Christian Nderu is not your typical student entrepreneur. As a senior majoring in Experience Architecture within MSU’s College of Arts & Letters, he possesses a rare blend of artistic sensibility and entrepreneurial acumen. Awarded the prestigious 2023 Ian Gray Scholarship in Entrepreneurial Studies by the MSU Innovation Center, Nderu’s journey is a testament to the transformative power of creativity, community, and courage.
Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Nderu moved to Mombasa, Kenya, at the age of 3 or 4. He spent the rest of his childhood oscillating between Nairobi, Kenya’s bustling capital, and the serene coastal city of Mombasa. This transcontinental upbringing afforded him a rich tapestry of experiences that fuels his unique perspective.
“It has given me opportunities to engage with different cultures,” Nderu said. “My upbringing in Kenya made me aware of the challenges that many face globally, nurturing my open-mindedness and driving my curiosity to solve problems.”
Fostering an Entrepreneurial Mindset
Nderu’s connection to entrepreneurship began in childhood, thanks to his grandparents who ran a family hotel. Immersed in this environment, he witnessed the multifaceted nature of running a business, from catering to guests to troubleshooting kitchen crises. This hands-on experience influenced his entrepreneurial aspirations, teaching him that entrepreneurship isn’t just about making money but impacting lives.
“Ultimately, entrepreneurship is about solving problems and enhancing the quality of life,” he said. “The best entrepreneurs, like Brian Chesky and Sal Khan, are those who are motivated by impact rather than profit.”
“The entrepreneurial mindset is solutions-oriented, perfect for receiving feedback and problem-solving. On the other hand, design thinking helps us to deconstruct problems from all angles. Both are invaluable skills in my career.”
Although he doesn’t see himself as an entrepreneur just yet, Nderu is a brand and experience designer with an entrepreneurial flair. His Experience Architecture major and participation in the programs offered by the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship and Innovation, including the minor in Entrepreneurship and Innovation, have shaped a problem-solving mindset that merges entrepreneurial strategies with design thinking.
“The entrepreneurial mindset is solutions-oriented, perfect for receiving feedback and problem-solving,” he said. “On the other hand, design thinking helps us to deconstruct problems from all angles. Both are invaluable skills in my career.”
A Community of Innovators
Initially joining the Burgess Institute as an intern seeking graphic design opportunities, Nderu soon discovered a like-minded community of aspiring entrepreneurs. The program aligned with his passion for design and provided him with resources to explore financial solutions through blockchain technology—a problem that once almost left him stranded during a winter break.
“The Burgess community is truly amazing,” he said. “It’s a support network of talented students and committed faculty who provide guidance, inspiration, and direction.”
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Burgess Institute and the donors. This scholarship propels me to work even harder towards my goals.”
Each year, the MSU Innovation Center awards the Ian Gray Scholarship in Entrepreneurial Studies to an MSU student exhibiting exceptional qualities of an entrepreneur. Named after Dr. Ian Gray, who spearheaded the creation of the Innovation Center and served as Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies at MSU for nearly a decade, this scholarship honors Nderu’s determination as a young, motivated creator.
For Nderu, the Ian Gray Scholarship is more than just financial aid; it is a nod of approval from a community that has become an integral part of his academic journey.
“I’m incredibly grateful to the Burgess Institute and the donors,” he said. “This scholarship propels me to work even harder towards my goals.”
As the recipient of the Ian Gray Scholarship, Nderu will receive $2,000 per semester to help cover tuition or student expenses.
With a hopeful eye on the future, Nderu plans to work as a junior designer in marketing or branding agencies post-graduation. Cities like Chicago, Denver, Detroit, or New York are on his radar. Through his work, he aims to continue impacting lives — whether that be through design or a return to entrepreneurship later in life
“To me, it’s all about making a few people’s lives easier,” Nderu said. “Whether through design or entrepreneurship, I want to contribute to something greater than myself.”
To learn more about Nderu’s journey, visit his website.
(Written by Aaryn Richard and originally published by the Burgess Institute for Entrepreneurship & Innovation.)