Malika Grayson, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’16, answering questions at an event in 2018.

Entrepreneurship Q&A

Malika Grayson, Ph.D. ’16: From graduate school to global inspiration

For Malika Grayson, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’16, earning advanced degrees in mechanical engineering at Cornell propelled her entrepreneurial journey in STEM advocacy, inspiring her to motivate others to pursue their dreams and overcome challenges. A global keynote speaker, bestselling author, mechanical engineer and founder of STEMinist Empowered, Grayson provides educational consulting, professional development and resources to empower and support students and professionals, particularly women of color, in science, technology, engineering and math fields.

How did your entrepreneurial journey begin? 
My experience in entrepreneurship started about a year after I graduated, and it wasn’t something I was seeking. I began thinking about ways I could use my graduate school experiences to help others. I decided to register for a conference to present on “Navigating Graduate School.” After a brief conversation and a few email exchanges with one of the universities in attendance, I booked my first paid speaking engagement for their summer cohort. This was the motivation I needed to recognize that my product was my knowledge, and I found a market willing to invest in it for the benefit of their audience. That is when STEMinist Empowered was born.

Malika Grayson, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’16, founder of STEMinist Empowered.

What problem does your business solve? 
STEMinist Empowered provides educational consulting through workshops, keynote speaking and mentorship on several professional development topics for both students and professionals. We have partnered with academic institutions, national labs, Fortune 500 companies, private entities and more.  

Entrepreneurship is all about taking calculated risks. What is the most pivotal risk you have taken, and how did it change your path? 
The biggest risk for me was leaning forward and starting the business. I think all of us at some point have self-doubt. We wonder if our product is good enough and if anybody is going to buy what we are selling. But the reality is, if you believe in the idea and can use the passion you have to create something that makes others feel energetic enough to support it, you are on the right path. Once I publicly stepped into entrepreneurship, I knew that it was a risk, but it was a space I had to be in. There was financial risk, because I poured a lot of my savings into starting my business, developing a website, branding and publishing. Also, there is relationship risk in the time you commit as an entrepreneur because it can put a strain on your loved ones. It took meticulous planning, even planning for the unplanned, but once I was on the other side, it absolutely changed my trajectory.  

How did your experience at Cornell impact how you approach business? 
My time at Cornell taught me the importance of being resilient, and through that resilience, the importance of pivoting with a positive mindset. The Cornell curriculum in any program is rigorous, and because of the rigor, you must change the way you think and approach hard problems. You begin to be more solution-oriented, and of course you definitely grow a thick skin. This mindset shift that you gain as a student to be successful automatically translates when approaching a business. I realized a business can be a long game of building, disappointments and setbacks, but there can also be joy in the success and gratification – much like crossing the graduation stage!

Malika Grayson, M.S. ’14, Ph.D. ’16, signing copies of her book after delivering a keynote speech at Towson University.

What has been your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?  
My proudest moment has been seeing my brand recognized based on what STEMinist Empowered does and the value we bring. This has allowed me to grow my clientele even when I wasn’t actively pursuing clients. I also felt confident enough to share those experiences more broadly by becoming an author. I have been able to leverage my publication, and several others as a contributing author, to continue to grow my brand. My first book was absolutely a proud moment for my business.  

If you had one piece of advice for someone starting out, what would it be? 
Remember it is a marathon, not a sprint. You aren’t going to be an overnight success. You must have patience, but in those moments of waiting, do not doubt yourself. There isn’t a “best resume” on who should start a business and be an entrepreneur. Your journey is unique, and you should leverage those skills and talents to add to the value you bring. Compare your experiences only to your experiences. 

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