Alumnae panel: From classrooms to startups


G-Jun Yam

Alumnae Edye Deloch-Hughes, Maggie Ness, Skye Rust and Lauren McGrady presented at a business panel on March 30 at HAUS, 623 S. Wabash Ave.

By Campus Reporter

Columbia never prepared Lauren McGrady to work for a big corporation—it was preparing her to start and operate her own business. The lessons she learned paid off. Today, she decides every product her company sells from toilet paper to clothing. 

McGrady, a 2011 business & entrepreneurship alumna and owner and operator of Rider For Life, a multibrand lifestyle store in the West Loop, said she had always been interested in how the quality of everyday objects can impact people’s lives. That interest motivated her to open her store, she said.

“The first step of becoming an entrepreneur is just doing it,” McGrady said. “We all have good ideas. We have to initiate them.”

McGrady was one of several alumnae featured on the entrepreneurs panel “From Idea to Reality,” hosted by the Office of Development and Alumni Relations. Panelists Edye Deloch-Hughes, Maggie Ness, Skye Rust and McGrady discussed how Columbia prepared them to become their own bosses and how they overcame challenges in business. 

Miranda Gardley, a senior fashion studies and business & entrepreneurship double major, and Audrey Sutherland, a junior business & entrepreneurship major moderated the event, which took place March 30 at the HAUS in the 623 S. Wabash Ave. Building.

Deloch-Hughes, a 1980 interdisciplinary arts alumna and co-owner of Hughes Who Productions, a game development and creative service house in the Chicago area, said while attending Columbia she was able to take classes in different disciplines which gave her the confidence to succeed. She also met her husband and business partner, Darryl Hughes, at Columbia. They combined their entrepreneurial skills that eventually led them to create their own company.

“I felt like I could do anything,” Deloch-Hughes said. “I felt well-rounded and prepared.” 

Ness, a 2006 television alumna and a partner at local boutique and production house Nesek Digital, said she decided to create her own company and partner with alumnus Justin Kulovsek after working for WTTW, Chicago’s PBS affiliate, for seven years. 

“You meet so many people here from different areas that there aren’t many elements missing,” Ness said. 

Rust, a 2006 interdisciplinary arts department graduate and owner of Woolly Mammoth Antiques and Oddities—a resale store located in Andersonville—and the college’s International Admissions representative, said she and her husband, who is also an alumnus, were climbing a fortress wall during their honeymoon in Transylvania, Romania, when they decided they would open an antique store to keep the adventure going. 

“It  was one of those things that we decided we needed to do a life change and were willing to take a risk,” Rust said.

The panelists advised that students listen to their instructors’ recommendations, network extensively, keep up with industry trends and take advantage of the portfolio center and internship opportunities while at Columbia to build a body of work.

During the Q&A discussion that followed, Chamille Weddington, a lecturer in the Business & Entrepreneurship Department, asked the panelists how they funded their businesses in the beginning of their careers.  

Ness and Deloch-Hughes said they worked full time and opened a savings account to support their new businesses. McGrady said she began seeking investors to fund her business, something she still does today, while Rust said she was very careful not to overspend.

All the participants shared their personal definitions of success as shaped by their own life missions.

Ness defined her success as being proud of the work you produce and willing to showcase it. Rust associated success with the college’s motto and said it means living what you love and to love your work.

“[Success for me is] when you are doing what you love and you are getting paid well for it,” Deloch-Hughes said. “[When you do what you love] the money will come.”