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Greater Good Challenge Coach Katherine Aul Cervoni Gives Her Advice on Launching a Successful Startup

After receiving her master's degree in landscape design from Columbia University, Katherine Aul Cervoni started her own successful firm, Staghorn, focused on creating beautiful outdoor residential spaces, while remaining committed to sustainable planting, local flora and ethical working conditions.

Katherine will serve as a coach for The Greater Good Challenge, a business pitch competition hosted by the Career Design Lab and made possible with support from the Beba Foundation and Turkish Philanthropy Funds.

We caught up with Katherine to learn more about how she launched her landscape design company and to ask her advice for Greater Good Challenge contestants.

You launched your business in 2014, not so long ago. What advice do you have for SPS students and alumni seeking to turn their pitch into a fully fledged startup plan?

Perfectionism shouldn't stand in the way of progress. Don't worry about your first iteration being imperfect — of course it will be! Early on in the process, the most important thing is to get something out there for people to see. The weak spots you discover after the launch will guide your evolution. Ultimately, it's the mistakes you make that will be a critical, if uncomfortable, part of your path to success.

The live Business Pitch Competition is coming up on October 9th. What advice would you give to the winners of the seed money?

With my own startup, I tried to offset the seemingly insurmountable upfront costs of getting a business off the ground by doing as much as I could myself, but everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. So, my recommendation is to use your prize winnings to help fund the part of your business that you're least capable of doing yourself. Whether that is product fabrication or a website, you should put the money toward something truly essential to your launch.

What are you hoping to see from the Greater Good contest submissions?

I want to see pitches for startups that are true problem solvers and maybe even some that disrupt their industries. On top of that, getting the sense that a brand has real authenticity behind it is very important to me.

Tune in on Friday, October 9 as the Greater Good Challenge finalists compete for seed money in the Virtual Pitch Competition. Learn more about the Challenge at sps.columbia.edu/challenge