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“I never thought I’d be in this place”: Syed Hussain’s Story

​Entrepreneurship wasn’t part of the plan for Syed Hussain. 

“There are a lot of entrepreneurs in my family,” he explains, “and I always thought of entrepreneurship as a struggle. You don’t know how much money you’re going to make every month. There’s so much instability.”

A truck belonging to Syed’s business, Magic Sign.
A truck belonging to Syed’s business, Magic Sign.

His father was one of those entrepreneurs. He ran a full-service sign installation company. Syed helped out every so often. But when his father passed away, Syed, at age 21, was left to take over the company without much guidance.

“Everything was self-taught,” he reflects. “I made a lot of mistakes, but I learned from them as well. But eventually, I grew the business larger than my dad had in two years. And I realized: this is something I could do long-term.”

Now, Syed is a full-time student studying Management Information Systems at Driehaus. He’s also a full-time entrepreneur.

Thanks to the Driehaus Cup, these two worlds intersected.

One of the fundamentals of entrepreneurship, taught in the Business 101 class at Driehaus, is that a new business has to meet a need. Syed’s business experience helped him see one such need.

Sign installation is a skilled trade, explained Syed’s teammate, Nick Noriega. It's a big business. But there is no formal trade school for sign installation.

Along with teammate Aldo Narvaez, Syed and Nick developed a solution: The Sign Academy, a hybrid course developed to teach people the technical skills behind sign installation.

The group’s pitch came first in their classroom competition. After rounds of exhaustive practice, the group competed in front of an audience of hundreds for the Driehaus Cup. They earned the Audience Choice Award.

For Syed, the experience gave him the chance to connect with the judges about his sign installation business. He also connected with other students.

“A lot of the other students were asking me questions,” he says. “They wanted to know how it was being an entrepreneur. It was cool giving back, giving advice, showing other students it’s a possibility.”

When Syed reflects on his experience with Business 101 as a whole, it comes back to the value of networking. He recalls hours spent talking after class with his professor, who had experience running multiple businesses.

“Just getting insight from someone who’s more experienced helped me a lot,” he says.

And when Syed talks about how he feels about being an entrepreneur now, his answer couldn’t be more different than it was when he first started.

“I never thought I’d be in this place,” he says. "But now, I enjoy it. The amount of hard work you put in is the amount you get out of it.”

“A lot of people early on told me I wouldn’t be able to handle the business,” he adds. “And that was the best motivation."​

This piece is part of Voices of the Driehaus Cup, a series of five interviews with students who competed in the first three Driehaus Cup competitions. In this series, you'll hear from a wide range of voices: first-year students and transfer students; seasoned entrepreneurs and students just embarking on their careers. One through-line: Competing in the Driehaus Cup helped all five students push themselves into the next phase of their career.​