Nicola Brown Leaves Miami, Florida to Join INVANTI, a Startup Generator in the Midwest.
Joining Cohort 2, Nicola has begun researching the issues that face America’s small business owners.
Tell us what you think people need to know about you.
It always varies, because we present parts of ourselves depending on where we are. For broad audience, I would say that people know me as a connector. My friends, family, and even people that I meet, they’re like, you can connect me with this, based on a conversation. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.
I am Jamaican, so everyone should know that (laughs). That’s really important. But I’m also American, I’m an American citizen. And I’m proud of that equally as well. I am also a woman of color that is entering the startup world. That’s not an area where you see a lot of women of color, because access to resources tends to be limited.
Professionally, I would say I’m proudest of making the decision to leave a job that I love to pursue adventure yet unknown at the time. I started my own firm and subcontracted out to other people. I knew that where I was at the time wasn’t where I should be anymore. But didn’t know where I was going to.
My email at the time said, “I’m out of the country for two months. When I get back, you’ll find out what I’m doing.” Then my friends that didn’t know that I had left were like, “what the hell did you do? You had a good job!”
I’m very proud that I did that though, even though it’s scary as hell. Things don’t always line up like you think they will, but I have been able to grow both personally and professionally. I know what I can tolerate. I know my strengths. I know how to navigate life and live with less. You adjust when you’re passion aligns.
Before I left, I was working in academia full-time, running research for adolescent girls involved in the Juvenile Justice System and their babies. It was very high intensity — a lot of heart, a lot of emotion, and systems that don’t work.
Why did you decide to leave a job that you loved?
The ecosystem was not talking to one another. There are all these different cogs but they don’t interact with each other. Or if they did, It was only because they’re forced to. I saw that happening over and over and I knew I couldn’t change it where I was in academia. Our role is too limited. And I couldn’t change it through my role in the court system as an advocate.
It was always a matter of, why didn’t someone see the signs that a girl was being trafficked? Oh, another system had those signs. And the first system didn’t know that those signs were there.
The example I think about a lot was a girl that was being sent from her school to an alternative site because she wasn’t showing up to school (we don’t do school suspensions in Miami, we send them to an alternative site). This seemed completely asinine though. If she’s not showing up for school, how is she gonna show up to the new site? And she never did.
I was concerned because she was five months pregnant. She stopped showing up for medical appointments. She was not showing up for anything. So I went out to the house and her mom said, I haven’t seen her in eight months. Wait, what?
You haven’t seen her in eight months!?! Do you even know your daughter is pregnant? The way it works, when you’re pregnant, you can sign your own paperwork, but once you have your baby, you’re classified as a child again. The girl was then put out of school for not attending, and the mom wasn’t responding to phone calls because she was always at work.
I was just like, okay, so these systems don’t work. Carrying the emotional stress of that daily was difficult — because you want to see it work!
But the system is content to continue not working because someone is still getting paid and the cogs are still kind of moving.
Enough incremental change happens that it looks like change is still happening. The numbers look better so we’ve made impact. But you’re not looking at how this is affecting a human being.
How have you enjoyed South Bend so far?
It’s been great for me. I have enjoyed getting to know the small business owners. Some of them have been a little bit more hesitant — if I call them and ask a question, they’re like, why are you asking these questions? But then there are others that I’ve had wonderful conversations with because I’ve shopped there. They’ve seen me regularly. One of the first places I went was Purple Porch Co-op, because I like to buy local as much as possible and I’ve always wanted to be in a city with a co-op.
It’s just starting conversations. That’s the way you get to know people.
Everyone’s also been telling me to prepare for winter. Snow is coming and we’re going to help you get prepared! The manager at South Bend Chocolate Cafe wrote me out this list of where to go to get shoes so my feet won’t be cold when I’m walking.
Three years ago I was diagnosed with heart disease, so I’ve been adjusting to that. I don’t drive anymore. Transitioning from a driver to a pedestrian or cyclist makes you see cities differently, it’s a tough adjustment. Even walking to Innovation Park, most of the crosswalks don’t work. You press the button and it doesn’t change. Since I walk a lot, I figured out how many counts I need to cross. But for someone that’s not used to walking, they’ll stand there forever, waiting for it to change.
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