An entrepreneur’s journey
It took two attempts to earn that Case degree, but Jing Lyon’s resilience led to her dream job.
I started my journey at Case certain that I was going into healthcare, even if I wasn’t sure exactly what that meant. I took classes across different departments in the College of Arts and Sciences, trying to find my “calling.” I had always excelled in school, and I expected nothing less at college. It only took a couple semesters to realize I was in for a rude awakening. Not only was my calling not appearing, I was struggling just to keep up.
Once at the top of my high school class, I now found myself surrounded by elite students from across the country. I meandered and held on through sophomore year before I finally broke and took a leave of absence.
Feeling like a total failure as a college dropout, I bounced around part-time jobs with no clear direction for a year, until I landed a position with a local battery startup – Stratum Energy Systems. Little did I know on that fateful day, when I first walked onto the factory floor, I had found my calling. I started on the ground floor, absorbing every new skill like a sponge, from welding to electrochemistry. I excelled at understanding the technology and developing new products and processes.
After three years, I launched EcoSpinners – a novel electric bicycle that leveraged the battery and fuel cell technologies that I had helped develop. The battery was a lithium-ion polymer chemistry which gave the bike the power needed to accelerate while the fuel cell used a novel liquid fuel to provide range.
Shortly after founding my company, I decided it was time to go back and complete my degree. This time, I was sure that I wanted to become an electrochemist and would spend my career in battery and fuel cell research and development.
Case Round 2
The second time around at Case was no easier. I would never be the ideal student, but this time I was on a mission to get to the finish line. As I continued to struggle through my course load, I pursued my dream of building EcoSpinners. Organizations like the Great Lakes Energy Institute and Blackstone LaunchPad (now CWRU LaunchNet) helped me develop my idea from concept to prototype to a company that could actually raise money.
Along the way, there were many long days in both the basement lab of the chemical engineering department and the basement workshop of think[box] – when it was still located in the Sears Building.
By my last semester, EcoSpinners was on the brink of folding, and I had no idea what I was going to do next. I had acquired a lot of skills and experience in the 10 years since I first stepped on campus, but I felt lost without the company that I had built with my sweat and tears. I spent the next five years in different consulting jobs in corporate America, until I finally landed my dream job at the beginning of this year – as Director of Entrepreneur Programs at BRITE Energy Innovators.
We are an energy tech incubator providing startups the support, guidance, and connections they need to start and scale their business in Ohio. This role brings together everything I learned from my degree as a chemical engineer, my journey founding my startup, and even my consulting experience.
My college experience was far from normal — and I was far from being a star student — but every experience has led me to a career that I would not have been able to design or dream of when I started my journey.
For every student and recent graduate out there who isn’t sure if they can make it over the next hurdle, or what their next step should be, know that you will get through your current challenge. And if you learn and grow from your experience, you might just find your dream job when you least expect it.
Jing Lyon, known as Jean Zhao while a student, earned her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the Case School of Engineering. Reach her via firstname.lastname@example.org