunity as a catalyst. One day, a friend told him about JumpStart, a Cleveland nonprofit working to grow an entrepreneurial ecosystem in the community. Quickly seeing the possibilities, he applied for JumpStart’s Core City program, a key first key step in taking Studio Stick from a concept to reality.

Instead of giving in when he runs into hurdles, Brandyn has always chosen a hustler’s approach: “I’m an action taker. I don’t want to say I manipulated resources, but I always tried to make an introduction to a resource that was higher than my last resource. I always tried to make my next step better than my last step. I feel like when you take action, when you have purpose and a goal, over time I think that God will put doors into your life and you just need to start knocking. Because if you don’t knock, nobody’s gonna let you in!”

With the advantages of technology at their fingertips, today’s entrepreneurs have access to a wealth of resources that those before them could only have dreamed of. Connections can be made via the click of a button, Kickstarter campaigns can help raise capital, free networking events and entrepreneurship meet-ups can put you in front of your next investor. Tenacity, perseverance, and curiosity are key. Find and use all the resources at your disposal and doors will begin to open.

Pay it forward

It might seem counterintuitive to be thinking about how you can help other emerging entrepreneurs or members of your community when your own venture is still in its infancy. Consider though that no one succeeds as an island. All of us, whether we are aware of it or not, are the beneficiaries of the hard work of those who paved the way before us. Making the time and effort to pay it forward helps to sustain the complex web of relationships that make up society.

Despite his relatively newly minted status as an entrepreneur, Brandyn has made it a point to share his story and success with youth in Cleveland and his hometown of East Cleveland. “When I talk, I really try to talk for real to them. I tell them where I came from, and that anybody can do what I’m doing. It’s just taking that leap, you know?”

He seeks out opportunities to mentor young African American children interested in entrepreneurship. He gives them his email address, tells them about networking, and encourages them to dream. He’s working on partnering with a local school to get Studio Stick into the classroom. He sees so much need and it motivates him to keep pushing.

“I show youth that it is possible to overcome your circumstances, no matter what they are. I know a lot of kids don’t think that way because of their upbringing or what other people tell them, but when I talk to them, it gives them hope and belief.”

As an entrepreneur, as you work on your own goals and growth, make certain to also consider the needs of your community and the groups you can positively affect along your journey. It’s safe to say that you will never regret these contributions, and you also never know who you may inspire to follow in your footsteps.

It’s only been two short years since Brandyn took a leap of faith and dove into the world of entrepreneurship. Despite his imperfections, despite the many challenges that face all emerging entrepreneurs, Brandyn keeps rising and blazing a path for those who come behind him. When the Studio Stick goes to market next spring, it will be the completion of what he considers his “first act.”

“A lot of people feel like I’ve reached success, but I think I’m still at the ground stage. I believe you attract what you put into your mind. There’s no end to learning and improving. … There is no limit.”

Liz Forester

DigitalC

Liz Forester is DigitalC's Director of Programs and Partnerships, designing pilot programs and events that use technology to create smart, connected, inclusive, and globally competitive communities.