Why Emmy Award-winning documentarians focused their lens on 5 GSEA student entrepreneurs

5 July 2021

Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO) encourages young entrepreneurs through its Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), EO’s premier competition for college students who own and operate a business. The annual competition culminates with the Global Finals, where “studentpreneurs” from 50 countries compete and connect with both seasoned entrepreneurs and other student competitors. The 2021 GSEA Global Finals competition will be held virtually from May 4-6, 2021.

In 2019, Emmy Award-winning directors and documentary film-makers Cristina Costantini and Darren Foster followed five student entrepreneurs for the months between winning their national GSEA competition and the 2019 GSEA Global Finals. The result is a National Geographic documentary film available on Disney+ titled Own the Room. We asked Costantini and Foster about the experience. Here’s what they shared: 

Why did you choose GSEA as your documentary backdrop?

Foster: “After making Science Fair, which followed high school students competing internationally, we wondered, ‘What does it look like when these kids grow up?’ We thought GSEA would be an excellent framework for exploring another generation of students whose brilliant ideas could become big business.”

Costantini: “We loved how international the GSEA competition is, with student competitors from 50 countries. We wanted to tell a story of people from all different parts of the world, with different upbringing, backgrounds, and cultures. GSEA has that; it stood out from other competitions. The creativity of all the students, the diversity of their business ideas, and the number of countries represented made GSEA the right choice for us.”

Foster: “What’s unique about GSEA is that the competition focuses on the entrepreneurs themselves–the students and their stories–not just their companies. As documentary film-makers, we liked that the students are encouraged to share their journeys. You get to see them as complex people. They’re doing incredible things, but they’re also real people.”

What was your biggest takeaway about student entrepreneurs?

Foster: “The students’ companies were the product of identifying a problem in their local community and looking for ways to address it. By doing so, they hit upon bigger ideas that could scale to solve global issues. A lot of us complain about the world’s problems, but we don’t do anything about it. To see these young students taking on significant challenges was truly inspiring.”

Costantini: “They all seem very wise beyond their years. They understood the possibility of failure, but fear didn’t stop them from trying. They have this ethos that failure is part of the process. I found that to be pervasive among entrepreneurs.”

What was your overall impression of the GSEA competition?

Foster: “I was most impressed by the culture and the environment EO created through GSEA for this event. It’s a very positive competition–nobody was trying to tear each other down. Instead, we saw competitors supporting each other by giving advice and feedback. GSEA created a very positive environment that encourages camaraderie.”

Costantini: “I’ve never seen as much learning on the sidelines in other competitions that we’ve filmed. We overheard helpful conversations like, ‘Have you heard about this approach? What’re you doing about funding? Here’s what we’re doing.’ Although the students were competing with each other, they were also learning and growing in the process.”

What should viewers keep in mind as they watch your film?

Foster: “That the future is bright. It’s been easy to feel down this past year with the pandemic. But we’ll get out of this pandemic because of people like the student entrepreneurs featured in this film: Innovators with big ideas who aren’t afraid to take risks. The Covid vaccines were founded on science and people who built businesses around that science. The future is bright as long as there are people out there like these students.”

Costantini: “As adults, it’s our job to encourage self-starters and creative thinking in education. We’re grateful to GSEA for providing this wonderful platform and letting us document it.”

What’s the biggest lesson you learned from making Own the Room?

Foster: “We draw inspiration from hanging around brilliant and wonderful students, many of whom have overcome tremendous challenges. We’re grateful to them for sharing their stories and perspectives. As business owners, we constantly have new ideas for films we’d like to make–so we’re out there pitching, much like the GSEA competitors. We took notes during the competition to help improve our pitch!”

Costantini: “I’m in awe of their bravery and independence. We can all take a page from these students’ books and suspend our fear of the unknown to try something new. It’s an incredible trait they all share and one I aspire to emulate.”

This post originally appeared on the Entrepreneurs’ Organization blog and is reprinted here with permission.