Fearless Drexel Sophomore Poised to Launch Public Speaking Startup
The founder of VirtuREAL, a software service that aims to help users improve their public speaking skills, says that failing is as much a part of entrepreneurship as success.
December 12, 2014
by Zach Epstein
When sophomore Kristen Newman says: “failing is amazing,” she means it.
In fact, it is the most valuable lesson she’s learned in her Close School courses.
“I know that sounds extremely odd, but it really is true,” Newman says. “Being an entrepreneur takes a lot out of someone and creates situations that have risks and outcomes. Failing is part of being an entrepreneur. Not only should we accept it, but we should embrace it and walk away from our failures with lessons learned.”
Newman practices what she preaches. She turned an embarrassing moment — a rocky high school speech in front of her classmates — into her first venture, and she hasn’t stopped since.
We caught up with the Long Island native to talk about her software company, VirtuREAL, learning from failure, and creating a thriving environment for women entrepreneurs at Drexel.
You’re launching a venture called VirtuREAL — tell us about it.
VirtuREAL is a software startup that will allow customers of all ages to practice and improve their public speaking skills. Users will be able to receive instant feedback and watch themselves as they speak and receive a summary, video playback and tips after they finish.
What sparked the idea for the company?
In 9th grade, I decided to run for my student government. At the time, I was not very social. I was shy and had little experience speaking in front of others. When it was time to present, I walked up to the podium, began to speak and I froze up. I wanted to run from the embarrassment.
Years later I asked myself “What would I have done to save myself from that embarrassment?” That’s where VirtuREAL started.
How is the software development going?
Currently, we’re in the process of producing a mock-up website where VirtuREAL will be available for purchase. In the months to come, we are striving to obtain at least two programmers to develop our software both on the front- and back-end. We just recently finalized with our business lawyer and have registered as an LLC.
You’ve talked about your fear of public speaking. Without the benefit of a tool like VirtuREAL, how did you overcome your fears?
As they say, practice makes perfect. After my experience in 9th grade, I branched out socially and had an interest in theater. I took part in two productions before my senior year of high school. That’s really when I noticed and embraced my love for public speaking.
My business professor at the time, Joe Pavia, became such a role model and mentor to me. He saw that I had potential and gave me the opportunities to prove myself. As my business journey began, I practiced speaking over and over again. It eventually became natural and enjoyable. The combination of becoming more social, practicing and having a mentor help push myself have shaped my public speaking skills to this day.
As if a double major (in marketing and management information systems), minor in entrepreneurship, and starting your own venture aren’t enough, you’re also involved in a lot of other activities on campus. What else keeps you so busy?
I am working with Dean Donna De Carolis and the Close School on creating Drexel Women Entrepreneurs. I hope to bring awareness and unity to women across Drexel who are either interested in entrepreneurship or want to start their own venture. Within the next year, I hope to see more female entrepreneurs here at Drexel and at the Close School.
But business isn’t the only thing I do. I am involved in the performing arts department; I’m a member of Drexel Campus Activities Board; and a campus representative for The Princeton Review. Any Drexel Students who want to learn more about entrepreneurship, business or just chat, feel free to reach out to me. You can usually bump into me at the Starbucks in Gerri Hall.