Laura McLaughlin award

Like most entrepreneurs, Laura McLaughlin identified a problem and wanted to solve it. Equipped with a solid academic foundation, she enlisted the help of The Ohio State Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (CIE) to turn her idea — a mobile app to help combat infant mortality — into a reality.

McLaughlin, a fourth-year nursing student with a research specialization distinction and a minor in entrepreneurship and innovation, was recently named the Next Generation Innovator of the Year by the Ohio State Office of Research. Her app, BabyTalk, supports new and expectant parents and educates them via games and simulated experiences on topics such as women’s health, pregnancy and a child’s first year. Points can be redeemed for needed items or connection to community resources.

McLaughlin shared her thoughts on her entrepreneurial journey.

Laura McLaughlin
Laura McLaughlin Photo: Jodi Miller

What was your motivation for including entrepreneurship and innovation along with your nursing studies?

Upon entering college, I did not anticipate having an interest in entrepreneurship, so I could never have guessed I would be graduating with a minor in it. My sophomore year I became very passionate about infant mortality, and it was my involvement in the community of healthcare professionals and current initiatives to help combat this issue that inspired me to think of my own solution. I reached out to faculty at the College of Nursing who referred me to Paul Reeder at the CIE. It was from there that I realized the minor existed and recognized the value in educating myself to successfully pursue my idea.

It is such a different mental challenge than my nursing courses. Nursing can be a challenging major to add a minor on top of, given the heavy science curriculum and weekly clinical requirements that range from eight to 24 hours a week. On top of that, I was starting research and involved in other organizations on campus while also working as a Patient Care Associate. To say the least, there were semesters where I was truly in over my head. Luckily, my innovation and entrepreneurship professors and faculty were supportive and flexible with me, which made it possible for me to pursue both trajectories. At the end of the day, I made it happen because I believe so heartily in the project I’m pursuing and have found a place on campus where my strengths and interests are recognized and fostered. Though it meant sacrificing sleep, relationships, nights out, and sometimes my health, I do not think it is possible to regret investing in yourself or your passions during college.

You’re a Wolstein Scholar, and you competed in and won the 2017 Spring Best of Student Startup (BOSS) competition. How have these opportunities and the I&E education you’ve received at Fisher benefitted you professionally, and how has it shaped the creation of your app?

Being involved with the CIE — be it the scholars program, their events or the BOSS Competition — has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my time at Ohio State. It is a place where the faculty works hard to empower students and support their ambitions. Participating in the BOSS Competition allowed me to do intense work to prepare my pitch and tweak my business plan. Winning it gave me confidence because, although I have always believed in the importance of it, I did not know how others would respond. After the competition, people responded so positively and encouragingly towards me.

Winning also meant that I was invited to speak on panels and attend other CIE events. There were many opportunities for me to practice my pitch and speak about my business, and I developed a stronger presence during my presentations and actually came to enjoy the vulnerability of pitching your idea to strangers. Another way my minor in I&E benefited me was by introducing me to my programmer, Margaret Barrie. She is a wonderful partner to work with, and I had the pleasure of watching her win the BOSS Competition last semester! My networking and support systems grew when I joined this community.

What advice do you have for anyone considering an I&E track, or anyone who is interested in pursuing their own idea, regardless of whether they’re studying business or another subject?

My advice to someone interested in pursuing an entrepreneurial project is to find a community that invests in you (not just your idea). This may mean courses in entrepreneurship but it does not have to be. I certainly do not think it is necessary to be a business major, but it is important that you seek out experiences that lead you to developing a unique idea or perspective. Mine came from my clinical experiences, volunteer work and research.

I do not think you can regret investing in your passions and your personal growth. Also, for those who are starting on their entrepreneurial projects currently, follow your instincts and do not be afraid to take your time on a project. “Failing fast” isn’t an approach everyone has to take in regard to innovation.