Annika and Putting Entrepreneurship on the Mental Map

This story is a part of the book “Urban Information Architecture and Entrepreneurship: Building Patterns for Successful Startups.”

“I’m really only here for the muffins,” the woman I would later learn was named Annika said as she sat down across from me.

I was trying to get interviews from the least understood sector of entrepreneurs because there is very little data on them: people who want to become entrepreneurs but have not made tangible strides towards starting a business.

These people who want to become entrepreneurs are totally discounted by investors and often get a lot of flack from other entrepreneurs for not being fully committed. But to create a thriving startup ecosystem, you need entrepreneurs. For schools or cities that find themselves with the same people starting highly similar companies, the most effective way to change this situation is to widen the funnel of people who pursue entrepreneurship.

To understand the motivations and barriers of people who want to become entrepreneurs but have not quite made meaningful progress towards this goal, I wanted to do interviews with as general of an audience as possible. This meant sitting in the Shapiro Library, located near the Diag and the meeting place of students from a wide range of different disciplines.

Shapiro Library. Image:

I had a homemade poster saying, “10 Minute Interviews with People Interested In Entrepreneurship — Includes Muffins!” and a tray of muffins that came from a package but were made with love. In the Shapiro Library I found that there were far more people interested in free food than entrepreneurship.

One of these people was Annika (name changed for privacy) who took a muffin and said three words, but then felt bad and ended up sitting down to talk with me. I talked that day with students who wanted to do clothing rentals for frat parties on campus, and students who wanted to do healthy food box ordering for students on campus. Annika was simultaneously one of the people that had the kind of deep knowledge to be able to add value to the world and yet the least confident in her path to do so.

Annika was a Ph.D. student studying child psychology and specifically how children learned through play. She had the idea for a start-up where children would take a diagnostic test and based on their scores, they would get personalized “play plans” of toys to encourage cognitive and motor skills that they might need help in. This idea touched on a deep need parents have to do best for their children; it also offered the potential for massive partnership deals with toy manufacturers.

Yet, Annika had never seriously considered entrepreneurship for a variety of reasons that she laid out for me over the course of the next twenty minutes:

  • She was soft-spoken, and to her all entrepreneurs had to be outgoing and very talkative.
  • She was in a Ph.D. program, and there was not only a clear path to being a professor, it was seen as a bad thing when applying to be a professor at another school to be interested in entrepreneurship. Universities wanted people who were interested in research or teaching.
  • She was already in a Ph.D. program, and it was her understanding that to be an entrepreneur, you needed an MBA.
  • She was an Indian woman, and her parents did not see entrepreneurship as a good path, and while she was single at the moment, Annika thought any guy she dated would see entrepreneurship as a negative thing since it would take away from her ability to raise children.

For a person who staunchly said that she was only interested in the free food when she sat down, Annika had not only a unique, interesting idea but had even begun to prototype toys for the children she worked with. She was already doing naturally one of the hardest processes for many entrepreneurs: deeply understanding their audience, prototyping, testing, and learning from their mistakes.

What Annika did not have was the belief that entrepreneurship was ever realistically on her life path. While it is extremely hard to get data on people tangentially interested in entrepreneurship, there are likely hundreds of students who want to become entrepreneurs at the University of Michigan that still face challenges in taking that first step. This number likely rises to the hundreds of thousands, and perhaps millions, when taken

getting entrepreneurship on a person’s mental map.


Entrepreneurship as a risk-reward calculation. Kevin Lynch and mental maps — -they are usually physically grounded things — — mental maps can be extrapolated to the internet, a person’s life, and they all are interwoven

A great place to start because once someone is interested, they begin to

Interest compounds with a strengthening of information circles — — using Facebook’s problems for good.

Have you ever heard of a new word, a new band, a new movie, and then see references to that word, that band, that movie, everywhere? It can feel unnerving, like you might have stepped into the Truman Show where actors are quietly designing the world around you. It turns out, it is not magic, but the Baader Effect. This is when

You need people on their mental maps to begin to seek out information that is relevant to learning how to start companies and understanding what kind of company they want to start.

Risk & life timelines


Design lab




Interaction Writer and CEO of Adjacent

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Rachel Aliana

Rachel Aliana

Interaction Writer and CEO of Adjacent

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