Startup Founder Juggles Graduate School, Work and Her New Company at USC Iovine and Young Academy

While Aishlin Harrison wears many hats as both a creative director and chief of staff, co-founding a company and getting it off the ground was an entirely new undertaking. Enter: graduate school.

Almost everyone can agree that attending graduate school is a significant time commitment. The same can be said of working a full-time job and founding a company.

Nobody understands that better than Aishlin Harrison, who is somehow managing to do, well, all three.

Harrison, who is based in the Bay Area, has spent several years working as the creative director and chief of staff at RedCrow, an equity crowdfunding platform focused on health care startups. Out of this work came a new passion: The Main Stage, the virtual fundraising platform she’s co-founded.

“It’s an alternative to an investor pitch. It’s invitation-only, and it houses everything from your deal terms to documents … You can [also] do investor communications,” Harrison explained. “It’s basically three things: You have your presentation pitch, you have your CRM system, and then it’s also a data vault.”

Her inspiration for The Main Stage came from her time at RedCrow, during which she realized “how hard it is to really tell a compelling story, especially over the internet.”

But while Harrison wears many hats at RedCrow (as to be expected at a small startup) and has a varied work background — which includes everything from music to audio engineering and bartending — co-founding a company and getting it off the ground was an entirely different undertaking. Enter: graduate school.

Harrison is currently in pursuit of her online Master of Science in Integrated Design, Business and Technology (MSIDBT)  at the USC Jimmy Iovine and Andre Young Academy.

The online graduate program, which takes between 16 and 24 months to complete, uses an integrative curriculum that teaches students to think creatively and critically at the junction of technology, business and venture management, communication, and arts and design.

With its highly customizable curriculum, the MSIDBT appeals to many prospective students. It certainly caught Harrison’s eye when she was researching her graduate school options.

“I saw that it would fit nicely with the more entrepreneurial track that I seem to be on, but the program really does seem to value the creative world as well. And creative people need a task that’s more interdisciplinary and fluid – that’s what I prefer,” she explained.

Harrison now juggles three classes a week on top of her (very full) work schedule, but she can already feel the impact the program has had on her.

“I’m taking a class called ‘Narrative and Storytelling,’ [which is] about how to effectively tell a story, not just a creative story, but also one that you can apply to any sort of pitch,” explained Harrison. “It’s how to put it together with words and visual aids and then also work on your public speaking skills. So that’s been a really great class.”

Overall, the MSIDBT is giving Harrison the tenacity she needs to move forward in her career, which might be the most important aspect of her experience so far.

“The great thing about the program is it’s giving me a little bit more confidence to not only speak about what I’m doing, but to be able to just have more reference points,” said Harrison. “I’ve never really considered myself like a confident public speaker … so it’s nice to be able to be working on those skills and getting more comfortable and just growing.”

The fact that the program is online — and Harrison is hundreds of miles from USC’s University Park campus — hasn’t been a hindrance to her coursework, either. Harrison highlighted the MSIDBT’s emphasis on student collaboration and group projects as a major advantage.

“If it was just an online class [and] homework, I would feel more alone and like I wasn’t getting the real grad school experience,” she said.

As a whole, USC makes a noticeable effort for online students to feel like part of the wider Trojan community, Harrison added. She also noted there is no shortage of virtual events for students to attend and network with each other.

When asked what advice she would give to others looking to pursue a graduate degree on top of a full-time work schedule, she said they should “give themselves a break.”

“Obviously, you have to take care of yourself. Be easy on yourself because it is difficult, and don’t let the stress get you,” she said. “But it’s also important to be flexible about where you end up and be open to trying different things. I think that being able to dabble in different things only makes you a stronger candidate for any job that you have.”

Learn more about the online Master of Science in Integrated Business, Design and Technology today.

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