Meg Columbia-Walsh, one of the most successful women in technology, was an accidental entrepreneur.
“I had a client at Schering-Plough in Kenilworth, NJ, who said to me that they wanted a website. Now, this gentleman runs oncology at Genentech. And I was like, ‘A website? What in God’s name is that?’” she told the 15th annual Female Entrepreneur Lecture at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison on Friday.
The website request predated IT departments and laptops, she explained.
“The phone guys at Schering-Plough said to me, ‘Meg, if you bring that thing called the internet into this building, you will never work here again.’”
Columbia-Walsh went to her mom, ready to quit her job. Her mom told her she was not going to quit and refused to pay her bills.
“So, I got a hodgepodge group of guys and literally wrote the names on the napkin, and I started the first digital agency in healthcare, and we built the first healthcare website which was for Claritin.
“After that experience, I sold that company to Interpublic Group because it was the beginning of WebMD, and basically nobody knew how to do it. I was just a person that could translate. My success is that: Every time there’s a new technology, I’m able to take it from its infancy, start a company, introduce it to the world from proof of concept, get the client to buy it, and I’m so early that I’m able to sell the company.”
Columbia-Walsh is CEO of Wylei Inc., an artificial intelligence and machine learning company based in Jersey City.
The FDU event recognized high school students who participated in the NJ Business Idea Competition.
Columbia-Walsh told them: “My job up is to make sure that all the students in this room know that they can stand here. I don’t say that lightly. And any of you that are women, you can also be standing right here.”
The secret to Meg Columbia-Walsh’s success? Not believing in the word no.
“I was the same kid that’s talking to you now. A hard-working, determined, organized, wanting-to-do-well-in-the-world kid. I wasn’t special. There were many people in the room that were smarter than me, but I got up every morning believing in what we were doing, and outworked anyone.
“And, as a woman at the time, I was the only. There was nobody in the room that was a woman, and I was the boss. And that was fabulous because guess what I got to do? Hire other women,” she said.
The NJ Business Idea Competition was designed to support innovation through academic and outreach programs. It encourages young people to come up with business ideas and create an entrepreneurial mindset.
Some 550 students statewide submitted more than 460 ideas, and 24 winners were honored. Their submissions went through three rounds of judging, screened for innovation, feasibility and social impact. Winners from Northern, Central, and Southern NJ were announced.
The regional winners then competed with one-minute pitches. The winning team, chosen by a panel of judges, consisted of Matthew Goodman, Ryan Perrette and Hailey Steinberg from Marlboro High School.
Their idea, Prosthetic Prodigy, involved using recycled plastic in a 3D printer to create prosthetic limbs. Two million people live with limb loss in the U.S. alone, they stated. Recycled plastic is cheaper than other prosthetic materials, according to their pitch, and 3D printing offers customization and comfort options.
The Marlboro students won $300. The competition was sponsored by the New Jersey Tech Council, the New York Jets and Untracht Early.
According to the judges, who included Columbia-Walsh, Prosthetic Prodigy won because of its potential scalability.
Sarah Yamashita is a senior at The Morristown-Beard School in Morris Township.
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