EDISON, NJ — Ever felt like an underdog? Vedika Dayal, a sophomore at UC Berkeley, always has — even while growing up in Edison. Now, she’s releasing her very own book, Think Outside the Odds, about how being the underdog fosters innovation.
After Dayal learned about entrepreneurs she looked to for inspiration, she discovered many of their stories shared one important similarity: They all came from unconventional paths or rocky starts and eventually built something that became wildly successful.
“A lot of them are still growing, and they remember this time not too long ago when they were struggling to create something new,” Dayal says. “I found that, for me, there was this gap in their stories and the way that we hear it in the press...that they're the underdog. Then, they become these people that are fueled by being the underdog, and they say things like, ‘My disadvantages allowed me to be successful.”
Dayal was curious to find out just how these entrepreneurs went from underdog to topdog. So, she began her journey of reaching out and interviewing them on how that transition happened.
Think Outside the Odds includes 13 chapters with 13 stories from a wide range of diverse innovators, such as immigrants, women and people of color. It also contains research and insights to turn the book’s frameworks and principles into actionable steps.
“They all come from very different backgrounds, but the one thing that they have in common is that they really had to struggle to get there,” Dayal says. “There’s so much to their background and their story, and really, that fueled them to create and to build. That’s what is really exciting to me.”
Dayal’s “absolute favorite story” is about Alice Waters, a chef, activist and entrepreneur.
Waters grew up in Chatham, N.J. and studied French Literature at UC Berkeley. In 1971, she started her own restaurant, Chez Panisse, with a fiery passion for food yet zero culinary experience. Despite being 27 and never cooking, she gravitated toward bringing the French tradition of fresh, locally grown food to America.
“She comes up with this very wild idea. She finds herself in these situations where she’s at a fancy cooking competition...she’s the only woman in the room many times, and there’ll be many men around her with these fancy food sculptures and very eclectic American dishes,” Dayal says. “And she’s always there holding a salad, and that’s what she competes with every single time.”
Those who tried Waters’ salads praised them by saying they were the best they’d ever had. The enthusiastic feedback helped her grow her restaurant, which is considered to be the most influential of its time. Waters is known as a pioneer in the Slow Food movement and a changemaker.
Dayal is making changes herself as the Director of Marketing for Berkeley’s Global Management Program, the Entrepreneurial Lead for Berkeley’s annual venture capital competition, and a consultant for the Association for Socially Responsible Business.
Her entrepreneurial spirit blossomed as a child, which she attributes to living in Edison. “There’s this environment of ambition and drive in Edison that I think you just don’t get anywhere else,” Dayal says.
Dayal recalls being a fifth grader and telling her teacher, Ms. Landrove, that she wanted to make a movie.
“That was the first time I’d ever created something new of my own. I think in any other school district, they would have thought I was off my rocker, but Ms. Landrove fully supported it. She was there for me. And more than that, my classmates were there for me,” she says.
A young Dayal wrote a script, directed the movie and had her classmates act in it. The entire class was fully supportive of helping make her fifth grade vision come to life.
“Ever since then, I’ve always loved creating new things and Edison has been an environment that’s supported that,” she says.
Dayal says attending J.P. Stevens High School had a great influence on her journey. Her passion for English, which is what led her to write a book, was ignited by her teachers, Ms. Achiron, Ms. Hedges, Ms. Durso and Ms. Downey She also mentions how choir with Mr. Lee taught her to not just like STEM, but to also explore art, creativity and subjectivity.
“The thing that I loved about Edison was it taught me to love innovation and businesses. I got involved with some of the small businesses in our area,” Dayal says. “For example, I was leading marketing at AE2 Learning. I think being able to see firsthand the love that has to go into a small business really fostered my love for business, for entrepreneurship, for innovation.”
So, what’s next for Dayal?
“I think that writing this book and hearing how many different paths there are to get to so many different places — there's not a linear path to get to where I want to be — has inspired me. It's also made me wary of creating a plan and trying to think like, ‘Oh, this is exactly where I want to be in three years or four years or after I graduate,’” she says. “I think hearing from all these entrepreneurs and seeing how flexible and fluid their journeys are, I just kind of want to play it by ear and see what excites me.”
Whichever route she decides to take is bound to be just as motivating as her book. Think Outside the Odds is a book for everyone — students, dreamers, underdogs, creatives, builders, entrepreneurs, those who aspire to inspire.
The funding campaign for Think Outside the Odds can be found here. Pre-orders are available for its release in April 2021. Other perks include cover selection, early access to chapters, and access to an online community with others also interested in entrepreneurship and innovation. It will later be available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.