Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • September 6th, 2016

Nearly half a century ago, during the fall of Saigon, two teenagers boarded teetering escape boats, leaving family and country behind. At a refugee camp in Cambodia, the two met for the first time. But the boy had been sponsored to go to the United States, while the girl had received sponsorship from England.

Despite an ocean, the two remained connected, writing regularly. After high school, the girl traveled to America to visit, falling in love with the boy behind the letters and deciding to marry. This is the story of Lavinia Doan’s parents.

Lavinia is a chemical engineering and STEM Path to the MBA student. Her parents’ tale of perseverance is what pushed her to achieve all that she has at The University of Alabama.

When her father came to America, he had nothing. Yet after the war he sent money back home to feed his parents and five sisters.

“Everything I’ve done is in that spirit,” Doan said. “I’ve had so many resources, and if they could build the life they have now out of nothing, then I should make the most out of all I’ve been given.”

Doan and her team won the Weekend Start Up Competition, with her idea of custom nail-polish kiosks.

Doan started young. In first grade, she held a carnival in her backyard to raise money to buy her parents a nice dinner.

“My parents thought I was crazy,” said Doan. “I was always selling homemade potholders, lemonade or winning the school’s fundraising competition. My hobby has always been creating business.”

At UA, Doan mentioned her idea for a custom nail-polish creation kiosk to Dr. Rob Morgan, STEM Path to the MBA director. Customers could create their own color combinations and finishes for the polish. Instantly, Morgan encouraged Doan to apply for UA’s Startup Weekend competition.

It began with about 50 people pitching startup ideas to the judges. Doan was one of the top 10 to advance to the next round. At the end of the three-day competition, Doan’s team had won.

She brings the same zeal to her charitable works. Last Christmas Doan baked 2,000 cookies in her little residence hall kitchen and raised $1,100 for the Salvation Army’s Angel Tree program.

Doan is also a leader and mentor. As director of career and personal development for her sorority, Chi Omega, she helped students with résumé and interview prepping, and also found time to mentor Tuscaloosa high school students.

“A lot of people my age don’t really have the direction to get to where they want to be in their careers, so I offered myself as a mentor to anyone who needed help,” Doan said.

Doan’s work didn’t go unnoticed. She was inducted into the Anderson Society, one of the University’s most selective honor societies. Doan was elected group president; she is also president of Rho Lambda, National Sorority Leadership Recognition Society. IMG_3452

Moving forward, Doan wants to put all of her energy into her nail kiosks. She’s working now to find investors and secure a patent.

While she didn’t have to sail across an ocean to get here as her parents did, Doan’s own story is a journey of success.