Focusing on the Product with Mirta Desir


In this fellow highlight series, Camelback Ventures shares snapshots of our entrepreneurs' work and perspectives.snapshots of our entrepreneurs' work and perspectives.

"I came to the United States from Haiti when I was about seven years old, and I didn’t speak any English. My ESL teacher tried her best to teach me, but she only spoke English, so we struggled communicating. I was under water. My younger brother, however, was born deaf. He had a sign language teacher come to the house and teach him sign language. She brought numerous objects and pictures, and she would match the English words with the sign. And of course, that helped me, too." Mirta Desir shared this story with the Aspen Institute about one of her inspirations for creating Smart Coos, a language learning platform for young children. 

After the past few months of reading applications for our new class, we decided to catch up with our alumni, including Mirta, a 2015 Camelback Fellow. 

It's been almsot two years since your Fellowship, and you've been doing such great work since then. What advice would you give to an entrepreneur just starting out?
Three things:

1. Focus on your product. Don’t be seduced by media mentions or saddened that you’re not raising a $5 million seed round. Focus on YOUR product: that means learning about your users, your space, and how to make YOUR product better.

2. Pivot when necessary. If you learn that your product fits a niche market that you did not anticipate, be open to taking another route.

3. This is a marathon. There is no easy way to success – however you define it - with your product or service, except to go through every step. Train (work on your product routinely) everyday. It will be boring, at times even painful, and many times you will question why you are doing it. But each milestone is a step forward, so keep at it.

What's been most surprising to you?
Your network matters -- so start building it now.
Tell us about a powerful experience you've had recently impacting communities.
We recently signed up our first school district in New York because of our work with English language learners. This was a special moment for us because both my co-founder and I were English language learners and we understood the struggles of both teachers and students.
What's the biggest challenge you've had as an underrepresented entrepreneur?
Raising funds.

Given that, how do you think being in the Camelback Fellowship early on impacted Smart Coos?
First, Camelback helped me extend my network. Second, the community and financial support helped us to meet our next milestones.
If you could have dinner with three people, dead or alive, who would they be?
1) My sister, that passed too young. 2) Oprah Winfrey at 21 years old. 3) Toussaint Louverture, the night before he led the slave rebellion in 1791 .
What keeps you inspired?
1) My aunt, long passed; and 2) Invictus by William Ernest Henley.

To learn more about Mirta, her venture, and her experience with the Camelback Fellowship, click here.