This post was originally published on NOEW.org. New Orleans Entrepreneur Week is an annual festival celebrating entrepreneurship and innovation in New Orleans.
Andre Champagne was working on the film set of Autopsy, a horror thriller in Baton Rouge, Louisiana in August 2007, when he collapsed and was carried off set and immediately taken to a nearby hospital.
Under care in the Intensive Care Unit, he was being fed through multiple IVs and his weight had dropped to roughly 125 pounds while he battled excruciating bouts of stomach pains.
He fell in and out of consciousness for days, with the pain so intense that only high dosages of morphine injections could offer temporary relief.
Doctors feared the worst— organ failure— and that he wouldn’t survive. At 25, it was a nearly fatal attack of Crohn’s—a chronic inflammatory disease that wreaks havoc on patients’ GI tracts leaving them with excruciating episodes of stomach pains and digestive symptoms.
Champagne was clinging to his life.
“I remember praying every day that I would get my health back. Nothing else mattered except God, my family, and my health,” Champagne said. “All I wanted was to grab my phone and call all of the people who I possibly could and tell them how much I cared about them and how much of an impact they had on my life, because I really thought it was the end,” Champagne said.
But he survived.
And he says it was a miraculous second chance at life. Within ten days, he recovered, and was able to walk out of the hospital. That experience not only altered the course of his life, but it also catalyzed the creation of the global company he now runs.
“I became fearless and said if I’m going to do this, if every single day of my life that I have is one that I feel has been given to me, then I’m going to do everything that I can to make the most of it,” Champagne said.
Two months later, he co-founded Hollywood Trucks, a state-of-the-art eco-friendly transportation services and logistics company serving the entertainment industry.
The Entrepreneur Lifestyle
But even long before then, Champagne had been no stranger to high-risk stakes, and was leading what he calls “the pure entrepreneur’s life”.
“I was born in Louisiana and moved to California to pursue the entertainment industry,” Champagne said. “When I got there, I had a one bedroom apartment, with no furniture and I had about $75 per week, just doing anything and everything I could not only to make ends meet, but to pursue my dream.”
More than once he’d been very ill with no health insurance, and was admitted to the hospital as a charity case. Then in 2007, Champagne was lured back home by attractive tax incentives in the burgeoning film industry.
At the time of his near fatal attack, he was working 20-hour days, fulfilling three different roles in the film production. The extremely demanding schedule took a huge toll on his health. But it was also during that time that Champagne recognized an opportunity. The film industry in Louisiana was experiencing an extreme challenge in transportation logistics. That’s when he and his friend conceived the idea for Hollywood Trucks.
Armed with a new perspective on life and risk after his experience, Champagne took a leap of faith.
Next year, Hollywood Trucks will see its largest expansion to date with over 300 trucks currently deployed, over 600 planned by 2017, and offices opening in California, Georgia, New York, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
The company is also expanding into new emerging markets including commercial applications, disaster relief, mobile medical and other off-grid mobile deployments—that’s transportation talk for mobile trailers that can be pulled up or dropped into any location in the world and they also run in an off-grid, patented energy system.
Champagne saw his own debilitating illness as an opportunity. The experience completely shifted redefined what success means to him.
“I’ve learned that your thoughts create your reality. Things are as stressful as you make them. It’s not what happens, it’s what you do about it and what you think about it that counts,” Champagne said.
The life-altering experience gave him a sense of fearlessness as an entrepreneur. And he says it’s conditioned him to be both a better person and business leader.
“If you can beat a chronic illness, there’s nothing in business that you can’t handle. I really believe that,” Champagne said. “Business is about decisions and reactions, and someone undergoes handling a chronic illness, to me, that is far more difficult than making business decisions that requires specific calculations.”
Creating a New Reality
Now, with the aid of a good doctor, a new medication, and adherence to a strict diet—he keeps a stockpile of engineered nutrition, MRTs, protein bars, and clean carbohydrate packets with him at all times— he’s able to manage the illness and lead a healthy and productive life.
But it still comes with its own share of challenges, like managing the unpredictable onset of painful symptoms, or the frustration of scheduling important meetings, and not being able to attend them because of uncontrollable health factors.
The toughest ones are those that are out of his control, Champagne says, and so much of living with a chronic illness requires maintaining mental stamina. It means having good days, better days, and bad days, which can be both physically and mentally taxing.
But Champagne remains an unyielding optimist, insisting that the most powerful tool that entrepreneurs possesses is the mind.
“Yes, there will be tough things that we deal with each day. But they are only as tough as you mentally make them,” Champagne says. “I try to find the good in each day.”
Much like managing a chronic illness, being an entrepreneur comes with inevitable highs, lows, and unforeseen setbacks. But regardless of circumstances in both business and life, Champagne says that we always have the option to choose the way we move forward from setbacks.
“That experience navigated how I made decisions moving forward. It allowed me and my team to make decisions that were intelligently thought out, but fearless. I wasn’t afraid of losing anything, because I didn’t place value on material assets. I placed value on my team’s quality of life,” Champagne said.
He did what entrepreneurs do — convert problems into opportunities — and willfully turned his illness into his greatest asset.