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From Engineer to Entrepreneur: Danielle Stepien’s Journey

From Engineer to Entrepreneur: Danielle Stepien’s Journey

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From Engineer to Entrepreneur: Danielle Stepien’s Journey

Sometimes, your career offers everything you want: steady hours, good benefits, and good pay. But good isn’t always good enough, especially in a challenging field like engineering.

That was the case for Danielle Stepien, the founder of Igniter Engineering, a consulting firm that provides technical experience to the aerospace, defense, and tech industries.

Danielle Stepien founder of Igniter Engineering

Stepien’s resume includes stints at big-name companies, including Boeing, SpaceX, Meta, and Google, but she said she was tired of having a cap on her salary, and more importantly, because she wanted to work at a company that “respected women like me,” and would reward her for her “unique skillset and capabilities.”

One of the biggest obstacles to getting Igniter off the ground was the money. Stepien went to multiple banks, with contracts in hand that guaranteed profits, and was turned away from every lender.

“The business was less than two years old, and apparently, a bunch of other startups defaulted on their loans during the pandemic, so I was told to just use business credit cards to start out,” Stepien said. I had a decent amount saved up, but building a business like Igniter from scratch was incredibly challenging, especially with severely limited funding options at the beginning.”

She managed to make it work, though, and by this point, she had expanded Igniter’s team to include multiple employees.

Becoming an entrepreneur is risky, but it’s not just the one big leap of quitting your job and starting a business. Success comes from boldness and recognizing that the worst someone can say is ‘no.’

That’s how Stepien landed her first client – she landed a contract position and asked if the company would be willing to hire her as Igniter Engineering instead.

“They said yes. There was an upside for them, too – they wouldn’t have to pay me benefits or any 401k,” Stepien said. “I was shocked when they said yes, and I was very nervous to even ask.”

She credits her mentors and network for pushing her to take such risks and for being there to support her and help her find work. Throughout her journey, Stepien relied on several resources to help her navigate the challenges of starting and running a business. LinkedIn proved invaluable for networking, enabling her to connect with potential clients, collaborators, and industry experts, while Quickbooks helped make bookkeeping easy. However, one of the most transformative resources for Stepien was SCORE, a fully free business mentorship program that provided guidance, support, and advice as she navigated the ups and downs of entrepreneurship. She also listened to popular podcasts like Tim Ferriss and How I Built This with Guy Raz, in addition to reading books like Buy, then Build, which helped her learn how to do due diligence on buying and selling businesses.

Stepien has learned other lessons along the way, ones that can’t be taught.

“Make sure you love what you do. You’ll have many long nights, and it’s much easier if you love what you’re doing,” Stepien said. “And never give up. You can take a “break” and go back to “real” employment to gain more money and come back to your business anytime. But if you really want to succeed, keep your paperwork up to date so you can pick up where you left off when you’re ready.”

A point of pride in getting her business up and running is that she never had to offer equity to hire employees. Stepien owns the business lock, stock, and barrel.

“I’m very proud that I started this business 100% by myself… I’ve never gotten a penny from an outside funding source,” Stepien said. “I started this company when I was 26, it is now a three-year-old, successful company. I’m proud that I can serve as a role model for other females in male-dominated industries to be their true, authentic selves and never settle.”

This material is property of StartingYourBusiness.com

Your Turn

Danielle Stepien’s story demonstrates that a lack of funding doesn’t have to be a roadblock to starting a business. Despite being turned down by multiple banks, these financial constraints actually fueled her creativity and determination, and she found creative ways to finance her startup. If funding is keeping you from starting your business, let us know in the comments what steps you could take to leverage your existing resources and skills to bootstrap your business idea and get it off the ground.

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From Engineer to Entrepreneur: Danielle Stepien’s Journey

From Engineer to Entrepreneur: Danielle Stepien’s Journey

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