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Caralyn Rodriguez

CEO & Founder, Exigent Creative Solutions

"The skills I learned at CSP are transferable. Being able to work with different people, learning how to motivate your team– things every leader needs."

Why did you choose Concordia University, St. Paul?

I was looking for a Lutheran/religious school. I researched more about the Concordia University System and liked St. Paul a lot. Living in Michigan, it was nice to be a little further away from home. I was also intrigued by the honors program at the time, which was an interdisciplinary approach. I also really loved the Christus Choir; I’d been singing since I was 12 and wanted to incorporate that into my experience.

What were your favorite experiences while at CSP?

My favorite moments were the trips. Christus Choir toured in South Korea in 2012.  Seoul is not somewhere I would have gone on my own, but being able to perform there, see the culture, meet local families via the homestays—was very impactful.

The honors experience was also special for me. There were only seven of us in the Delta class, so we were close. I also loved the program’s focus and structure:  we did a service project and had a service-learning year as our focus. I taught a music class to adults with autism. I did all the research, created the programming, and ran the class. My students saw and experienced so much joy in their interaction with music.

Who was a professor that helped you grow?

Dr. Mark Schuler. He worked closely with the honors program, all of our general education classes went through him, and I took a lot of biblical studies classes with him. We hosted honors “family” parties; we even had a “family” Christmas picture. It was a really inclusive family atmosphere that both Drs. Schuler created for us.

It was also a place to learn how to learn. My intro to history class with Dr. Hillmer taught us to see beyond the words and ask questions. Everyone that’s ever written anything is also adding/filtering their work through their world experience. So, we learned to take apart texts. It impacted how I approached learning and information intake.

What is the most valuable takeaway from your time at CSP?

The realization that I have the tools to learn anything that I might need to learn. I changed my major more times than I remember. I changed careers a few times, too. Even now, established businesses change direction and pivot somewhat frequently.

CSP gave me the confidence to learn. It might be really hard to learn, but you can learn it. I also learned how to make adjustments. It’s not the end of the world if your plan changes. I was going to be a secondary Lutheran education teacher, and that’s not the route my life took. That’s okay.

In what ways do you feel CSP prepared you to pursue your career path?

The skills I learned at CSP are transferable. Being able to work with different people, learning how to motivate your team– things every leader needs.

I was also on Student Council for a year, and I learned a lot of business etiquette: meeting minutes, rules of order, conducting meetings, etc. This gave me an edge when I stepped into my career as I was already familiar with it in business settings.

Tell us about the creation of your business, Exigent. 

When I graduated from CSP, I was getting ready to go into a master’s program, and I started interning at an automotive supplier working in quality. In my spare time, I looked for projects and noticed there wasn’t a lot of consistency in the look and branding of the company. So, I asked if I could work on the logo. I started building skills with the resources available and came up with a concept for a consistent logo. I implemented it and ended up doing a whole rebrand for them. It was my first step into marketing and branding.

I did logos and rebrands, worked on vendor websites, partnered with the video team and web teams, and later had one staff and an intern as part of my team. Eventually, I needed more in-house help, which wasn’t possible at the time. So, I asked, “What if I go out and start something new, would you still work with us as an outside vendor?” The answer was yes, so I began negotiating our contract.

It was a huge stepping stone for me, but I knew I had the skills and the built-in customers to begin. As an outside company, I had more freedom to build my team. We’re a team of four now. It’s been rewarding to bring that group together, see these women grow their own skill sets, and grow as professionals to meet the needs of different clients. Surround yourself with a team that is more talented than you!

You’re a female business owner, creating and collaborating with three other women, all in the beginning stages of your careers, working in a male-dominated industry. 

What do you love most about it? What challenges are there?

I think a challenge in our industry is sometimes more about age than gender. For someone who has been working in the automotive industry for 30 years, it can be really hard to accept a 28-year-old coming in and saying you need to make changes.

I think there is a lot that we as younger consumers know instinctively about marketing and design. My generation grew up with the internet so we have a different way of interacting with companies and a different set of expectations about what should be available online. Many of our customers, who had a different sales experience throughout their career, aren’t willing to just take our word for it. We have learned to take a step back and find really strong data to prove what we know is the right thing for the brands we are working for.

If you could give advice to a student who wants to pursue a similar path, what would it be?

Learn as much as you can, even outside what you think you need to. So much in business is interconnected. It’s important to have a broad reach in different areas or disciplines. It’s been really helpful in my career.

Find a mentor. Ideally, someone you can learn from, someone in the same field, even someone who just started a business.

Also, if you’re starting a business, you need access to some practical skills. You need to know about taxes, legal paperwork, etc.

Get involved in your community. Join the chamber of commerce. Get exposure and make connections. We need a lot of help to be business owners, and that’s okay. Surround yourself with people to learn from.