Tell us what we need to know about you.
This is sort of a sabbatical or a new phase for me after spending just over 20 years in nonprofits. My last job ended in December 2015. I had some health issues. And I turned 40. A whole bunch of milestones and inflection points occurred, which made me start reflecting about where I want to go from here.
When you get good at something, it becomes a paradox, because you start to get bored when you’re not challenged anymore.
I was at that point where I had learned enough that I could continue on that path and do it in my sleep, or be really stressed out as a nonprofit executive director. I didn’t want to go either of those paths. I wanted to have more time and freedom to do something different while continuing to make an impact. Entrepreneurship seemed to be the only way. But then what?
I began consulting, keeping one foot in the nonprofit space by doing grant writing, strategic planning, and development. My last project was managing an initiative that was supporting women entrepreneurs in Africa. A lot of my background is designing training and learning development workshops, so I was applying that to the entrepreneurship space. And when I got to sit in on all of these really powerful entrepreneurship trainings in Africa for African women, I was like, I really need to do that here in America because I know plenty of people that could use that, including me! So I was organizing an accelerator for African women, while at the same time plotting about how I could do another type of accelerator here in the States.
Fast forward to INVANTI — when I saw the opportunity to apply and live in a new place, experience a part of America I had never been, and really take a deep dive into entrepreneurship and supporting small businesses, I said, this is perfect. You didn’t have to have an idea and try to tell someone that they’ll make a million bucks off of you. You can develop the idea as part of the program. So it was really perfect for me.
The switch to entrepreneurship was to find a different way of making an impact on the world in a way that I hope is more financially sustainable. I know how to do the treadmill of grant development and corporate sponsorships, but I think even both donors and nonprofits feel that at some point it’s not sustainable. You need a revenue base. But most nonprofits don’t know how to start or run a business that will generate income to finance your impact work. That’s starting to catch on, but there’s still some suspicion about it. But at the same time, if you run out of money, you can’t serve anyone. I think the sector is grappling with that.
It’s almost like a dirty word to say business in the nonprofit sector. It’s a fear of losing the mission, losing focus, or that you won’t be able to serve people in the right way.
There’s also a problem with people from CSR, the big corporates, using some of the same language, but it’s more like an arm of their public relations. So they commit a crisis, like some environmental atrocity, and then they start doing grants and environmental work, but they still keep spilling oil and cutting down trees or whatever they’re doing.
When you end up in that same space talking about social enterprise, then there is suspicion over the whole sector. In this experience, I think a lot of small businesses, because they live in the community, drink the water, and breathe the air, don’t want to make the same mistakes.
Small businesses have the most incentive to do good and to want to be sustainable. I want to try to integrate that into to what I’m doing for this cohort.
What was it about INVANTI that made you feel like it might be the place to do the kind of work you’re talking about?
In the application process, where we did a problem and opportunity identification exercise, Dustin + Maria were more interested in how you think, how you identify problems, and how you identify potentially commercially viable solutions. As opposed to other types of accelerators who want to see revenue, traction numbers of customers, the lifetime value of the customer, blah, blah, blah. It’s all numbers and impact comes later and is like icing on the cake, like some cool thing about your brand. But it’s not really something that they’re interested in.
There might be a couple of accelerators that deal with that side but even then, it’s hard to balance, whereas INVANTI is more interested in the solutions being viable because it’s in a small town, it’s in the community. They also promoted themselves as part co-founders with you, so you’re not on your own entering a shark tank every week. I feel like that is a much more supportive way of delving into entrepreneurship.
How have you enjoyed South Bend so far?
All I could think about was winters and the small population. I was born and raised in Queens, New York City, which they say if Queens was its own country, it would be like the 10th largest economy in the world, which is crazy. It’s all very crowded and very expensive.
I thought that this will be out of my comfort zone, but it’ll be a place to really experience if I could live the lifestyle that I say I want to live. If I live in a place that is slower paced, am I going to be frustrated? Or am I gonna adjust and really enjoy it? If I live in a place where the cost of living is less, will I be able to adjust to that? Because it’ll affect your pricing and your revenue in some way.
You get desensitized numbers-wise, and then come to a place like South Bend and go, the rent is what? You can buy a whole house for what? Why doesn’t everyone come here?
I’m enjoying it so far. I’m also trying to understand those questions, because it’s obviously it’s not a little island by itself, there’s reasons why locals can’t necessarily benefit from all of those great prices and great opportunities. You need more opportunity for people to take advantage and make use of it. What can small businesses do in terms of creating jobs and creating opportunities during these gaps that shouldn’t exist or shouldn’t be so hard to address?
INVANTI is a startup generator in the Midwest.
We recruit entrepreneurial talent and provide them deep insight into the most important problems facing Americans today. We then generate new solutions and business models and ultimately build companies that matter: invanti.co