Friday, June 12, 2015

A Conversation with Pierre Sleiman: Reimagining Farming through Sustainable Frontiers

UC San Diego held its annual Alumni Weekend June 6-7, 2015 and featured a talk by Pierre Sleiman, graduate of Rady School of Business Class of 2013 and UC San Diego Alumni Honoree of 2015. Sleiman is the founder and CEO of Go Green Agriculture, a company dedicated to local farming and sustainability through hydroponic technology with strong family values. 

The event was held in The Basement, a shared campus-wide enterprise operated by Alumni & Community Engagement with a mission to stimulate, encourage and serve the entrepreneurial spirit of UC San Diego undergraduate students by educating them in the startup business process whether it’s evaluating an opportunity, starting a company or joining an existing startup.

Sleiman spoke of his initial entrepreneurial endeavors, from starting his first business to brainstorming in his college dorm room. Because he had to support himself financially in college, Sleiman wanted to create his own company that combined agriculture and technology.

“I always admired successful people and hearing about their stories," said Sleiman. "However, I would always want to know all the nitty-gritty stuff, which people often chose not to speak of. But really, all that stuff is critical to success.” 

So, Sleiman shared some of his own struggles. Though he was regarded as the "networking assassin" by his graduating class, Sleiman strongly disliked public speaking as a kid - imagine a nervous student with heart pounding, palms sweating, terrified. He wanted to improve himself, so he worked hard at becoming more comfortable with public speaking. It wasn't easy - he went through many rejections and moments of embarrassment before he found confidence within himself. Slowly, public speaking became somewhat of an adrenaline rush, and he now encourages everyone to practice as much as possible.

Pierre Sleiman and his father

According to Sleiman, networking is like dating.

"You have to have a purpose, and your entry and exit should be executed with good timing and style," said Sleiman. "More importantly, you have to sell your personality and connect on a human level." 

For example, Sleiman says he focuses on creating a relationship with his customer - whether that be a buyer, investor, or someone just trying to learn more about his company - rather than the selling the business. 

"You're not investing in Go Green," said Sleiman. "You're not investing in this product. You're investing in me."

Beyond networking, the entrepreneur says he loves helping others find their motivations. He suggests looking at what is important to you and what you are willing to lose. 

"Sometimes you find that you have nothing that is important, but that's perfectly okay," said Sleiman. "Many people are still looking for the formula."

The search for that formula can be short for some, such as Zeke Bottorff, a current fifth year transfer and one of the CEOs of the Entrepreneur Challenge. Having grown up in a poor family with his earliest memories taking place in a trailer park where he lived, Bottorff took on his first job at the age of five. 

Bottorff is heavily involved with The Basement, which he describes as a new space for entrepreneurs, a "student-to-student organization serving to help businesses grow and expand." 

Rady School student Mike Hayden is also involved in the organization and describes The Basement as an "inclusive workspace for students to collaborate" that "provides resources for students who are active entrepreneurs." 

Hayden describes Sleiman as a phenomenal leader who can energize just about any situation or any person. "It's no wonder that all he has to do is sell himself," said Hayden.

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