Horatiu at Larta Institute: A Visiting Entrepreneur

I arrived in Los Angeles on a Friday night after the longest flight in my life – 20 hours, 2 connections (one in Amsterdam, one in Minneapolis) and 2 hours of sleep. As soon as I got off the plane, I realized LAX is not Bucharest International Airport. Not only is it one of the busiest airports in the U.S., but all the procedures of getting into the country – the interviews and the suspicious looks, thoughts that you might try to immigrate illegally – can be quite stressful. My wrist watch was saying that it’s 5:45 AM in Romania, (7:45 PM in LA) and my trek was not done yet. I still had to change buses 3 times on the way to the hostel, my final destination.

As I was dragging my 2 suitcases, while trying to figure out how to get to the bus, I heard a voice calling me. It was Rohit Shukla, the CEO of Larta Institute, the company at which I was going to spend my next 5 weeks.

The only thing I knew about Larta is that they help (somehow) new technologies go to market. I also knew that they use a network-centric approach (which has a self explanatory title) and that they are a NGO. And of course, I briefly knew Rohit, who I met in Bucharest, at a national conference 2 months before my arrival in LA.

The only thing I knew about my stay in the U.S. was that I was going to live in a huge house full of art students and that I would work with Rohit on a Romanian-American project. After a 30 minute drive, we arrived at the house at 112 Rampart Blvd. I chose my bunk bed while Rohit was making sure I got everything I need, and we decided to meet Sunday for a city drive. Until then, I had plenty of time to meet my 15 house-mates.

Monday, 9.30 AM: I was in front of a door that said “650, Larta Institute” in a fancy office building downtown. My shirt and pants were all crumpled because I didn’t have an iron at my hostel. I just hoped that nobody will notice so I wouldn’t make a bad first impression. I took a deep breath and followed Rohit through the door.

It was still early and there were not many people in the office. Rohit led me to my workplace, a private room with a great view of Pershing Square. (Later, I found out that this room had one of the best views of all the offices.) After 2 minutes of admiring the downtown view and all its tall buildings and wondering if I’m dreaming or not, I was awaken by my first visitor that came to introduce himself, Mike from the Web Development department.

My first thought after meeting most of the 13 person team was that they were all very young... or at least younger than I was expecting. Marco, the German guy that I was going to work with on the Romanian project was 29. Susanna and Arianne, the girls leading the Korean project were around 23. I didn't know if I should feel intimidated because they were so young and they knew so much, or to be more relaxed because we would probably relate easier.

At the end of my first day, Rohit briefly presented to me all the projects I will be involved in. From RiCAP (Romanian Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program), to a Korean project, to a US government program, to the rebranding process of Larta. The main idea was to be exposed to everything that Larta does so I would learn as much as I can and transfer the knowledge to my own project, the Alternative University back home. Rohit also told me that in 3 days I should give a presentation in front of the entire Larta team about my work in Romania so they would know how they can help us.

The good, but also the bad, part was that I had my own office. The good thing was, of course, the view and the privacy. The bad part was that I was isolated from the team, except for the meetings and the occasional lunches we had together. Also, the office was at the opposite end of the entrance, and from the kitchen. Soon, that became an opportunity in disguise. Well, I drink a lot of water, so every 30 minutes I had to go to the kitchen to refill my cup and pass everyone's workplaces. Although at the beginning I was nervous because I felt like I was on a catwalk, measuring each step very carefully and hoping I won't trip, it soon became my occasion to meet new people from the team while refilling my cup in the kitchen or while returning to my workplace.

After my first 2 weeks, I started to get used to Larta’s action oriented work ethic. Every day there was something new and exciting going on. Every day was filled with positive energy and a constant feeling that you are part of something a lot bigger than yourself. Every day you felt that you're contributing to something important that will help a lot of people in a lot of places, from Columbia, to Korea, to Europe or the U.S. That gave me the opportunity to gain a global perspective and understand where and how innovation really happens and how an entrepreneur can impact the entire world. After only 2 weeks spent there, I understood that this is what Larta does: it is changing the world by empowering entrepreneurs that will change the world.

At the end of my second week, Rohit told me that he sees great opportunity in The Alternative University, that everyone should know about it and more people should benefit from it. So he offered to be my mentor and challenged me to transfer all the knowledge gained at Larta into a business plan that would answer the question: “How can we reach the entire world with our University?”

In the following weeks, with Marco, Rohit and The Romanian Center for Innovation in Local Development (CRIDL) back home, our main activity was creating RiCAP, a program aimed at helping Romanian innovators and technology start-ups enter global markets. My understanding and insights about Romanian entrepreneurs, Marco’s German methodical approach and Rohit’s global vision helped us function like a well oiled machine, and by mid-September the program was moving in Romania.

At the end of my 5 week trip, I also had the chance to meet Caltech and ICT alongside a 50-person Korean delegation and have meetings with investors and 3 UCLA directors. This exposure made me challenge some assumptions I’ve had about our project and made me realize that our solution should really go global. When I arrived in LA, my main question was “How can we as a university become sustainable in Romania?” I left with a more ambitious plan of expanding this university to other regions and the entire world.

On my last day at Larta, as I was walking patiently from my office to the kitchen to wash my water cup one last time, I passed by the offices of all the people that I met here, people that I worked with, talked to or that helped me at some point. We had a friendly goodbye, with a feeling that at some point in time we will work together again. Rohit and I left and as we were waiting for the elevator, I could not hold a smile while looking at the door that said “650, Larta Institute” and remembering my first day there.

It was a sunny Sunday when we left to the airport. Rohit said that we had enough time, so he’d take me a different route to the airport. I looked at my wrist watch; it was 12:45 PM (10:45 PM in RO). My plane was leaving in 3 hours.

As Rohit was driving, we started talking about all the great things that will happen next, about what I should do with that internationalization plan, how I should present it to my team and how we can work together to make that plan a reality. He also promised to be in Romania in October and have a meeting with my team to share with them his personal insights about our projects and the idea of scaling it. I still don’t know why he offered him to help us so much...

But I guess that this is what Larta does. It’s empowering entrepreneurs to change the world.