Resilient Entrepreneur Series: Austin Hirsh '19 Provides Good Advice

For a guy who admitted at the onset of a Zoom talk on Tuesday that "I am by no means an expert, I'm still learning," entrepreneur Austin Hirsh, a 2019 Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering alumnus has a mature vision of what he can do.

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"I'm here to provide useful, practical information. By sharing my pitfalls and talking about the opportunities I've taken advantage of, hopefully people can use my knowledge to help them," he said.

Hirsh, currently a graduate student in an entrepreneurship program at the University of Washington, took a break from his studies and daily entrepreneurial grind as the founder of The 2050 Company to speak to an online audience of USD students, faculty, staff and community members.

While he was the one offering advice, he encouraged anyone listening to reach out to him with any ideas they might have regarding ways to pivot his venture in this new COVID-19 business world.

"Everyone is learning new ways to do things now," said Hirsh, whose company focuses on food innovation. The flagship product is a 2050 Smoothie, "the world's first rescued fruit instant smoothie."

USD Entrepreneurship Beginnings

Hirsh was a logical first guest for The Resilient Entrepreneur, a newly created virtual series hosted by the USD School of Business' Entrepreneurship and Innovation Catalyzer. Introducing Hirsh was Venkat Shastri, the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering's De Sanctis Professor of Engineering and Entrepreneurship. Hirsh's talk also inaugurated Technology Talks of The Resilient Entrepreneur Series, which is co-sponsored by the Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering. 

"I'm proud to recommend Austin for this series. Of all of the entrepreneur students I've worked with, Austin models it the most," Shastri said. "He's full of energy and can build something a customer needs. He has passion, pivots well, adapts to changes, and he's someone who likes marketing, despite being an engineer."

Resiliency is important for all entrepreneurs. Hirsh's actions as a USD student and now, in a jolted business climate, prove it.

His entrepreneurial instincts kicked in during his third year at USD. Remembering his summer job during his teen years, he wanted to create a kind of robotic lawn mower that could reasonably do the work for him. Hirsh and classmate Sydney Reiners created Picket, an innovative update for the lawn mower. The signature items were an oscillating blade design and energy-efficient battery to make the unit more eco- and user-friendly. While their presentation at the 2018 Venture Vetting (V2) Pitch Competition secured $8,000 to continue the work and with a group of classmates made it their senior design project for school, he learned a valuable lesson.

"To work on something, I have to be obsessed with it," Hirsh said. Going through the ups and downs, trying multiple blades before finally getting something to work was a good exercise. A funding opportunity came about, but he opted out.

"It was a cool experience, but I wasn't sure I was interested. Iwas already thinking about grad school, so I decided I wasn't that type of engineer, one that has to be in a machine shop for 12 hours a day."

Smoothie Pivot

A combination of his love for breakfast burritos (freezing them in bulk) and a visit to a friend in Carmel led to his next idea. Hisfriend received home delivery of still-good-to-eat, but slightly unappealing looking fruit from a local business. It gave Hirsh an idea and he seized it.

He could use the same overstocked fruit with a freeze-dried process that keeps it good for up to two years to make an instant powder-fueled concoction. He decided to enter USD's 2019 Fowler Global Social Innovation Challenge and earned one of two USD entries into the global final and was a top 10 finisher at the latter.

Hirsh’s passion took him back to his home state of Washington to begin his master's program only days after the global final. He planned to spend his time strengthening his business plan and to work on getting his product ready for the market. He’s finishing the program soon, but the coronavirus presented a new obstacle.

Hirsh is trying to see it as an opportunity. A positive outlook and desire to answer this challenge drives him to look for solutions.

Lean in to Fear

So, how would the USD version of Hirsh see it? His advice to current USD students is a start.

He says, by “leaning into what he was afraid of,” he overcame his fear of public speaking. He was in Mortar Board and became president, a role with many speaking opportunities. Entrepreneurs have to talk and sell their products; by doing both the V2 and FGSIC, he had to speak to both potential investors on stage and to the audiences in the IPJ Theatre. He also had to"know the audience." These entrepreneurship competitions require participants to deliver 10-minute pitches to judges, followed by a 90-second pitch to the larger theatre audience.

Hirsh stressed the importance of students taking full advantage of resources available to them while they are in college — mentorship, using the entrepreneurial legal clinic and embracing lessons learned from USD’s liberal arts education. The dual degree engineering alumnus credits a philosophy mindset to help ask himself a question: “What do I want out of life?”

The 2050 Company name and mission came about after he saw the documentary, Chasing Coral, which explores the notion that coral reefs around the world are vanishing. The year 2050 is the marker for possible detrimental environmental and sustainable milestones. It gave Hirsh pause and it motivates him to "create a brighter world" with products that "have a net-positive benefit."

The story of this resilient entrepreneur is just one tale among many. The USD series continues through May 14 at 12:15 p.m. with more stories, more guests and topics to help USD students and others deepen their own resolve.

"Whether you’re an up-and-coming entrepreneur or seasoned business owner, the Resilient Entrepreneur Series provides a forum for like-minded people who are facing the same challenges to gain advice and insight from each other," said Randy Vosti, a former senior vice president of SAIC who observed Hirsh's video chat.

Ryan T. Blystone

To learn more about Hirsh's The 2050 Company, go tohttps://www.the2050co.com

Contact:

USD News Center
news@sandiego.edu
619-260-4600 x 6652