A Wholesome Blend Of Storytelling: A Tribute To Erik Modahl & A Recounting Of My Time With ESADE Business & Law School

Unexpected. Wonderfully unexpected. That’s the best way I can describe a recent experience which I had with my mentor, Erik Modahl at one of his community gatherings at CIC here in Boston.

“Steven, come meet my friend Guillermo and some other amazing people! It’ll be great!” Erik said, his smile brighter than a sunbeam, and after years spent by his side — learning, growing as both an entrepreneur as well as an individual, I found the opportunity irresistible. I’d been shown, time after time, that a good mentor guides the student on adventures which are sometimes random but always rewarding. This hearkens back, in many ways, to another mentor (Tom Maloney) who taught me: “You never know who you’re going to meet. Tell your story. Your real story….and bring your business card!”.

I met Erik in an equally unexpected sort of way. At the time I was interested in studying at the Startup Institute, and was very warmly received by them as a prospect. While I didn’t end up studying there, it left me with a very positive impression of the institution. As a matter of course Startup Institute holds an Open Doors Event for the community, and the event that year took place at the brilliant District Hall.

From the moment we engaged in conversation, I knew there was something different about this tall, neat, and truly nice man. It wasn’t simply the calmness in his voice or the ease of his expressiveness. Obviously he was intelligent, but there was a complement to every usual quality. His entrepreneurial mind was the result of curiosity, his whole professional background had a prevailing element of people-first, community-focused and all-natural to it.

Erik is spiritual, but not religious. Enterprising, but not all business. He will talk to anyone and, in fact, I’m proof of that. Who was I that night at District Hall? Just a novice startup kid really…I had no investor backing, no portfolio overflowing with projects, I couldn’t even play ping pong and the only thing I’d “innovated” was a way to post as many typing cat GIFs on Twitter as it would take to make my small community of supporters laugh.

Still, Erik spoke with me like I was an MVP. He didn’t ask about how much money I’d made, what powerful connections I might possess which could help him further his ambitions. He asked me these questions:

“How are you? What brings you here? How can I help? Would you like to be friends?”

Just like Tom, Erik asked what brought me to the event. He was interested in me as a person and not as a potential client or commodity. This is key. It’s why his social entrepreneurship is as authentic as water is to the sea and oxygen to our true-blue atmosphere.

If our intentions in connecting are well-made, we not only have a higher rate of success in securing those essential partnerships and relationships…we’re helping others and there is both a need for that as well a nobility because of it.

At CIC I was directed to the 20th floor, and a sense of the momentous was building. Why was I suddenly feeling slightly different? Not as I usually would as a simple attendee…a feeling, deep inside, that something was about to happen.

There was the beautiful CIC interior architecture which I’d come to appreciate from the Startup Institute, but also Founders Live and Startup Boston. There was Erik with his cold brew equipment in the corner, the best of Beantrust (including two wonderful helpers) and three seats for a panel with one unoccupied.

“Hi Steven! Come in, come in! Take a seat….” and…Erik pointed to the empty panelist’s chair. Surely I’d not seen things right. Me? The note-taker, the chronicler, a bit good at networking but never a panelist…never. Until I was. At that very moment, spurred on by my mentor and the smiles from my peers and the gracious attendees.

Social entrepreneurship was the theme. On my left sat Rachel ‘O Neil and on my right Michaela Herrmann. Rachel ‘O Neil and Michaela were highly experienced, insightful, engaged with Erik and our captive audience with a blend of teaching, storytelling and good humour. I did my very best!

Our audience, by the way, were the brilliant students and their teachers from the ESADE Business & Law School based in Barcelona. The history of this school, its accomplishments and both the passion and ability of its community is, frankly, humbling. I’m reminded of a famous quote from Saint Ignatius of Loyola: “Teach us to give without counting the cost…” and, indeed, this is highly emblematic and representative of both ESADE and this teaching experience in general.

I spoke on the value of listening, on ways to improve how we converse with others in networking situations, on how storytelling is central to the social entrepreneurship experience. Rachel made us all laugh with her metaphor on watering rocks (not expending valuable time on useless things) and Michaela warmed our hearts by giving us insight into her work with Malayka House and how Boston Offices enables her to commit to the former’s further growth and success.

In the end, I learned more than I instructed…and felt that this random but rewarding moment was significant.

Erik has always placed in front of me chances for further understanding, enhancement of skill, and most importantly a chance to create impact and do good. Every morning he checks in on me despite his busy schedule. He is a well-worn traveler, an industrious but extremely giving nurturer of those networks which naturally form around common themes of stewardship, establishment of great spaces, cultivation of ideas and providing high-quality, wholesome services.

The reason why so many of us know him isn’t simply due to how active and productive he is. He’s memorable. The reason for this is because, again, he actually cares and has proven it time and time again.

Social entrepreneurship was, indeed, a fitting theme. For here’s a person whose friendliness and hard work seamlessly combine. Very grateful he’s a mentor of mine.