Popular success stories about entrepreneurs often gloss over the challenges, tough decisions, and even failures that they’ve faced. As the entrepreneur-in-residence for the Fordham Foundry, and an entrepreneur herself, Lauren Sweeney, FCRH ’12, has seen this firsthand.

Sweeney is the CEO and co-founder of DeliverZero, a service that makes it easy for restaurants and grocers to offer customers the option to order in returnable reusable packaging, eliminating emissions and waste with every order. She’s also the entrepreneur-in-residence for the Fordham Foundry. Below, she shares five common myths about entrepreneurship.

Myth #1: Your startup idea has to be fully developed in order to launch.

Often aspiring entrepreneurs have a “really big vision of where they want to go,” but don’t have the resources to make that happen immediately.

Lauren Sweeney talks with Brandon Kim, FCRH ’15, at the Foundry’s 10th Anniversary event. (Courtesy of Lauren Sweeney)

“They’re like, ‘well I couldn’t start the next Uber for dog walkers,’ so then they just don’t start at all,” Sweeney said. “Whereas I think the best thing you can do is start in a smaller way that feels actually doable for you.”

By launching with a smaller product, Sweeney said, it allows them to get their idea out in front of customers and try different things before committing too much time and money. By engaging with customers early, she said they can learn more about the problem they’re working to solve in a timely manner and gain increased access to resources.

Myth #2: The first business idea is the best idea and never has to change.

Gathering customer feedback is incredibly important, Sweeney said, because it allows the entrepreneur to change course if they need to.

“The likeliest scenario—and this is the thing that really scares everyone—is that customer feedback is going to actually show you that you should pivot, which is a terrifying word for entrepreneurs, but also kind of the key to every successful outcome,” she said.

For example, her own business pivoted away from a “zero waste version of Grubhub” to a network
of reusable packaging that allows customers to access reusable packaging at all points of sale. This pivot
was due in large part to hearing customer feedback on how they would like to see the packaging waste problem solved in a bigger way.

One way for entrepreneurs in the Fordham community to start getting that feedback, she said, is to participate in activities and competitions, such as the Foundry’s Pitch Challenge.

Myth #3: All entrepreneurs are funded through venture capital or angel investors.

According to Al Bartosic, head of Fordham Foundry, and Sweeney, only between 1% and 5% of startups receive venture capital funding, meaning 95% of startups are not backed by venture capital funds. More than 70% of startups are funded through loans, personal savings, or friends and family, they said.

The amount of venture capital available to early-stage startups is also decreasing, according to Sweeney, particularly following an increase in interest rates. Before 2022, many venture capital firms were deploying capital at a faster rate, often into businesses with little or no market validation.

“I think what we’ve really learned in the last few years is that venture money really should only go towards companies with some proof of concept,” she said.

Myth #4: All entrepreneurs are immediate success stories and don’t have to work hard.

Sweeney said that before FTX failed, its founder, Sam Bankman-Fried—who has been convicted of fraud—was seen as “this mythological creature.” But the failure “reset a lot of thinking about what it means to be an entrepreneur.”

She said now there’s more of an “understanding that you have to put work in and that there are no overnight billionaires—and a ten-figure net worth might not be what you’re looking for anyway.” From the outset, she said it’s important to outline personal goals and what fulfillment means, and then work to meet that definition of success.

Myth #5: Entrepreneurs have to develop their business alone.

While entrepreneurship can at times feel isolating, Sweeney encouraged entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs to find community where they can. At Fordham, that can mean meeting fellow student entrepreneurs, guest speakers, and coaches at the Foundry.

“What spaces can you consistently show up in, just be welcomed in, maybe not even have to talk about entrepreneurship, but just be a human being near other human beings?” she said. “I think it’s important for entrepreneurs, especially because it can be such a lonely grind in the beginning.”