Most National Geographic titles focus on natural wonders or furry, fierce animals. However their latest documentary Own the Room introduces young entrepreneurs seeking to bring small business plans to market – and praises them.
\”It’s very difficult to be an entrepreneur,\” said co-director Cristina Costantini in an interview. \”Half of all new businesses fail within the first five years. It takes lots of bravery and a lot of hard work.\”
The ambitious 90-minute film follows five students from disparate corners from the globe. They hail from Kenya, Nepal, Greece, Puerto Rico, along with a Venezuelan immigrant now in New York City.
After creating an invention or innovation to help their communities, each enters the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards . They aspire to win a $100,000 business grant to fuel their upstart’s future.
Collaborative Rather Than Cutthroat
Costantini hails from a family of small business owners in Milwaukee. She contrasts the GSEA with TV's Shark Tank, where enterprising people pitch to investors.
\”This is competitive and everybody wants to win the money. But it's not as cutthroat. When students weren't competing, they were brainstorming about their businesses and how to help each other.\”
Starting in 1998 at Saint Louis University's School of Business, the GSEA competition went global a decade later. Filmmakers captured the largest competition up to now, with 56 countries represented in 2021.
Co-director Darren Foster said the wide variety of exceptional business plans, all based in personal stories, impressed them. \”They share a common desire, which is to address challenges in their backyards. Young entrepreneurs could have a great idea, but need capital to get it off the ground. That's where business competitions like this are really vital.\”
Along the way, the resilience of contenders shows how principles of free enterprise transcend national boundaries. Standouts include Daniela Blanco, a Venezuelan scientist who moved to the U.S., and Henry Onyango, a Kenyan computer programmer.
Young Scientist Inspired By Mother's Sacrifice
Daniela Blanco stands out early in Own the Room. The NYU science student developed a chemical conversion process to use within nylon production. Blanco's innovation bested the inventions of dozens of driven U.S. university students to win the national competition. It led her towards the finals.
Uniquely, she embodied two countries at once. \”I represented Venezuela and its many immigrants who leave their lives behind to construct a better future,\” she said in a statement. \”I also represented the United States, the country [that] has opened its doors in my experience and given me more than I could ask for.\”
Blanco remains tightly knit to her home country, which has undergone shattering upheaval in recent years.
According to the U.N., more than five million Venezuelans have been displaced as the nation has unraveled. Shortages of food, healthcare, and basic necessities have affected millions of people – including Blanco's mother.
Difficult For Dreams
\”It became difficult for Daniela to pursue her dreams in Venezuela,\” said Foster. \”She found the U.S. and entered a doctoral program at NYU. But, whole time, one half of her mind is always back home with her mother.\”
The young scientist says she advanced thanks to her mother, \”a brilliant engineer who sacrificed everything\” for her. In a tear-filled scene, her mother shows up at the GSEA business competition finals in Macau, China.
\”My mom is my everything. Like a single mom and the kindest woman I know, she has always been my role model. I frequently get to present my work and concepts. But GSEA has been the one place where I possibly could tell the world how incredible she is.\”
With its globe-spanning wide lens, the documentary elevates unique, diverse experiences. Intimate scenes of family life reveal how such bonds create strength and drive entrepreneurs to innovate.
Telling Sequence Reveals Discrimination in China
The film hints at China's recent egregious human rights issues. One student faced discrimination leading up to the finale.
Kenyan entrepreneur Henry Onyango had created an Airbnb-like online marketplace. It makes housing options for college students transparent and accessible. When his idea beat out dozens of others, he attempted to join students from 50 other countries en route to Macau.
He arrived with similar documents and reasons for entering as other students. Yet Chinese custom officials barred only Onyango, a black man, from entering. It reflects around the nation's long-standing racism.
This drama adds intrigue to the film. Yet it was \”not an enjoyable chapter while we were dealing with it,\” said co-director Costantini. \”It was heartbreaking and extremely terrible [that] Henry wasn't going to be allowed in. This was one of several hurdles that he had to hop over to be able to pitch. He had to operate twice as hard as everybody else.\”
The Person Who Steps Up
More than entertainment, filmmakers hope Own the area spurs viewers to act on entrepreneurial ideas. \”We spend a lot of time complaining about problems in this world,\” said Foster. \”But are you going to be the person who steps up?” he asked.
\”That's what all five of those students did. They stood up to try to make a difference in their communities but for the world.\”
Own the Room is streaming now worldwide on Disney Plus.