The Trojan Empowering Student Entrepreneurs

| May 10, 2023

Sarah Hakim, ’23, helped create Trojan Marketplace, a student-run market featuring exclusively Trojan-owned small businesses.

Sarah Hakim

Sarah Hakim — graduating senior in the Daniel J. Epstein Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering. Image/Lee Hernandez.

As a young girl from Los Angeles whose dream job was to be an inventor, Sarah Hakim now has all the tools she needs to bring an idea to fruition. Hakim wasn’t entirely certain of her long-term goals when she first embarked on her engineering path. What she did have was a passion for bringing her own ideas to life.

“I thought it was cool that someone could think of something in their brain — they have an idea, and then they’ll just create it,” Hakim said. “Then, when it came to actually choosing something to pursue, I knew that engineering would give me the tools and the skills to actually create an idea. Even though I wasn’t ever really 100% sure of the passions I had or exactly what I wanted in the future, I knew engineering would give me the best foundation.”

Hakim rotated through various specializations throughout her time at USC, including civil engineering and mechanical engineering. She is now graduating from USC Viterbi as an industrial and systems engineer with a concentration in information systems.

For Hakim “engineering is really just innovation,” which is why she has been working hard to help entrepreneurs and innovators make their dreams a reality via her creation, Trojan Marketplace — a student-run market that features exclusively Trojan-owned small businesses. The goal is to uplift the entrepreneurship ecosystem at USC by empowering student entrepreneurs and bringing the USC entrepreneurial community together. Trojan Marketplace serves as an experimentation zone where entrepreneurs from USC can gain the confidence to proceed with their endeavors.

Sarah Hakim with Trojan Marketplace co-founder Erik Cruz (Middle) and co-president Melis Kolat (Right). Image/Sarah Hakim.

Sarah Hakim with Trojan Marketplace co-founder Erik Cruz (Middle) and co-president Melis Kolat (Right). Image/William Higbie.

Trojan Marketplace originated as a committee developed by Hakim and Erik Cruz within the entrepreneurial student organization Spark SC. Spark focuses on organizing events and initiatives to foster entrepreneurial opportunities at USC.

“Three semesters ago, one of the committees at Spark was Trojan Marketplace. Then, in order to get funding and expand, we decided to make it its own Registered Student Organization. I was president of it last semester, and then it moved on to new leadership,” Hakim said.

Hakim said that launching Trojan Marketplace was an achievement she was most passionate about during her time at USC.

The first event accumulated over 1000 visitors in three hours. There have been three iterations of the marketplace so far, with over 100 student entrepreneurs participating.

“I feel like it was amazing to have an event for students by students. An event that just uplifts the community that’s usually not represented,” Hakim said. “We really have uplifted creators who are women, first-generation, first-time entrepreneurs. We gave them that platform, and they have gone on to create businesses. I think that’s my biggest impact. The thing I’m proudest about.”

Hakim said she enjoyed walking around the marketplace on event days and seeing so many people from different degrees, from artists to philosophy majors.

“We had people who ended up selling for the first time at our event set up Instagrams and their own businesses, and they’re doing it outside of USC too,” Hakim said. “We had some people sell food; some people are selling waist beads — there were so many things.”

Sellers and patrons at Trojan Marketplace. Image/Sarah Hakim

Sellers and patrons at Trojan Marketplace. Image/William Higbie

Hakim’s best advice to incoming USC students applies to everyone, no matter your degree or program.

“I remember even when I was uncertain about things, I put 100% of my energy into it, and it was always a learning experience. I feel like I took away a lot from each experience,” Hakim said.

During her time at USC Viterbi Hakim’s favorite class was Human Computer Interface Design with Professor Yalda Khashe and guest speaker Professor Najmedin Meshkati.

During a project in this class, Hakim developed an app for students on campus wanting to find people and a space to play sports. Say you want to play soccer on campus but do not have enough friends available to make a whole soccer team; the app will connect you to other students who wish to play. Hakim explains that it could also coordinate finding a time to go to a particular field. While the project was mainly in the design process, this app further demonstrates Hakim’s innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.

Reflecting on her time at USC, Hakim feels like her most significant growth area has been learning the importance of working with others and leveraging their ideas.

“I think a lot of times coming into engineering, you think it’s just you and your learning and how you’re going to figure things out,” Hakim said. “But then USC has just such a stellar group of people who have so many ideas, and when you collaborate with them, the idea just becomes exponentially better and more creative.”

After graduation, Hakim plans to travel for a while before harnessing all her experience from her time at USC in a product management graduate role at Microsoft.

Published on May 10th, 2023

Last updated on May 10th, 2023

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