Danielle Volman, Founder of iChase The Cure
Please share with us what prompted you to start iChase the Cure?
I organized the iChase The Cure race at my all girls boarding high school, EmmaWillardSchool, in Troy, NY for the first time as a senior in high school. After graduating, I passed on the event to a younger student who kept it going there. Two years later as a sophomore at Boston University, I started growing the event and it is now in its 3rd year here!
My inspiration for starting the race came in the form of an adorable, little girl who was the daughter of a member of my community at my high school. As a boarding school, our community was really close knit and everybody knew and cared about everybody. The majority of the faculty and 2/3 of the students even lived on campus. It really was a home away from home. You would see everyone everyday, and when something happens to someone, everyone in the community feels it. So, when I first heard of the horrible news that she was diagnosed with neuroblastoma, my heart just sank and I immediately started thinking of a way I could rally our community in support for their family. Neuroblastoma is “a rare cancer of the sympathetic nervous system — a nerve network that carries messages from the brain throughout the body. Each year there are about 700 new cases in the United States (MSKCC.org).” Find out more how you can help at the Loneliest Road Campaign. Having lost my mom to breast cancer and leukemia at the young age of 6 years old, I have always been active in the cancer world trying to fight to find a cure so that no other little girl had to go through what I did.
After finally figuring out the spelling of her cancer, I started intensely researching her disease, foundations, trials and treatments that were out there. To my surprise there were very few. How could this be? We are a very advanced society with medical breakthroughs happening everyday but there were none for pediatric cancers. Boy did this anger me! I couldn’t just stand on the sidelines for this one. Adult cancers had so much presence and research going on, but everyone seemed to be turning a blind eye to pediatric cancers. If you add all of the potential years these children battling cancer are losing and fighting for, they far surpass the sum of years of the adults. Having participated in a plethora of races supporting cures and research for cancers that my mom battled and having become a very avid runner, I knew what I could do. I combined both of my passions (running and fighting for a cure) to create iChase the Cure. This year I am graduating from BU and I plan on taking iChase the Cure with me and growing “my baby” into a real not-for-profit to energize students to fight for causes they are passionate for.
There is no typical day in the life of an entrepreneur. Please share with us a sample of your day, start to finish.
Since I am also a full time student, hold two jobs, and I am a graduating senior looking to start my career, no two days are ever alike. Like most entrepreneurs, I like to have my hands in many pots. This means I am constantly exercising and challenging my mind and potential. However, the most excitement out of my day comes from organizing the race. If you ask anyone who knows me, they will tell you that I am always working on something and always trying to somehow add value to iCTC.
There is one consistent factor in my schedule: I wake up early. Since directing such an event takes an enormous amount of time, I try to utilize the business hours that I have free from class, work, or academic team meetings to their full potential. Therefore, I have planned my classes for the early morning to the afternoon after which I usually quickly grab lunch. By this time I have probably already responded to at least 15 text messages from the iChase team and 5 emails from participants, sponsors, and logistic contacts. I refer to companies and people whose services we require to put on the event as our logistic contacts. They include Spitler Timing Systems, the Police Department, various printing companies, EMTs, Boston Balloons, Student Activities Office, Active.com, etc. The rest of the business day I will spend on the phone, computer, or running around like a mad woman coordinating plans with these contacts and our sponsors. As the organization progresses, I will spend more and more time trying to meet in person with potential new sponsors and influential figures on campus who can help promote our event. Towards the end of the day, I head off to work as either an elementary school tutor at a local public school or as an associate consultant with an exceptional SAP implementation company. Even while there I am constantly socializing with my peers, colleagues, and even strangers to discover ways to attract more participants, potential sponsors, and anyone who may want to join our team in organizing this exciting event. Whenever I run into someone I know who supported us last year, I ask what can we improve or add to make it grander. Hunger will then usually take over and lead to dinnertime, after which I engage in my studies all the while responding to emails, questions, requests, and quotes from my team, racers, and/or companies.
What are your ‘can’t live without’ Smartphone or desktop applications?
The most useful is of course my Mail app. I would never have been able to stay on top of emails from participants, sponsors, our team, and logistic contacts without it.
The simplest application on my iPhone that I use would have to be my camera. Whenever I see something that sparks an idea, I snap a picture of it creating a visual to do list.
The other one would be my Calendar. I would be absolutely lost without it. Outlook, Gmail, and my Mac Calendar provide me with a way to keep on schedule and remind me of upcoming deadlines and tasks.
The next few apps all have to do with social media. Getting the word out about the race is one of our most important initiatives. The Facebook and Twitter apps provide me with a real time update of how far our reach has impacted, as well as a way to implement promotions and guerilla marketing.
Throughout this journey, I have also made many contacts. CardMunch allows me to scan a business card and organize contact information in a digital, user-friendly manner.
On my Mac, I would be done for without Stickies, Cinch, and Google Docs. With so many things to keep track of, I have a highly organized Stickies system to coordinate who needs what and what I should be focusing on. With so many screens on my computer that are all interrelated, Cinch allows me to seamlessly split my screen in half revealing two documents side by side. Now I can reference these documents as I accomplish another task on another program or platform. File sharing, to do lists, and status updates are essential to our team. Google Docs helps us prevent rework and prioritize our schedules.
What are your tricks for time management?
I literally plan my schedule out at least two weeks in advance utilizing a paper planner, Stickies, and the calendar on my phone. I am constantly making lists of all that I need to do and then taking a step back to prioritize. I think this is the most important. There are only so many hours in a day and you can never do it all.
Figuring out what is essential today keeps me focused and on the right track.
What was the best advice you received when you started your career?
Honestly, this is the most cliché answer: “Don’t give up. I know YOU can do it. If anyone can, it’s you.” Someone once told me that what they saw in me was more than I was giving myself credit for and recognizing. They told me to always believe in myself and never give up. That is pretty much one of the golden rules that I live by.
Given the current economic climate, what has been your strategy for building awareness of your business for short term and long-term growth?
The Internet, Social Media, and word of mouth have been our greatest assets for growth. Facebook provides a way for us to reach the college audience, Twitter helps us reach out to celebrities and people of influence, and the Internet provides other sources of advertising. These sources have also proved to be the most economical.
What is your proudest achievement as an accomplished entrepreneur?
Keeping iChase the Cure alive and kicking has been my greatest challenge and greatest achievement. Every time I change locations, my challenge is to bring it there. Starting iCTC at Boston University and watching it grow has made me the most proud. We have already raised over $30,000 for pediatric brain tumor research and family support and we continue to spread awareness. We have also directly saved the life of one 11-year-old girl, Caroline Hamilton, through our efforts with this event. It’s continued success and impact is what drives my passion in continuing this endeavor.
How do you achieve balance in your life?
I would have to say that achieving balance could sometimes be even harder than obtaining a sponsor or keeping deadlines. However, I make sure to give myself an hour or so everyday to decompress and exercise. I also call it a day every Friday at 5:30pm until Saturday evening. I consider that to be valuable, dedicated time that I like to devote to myself, my personal development, and my friends and family.
Your top 3 book recommendations?
This would have to be a tough one. I find myself reading and researching more online everyday. I follow pediatric cancer news very closely as well as updates on new technologies available to race directors.
My most recent read was Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. Negotiations are very important for any entrepreneur. You need to know how to approach customers, sponsors, and anyone really.
What are your most rewarding charitable involvements?
iChase the Cure takes the cake for me. All of our current proceeds go to the PLGA Foundation, d.b.a A Child’s Brain Tumor Cure. Through our donations our first year, we were able to help fund and open a clinical trial that was the last option for Caroline Hamilton, our honorary guest at the 5K. Having that direct impact and connection with her is very rewarding.
Who has influenced your career the most?
My high school advisor Heidi Dwyer, hands down. She was the one who inspired me and gave me the support to conquer such a challenge. Dwyer developed my love for running and showed me how I can use my passion for running and finding cures to make a difference.
What is your advice for someone interested in entrepreneurship?
If your heart and passion is really behind an idea and you are willing to devote yourself to it completely, and I mean completely, there is nothing that can get in your way. YOU CAN DO IT. In the beginning, everyone rejected my idea, but it was something I knew I could do and prove everyone wrong. I was persistent and stubborn at times, but I did not let anyone or anything get in my way.
See a challenge as an opportunity. There is also no such thing as complete failure. Use what you have learned and try again! When you go to bed, wake up, and spend the entire day constantly thinking about “your baby”.
You’re golden, just keep it up!