Five Things That Can Help Democratize Entrepreneurship

William Gibson said that the future is here — it’s just not evenly distributed. That certainly seems true for entrepreneurs and venture capitalists. While there is plenty of breathless reporting about the latest startups to come out of Silicon Valley, the truth is that startup growth is relatively stagnant in many parts of the country and for large segments of the population.
It’s no secret that startup founders in the U.S. are overwhelmingly white and male, and many have family wealth to fall back on. If you live in the wrong place, didn’t go to the right school or just don’t fit the traditional model of what successful founders “look like,” accessing venture capital can be a huge challenge.
Samsung NEXT executives met with a diverse group of entrepreneurs, policy experts, nonprofit leaders and financial lenders to discuss what can be done to level the playing field and democratize entrepreneurship.

Redefine what an entrepreneur looks like

Many VCs may have a preformed notion about what a successful entrepreneur looks like — and if you’re a woman, or a minority, or both, “You are not the model of success they’ve seen,” says Siggi Hindrichs, principal investor at Samsung NEXT.
What’s more, many potentially talented entrepreneurs who aren’t white or male don’t see themselves as someone who might potentially start a company: they don’t have an internal “model of success” either. “Unless you’ve seen someone that looks like you do that, you’re not going to think to do that,” Hindrichs says. “In many cases, unless you’ve been exposed to an option, you won’t consider it an option.”

Democratize entrepreneurship education

Leadership consultant Lisa Pearl suggests that early education might be a key to building such an internal model of success for women and minorities. “This is something you can start really early in school,” she says. “Teaching kids how to be entrepreneurs — how to come up with ideas, and get them from idea to execution.” Giving kids access to VC concepts early on might give them the confidence to navigate that world when they are older.
Steve Hollingworth, President of the Grameen Foundation, agrees change is needed to promote entrepreneurship through public education. “Otherwise we’re just perpetuating our inequalities for future generations.”
Charlie Germano, senior director, IT security and operations at Save the Children in Washington, D.C., agrees. In areas where his organization serves young women, he says, “You can draw a straight line from education to opportunity.”
Social entrepreneur Paul Harrison notes that community colleges could also help prepare students to start companies and access VC by helping them meet venture capitalists. Today, if you don’t come from a big-name business school, he said, “You have to both have a great idea, and catch up with 10 to 15 years of networking before you get started.”
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Diversify venture capital portfolios  

Because prejudice can be subconscious, it’s important for VC firms to track how many startups led by women or minorities they back — and to proactively reach out to underrepresented groups, says Gus Warren, managing director of Samsung NEXT Ventures. It’s a practice his group has just begun. “We’re looking, and we’re tracking it,” he says.
This kind of active self-auditing will pay off, Warren adds. “Your earnings will be better, your ideas will be better” with more diverse teams, he says. “There will be more collisions of people from different backgrounds to come up with different solutions.”

Reinvent venture capital

Entrepreneur Jessica Stuart bootstrapped her business, Long Story Short Media, and was able to grow it into a success. Now, she says, she wants to apply for funds to take her business to the next step — but VCs aren’t interested because these types of businesses don’t typically generate the type of returns venture capitalists expect or require.
Venture capital needs to expand their scope to include opportunities for people like Stuart, Warren says. “There’s an opportunity for a different kind of VC that funds small, profitable companies to expand, rather than bet on vaporware that may or may not win big.”

Add mentorship to VC

“Sometimes someone has a dynamo idea, but they might not ‘speak the language’ of VC,” says Hindrichs. Samsung NEXT offers funding to startups but will also mentor them to shape their ideas and show them the ropes — something more VCs need to do, Hindrichs adds.
“Money isn’t everything,” adds Arti Patel Varanasi, president and CEO of Advancing Synergy. “You need the money, but are there other components that can make [an entrepreneur] a better, stronger individual and more conversant on venture capital? If you write that person a check, you should also mentor them.”

Article produced in partnership with Samsung NEXT, Samsung’s innovation group that works with entrepreneurs to build, grow, and scale great ideas. NationSwell has partnered with Samsung NEXT to find and elevate some of the most promising innovators working to close the opportunity gap in America. Click here to meet the finalists.

Startup Lessons From a Global Giant

When Samsung NEXT approached Emily Becher in 2013 to open its New York City presence and create an entrepreneur-in-residence program, she was hesitant to accept the position. She knew Samsung as a multinational electronics behemoth — would they welcome the new and untried ideas that startup founders  are known for? But after meeting with executives, Becher felt assured that they were more than willing to make the risky investments necessary to nurture startups. “Samsung NEXT was willing to commit and willing to understand that different outcomes need different processes,” Becher says.
Becher and Samsung NEXT were tackling a persistent problem in the world of entrepreneurship and venture capital: How might traditional companies work with lighter, nimbler startups to bring new ideas to the world? It’s not always easy, but from Samsung’s perspective, positioning the company to nurture startups is smart. It means the company can more easily be involved with new technologies and concepts, whether that means a partnership, acquisition or just access to an entrepreneurial point of view. But how could they make sure startups got enough out of the deal to make it worthwhile for them to work with Samsung NEXT?
Here are six tips Becher says she’s learned on the job.

Start with teams who have ideas, plans and goals

Early on, Becher tried to identify promising technologists and bring them in before they had a startup-ready idea. It didn’t go so well. “We tried a lot of things in the early days and some of them worked and some of them didn’t,” she says. As it turned out, the “random walk of a single technologist” didn’t always lead to actionable ideas. “It is very difficult to build a scalable company off a single individual,” says Becher. Now she makes sure that a startup already has a specific idea or goal and a team in place before they partner with Samsung NEXT.

Let startups keep the tools that work for them

If an entrepreneurial team is used to working in Slack, Google Docs, Trello or some other productivity application, imposing the corporation’s norms can break their rhythm and quash creativity, says Becher. She wanted to make sure that coming to Samsung NEXT didn’t mean a huge change in routine, even if some favored apps weren’t approved for use by Samsung employees. “We very quickly put rules in place giving exception to give them the right tools,” Becher says. “These are all the things we did in the background to make sure it seemed seamless.”

Leverage local ecosystems

“We’re a global organization,” Becher says. “We’re not sitting in the U.S., looking at best-of-breed technology and flying into Israel or Paris or Toronto. We have people on the ground there that are locals.” Instead of parachuting into a country and looking for talent, having offices staffed by people who understand the local landscape makes it easier to know who’s got the hottest ideas — and how to court them. “We have individuals in all those local markets building relationships with all those entrepreneurs,” says Becher.
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Cut red tape

It can be slow to get money from venture funds overseas, so Samsung NEXT set up an American venture fund so they could close deals faster. “In the beginning, there was a lot of dialog about putting new processes in place that allowed us to be nimble, fast-moving and responsive to what was required to work with entrepreneurs,” Becher says. This way, Samsung NEXT was able to compress what would have been a nine-to-12 month process down to a few weeks. “When a company wants to close its funding round, not having to wait two or three weeks for us is incredibly important,” she says.

Hire entrepreneurs to work with other entrepreneurs

The Samsung NEXT offices are staffed by former entrepreneurs who understand the pressures startups are under — and who can create an office culture that “feels authentic” to incoming teams. “Culture is where we spend a lot of time and energy,” Becher says. “If you don’t create a culture, a culture is created for you.” It’s important that entrepreneurs arriving at the Samsung NEXT officers don’t get the feeling that this was “an organization playing a game.”

Keep it open-ended

Becher says it’s important that Samsung NEXT is able to work with startups in a variety of different modes, and without a fixed timeframe. “What we have learned is that we work with entrepreneurs in a way that makes sense to them,” she says. “We meet the entrepreneurs where they are.” An entrepreneur might interact with Samsung NEXT as an entrepreneur in residence, using their offices and resources; or they might come to Samsung NEXT for venture capital funds; or they might end up being acquired by the corporation, working with them as a partner; or just “end up coming to build something with us,” Becher says. “Our model is open.”

Article produced in partnership with Samsung NEXT, Samsung’s innovation group that works with entrepreneurs to build, grow and scale great ideas. NationSwell has partnered with Samsung NEXT to find and elevate some of the most promising innovators working to close the opportunity gap in America. Click here to meet the finalists.

A Recruiter’s Mission: Supporting Vets After They Serve

After World War II, 20 percent of veterans created businesses after they left the service. Now, only four percent of veterans do so.
And that’s a shame, especially when so many qualified veterans have so much more to offer, especially as entrepreneurs.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
I spent over a decade as a recruiter for the Army, trying to help young men and women sign up for military service and realize their full potential. It was exactly what my recruiter did for me when I was a young man growing up in Flint, Michigan. But now that I’m out of the Army, I’ve made it my mission to help veterans understand their potential as entrepreneurs.
I understood at a young age the fear of leaving the comforts of my life to start something new. It’s a feeling that almost every person I grew up with in my hometown experienced. When I was young, you could name five or six auto plants in Flint. That’s where everyone worked; that’s where we were going to work. So when all the plants closed down — jobs moved overseas and across borders — there wasn’t much for us in the way of work. Where would we go? What would we do?
Because my town was crumbling, I started seeing lots of individuals joining the military. It’s an easy way out, I’ll admit. And I won’t lie in saying it’s not, for many, a decision based purely on finances. So when I was approached at the mall by an Army recruiter, I knew what was happening.
Most everyone who joins the military has contact with a recruiter at some point. Their job is to convince you to join. That’s it.
But the recruiter I met that day wasn’t like others. He told me what I could do with my life, and told me about my opportunities. It’s easy to pinpoint when you’re being sold something in a heavy-handed manner, like with a timeshare. He didn’t do that. He was honest, forthcoming and just laid out the facts.  
I kept in contact with him, and when I was old enough to join the Army, I did exactly that.

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After meeting an honest, forthcoming recruiter at a young age, Curtez Riggs (center) was inspired to join the Army.

Sure, my decision to join was driven by economic reasons, but it was also a chance to get out and provide myself with a fresh opportunity.
I didn’t recognize at the time that the military would change my life so much. The Army gave me insight into what would become my life’s mission: helping my fellow man. And I was finally in a position to help others. And though I didn’t have money to, say, donate to causes, I did have my own story of growing up in Flint and not knowing what to do after high school.
After five years in the Army, I was selected to become a recruiter. From then on, I could use my own story to help others who were just like me, back when I was a lost 15-year-old.
I went back home to Flint, the place I tried to escape. I went back to my high school, the place where people saw me as a knucklehead, and I met my old teachers — the ones who thought I wouldn’t amount to much — and I showed them how the Army had changed my life.
I saw myself in all those students there, and I was plain, simple and honest with them — just like my recruiter was with me.
But I didn’t stop at Flint. I also went to Washington D.C., Baltimore, San Antonio and Houston. I met with the poorest of the poor in the grimiest of neighborhoods, where drugs and violence were everywhere. I went to the western outskirts of Detroit, where there are almost no opportunities for kids, with the intent of helping people make a positive change in their environment. And they respected me for it.
At the same time, I had a litany of side hustles. I was a digital consultant, website creator and blogger. Wherever I found a way to make extra money, I did it. I had established enough of a side business where I wasn’t afraid of what would happen to me when I retired.
But before I retired, I began to realize that it wasn’t just young people who needed my help in recognizing their potential. My fellow soldiers were leaving the service at 30, 40 years of age, and had no clue what they wanted to do after they left.
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Curtez Riggs founded the Military Influencer Conference to bring together veterans, spouses and business leaders for opportunities to build their own businesses post-service.

Just like those young men and women who were fearful about what to do after high school, there were people I was serving with who had the same anxiety about what they could do after a lifetime in service.
I saw another opportunity to help. So I started the Military Influencer Conference, which brings together veterans, spouses and business leaders for opportunities to build their own businesses post-service.
My process hasn’t changed much. But instead of talking to 17-year-old kids about their opportunities, I’m now meeting with middle-aged men and women and helping them understand their potential.
I derive satisfaction from knowing that I might be helping people have a second chance in a new career, and to access opportunities they never knew they had.
Hopefully this is just the beginning. And, eventually, we can bring more veterans into building businesses. Just like me, they are not done serving yet.


As told to staff writer Joseph Darius Jaafari. This essay has been edited for style and clarity. Read more stories of service here.

Make Shoes, Not War

A mission is never finished till it’s actually complete. Sounds obvious, of course, but it’s something I didn’t recognize until I left Afghanistan — after my mission was technically “done.”
Growing up, all I ever wanted was to have a mission. It was something that was I born and bred to do. In my family, military service goes back four generations to my great-grandfather, who served in WWI.
But, to be honest, I mostly just wanted to be an Airborne Ranger. Those are the meanest dudes on the planet (it also helped that they jump out of planes and blow shit up). All the coolest guys in the movies were Rangers, and that’s exactly who I wanted to be.
Or, at least, that’s what I used to think.
I graduated from West Point in June 2001, just a few months before the 9/11 terror attacks. It became evident that I was going to be sent overseas. And getting there was grueling. To become an Airborne Ranger, you have to put yourself through hell. By the end of training you’ve lost 40 pounds, you look like a 12-year-old boy, and you’re struggling as the new guy trying to fit in.
On one of my first missions, in 2003, I was sent to the Hindu Kush — a mountain range in northeast Afghanistan that is, quite literally, a killer. Centuries ago, slaves were taken over the mountains, and whoever survived the journey was thought to be a good slave.
We travelled at night through frigid temperatures, with two feet of snow on the ground. By all means, we were physically prepared for this part of the battle; trudging through the world’s worst environments is exactly what we train for. But what I wasn’t prepared for was coming face-to-face with some of the world’s worst poverty. Children with no shoes would approach us, begging for water — and that was the nicest part of the trip. Days went on, and the higher in elevation we climbed, the more dire the conditions for the people who lived there.
At first, when you’re laser-focused on hunting down the bad guys, it’s easy to ignore the poverty around you. But over time, seeing firsthand that kind of extreme hardship and suffering changes you.
When I was sent to Iraq in 2005, I started to think that the overall mission was pointless. I wondered if this war — the War on Terror — would become my generation’s Vietnam. At West Point, my graduating class had a motto: “Till Duty Is Done.” But by this time, it was clear to me that we would never be done with this place. Instead of making life better for people and helping to alleviate their poverty, we were only making it worse.
I left the Army soon after, in 2006, and started working for Remote Medical International (RMI), an organization that provides medical support services in far-flung environments around the world. In my new position, I was sent again to Afghanistan, but this time I didn’t have guns or armor to protect me. I had a suitcase, a backpack and some cash.

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After leaving the Army, Matthew Griffin launched Combat Flip Flops to provide economic opportunity to war-torn areas.

But the places I visited this time around were vibrant and thriving — and people seemed happy. My eyes were opened: If an area was flourishing economically, that meant it was also safe.
“Why aren’t we bringing our economy to Afghanistan?” I asked myself. We have the most powerful economy on the planet. If we could use that influence to promote security, we wouldn’t have to waste a single bullet or sacrifice a soldier.
On one of my missions to Afghanistan with RMI, I came across a combat-boot factory. I saw the base of a boot and thought it was ugly in a cool sort of way and that if we put some straps on it, we could sell it to Americans.
I called up a fellow Ranger, Donald Lee, who had served with me in Afghanistan. Lee was the guy who, during an operations briefing, would sound off and say an idea was shit — despite the fact that he had a lower rank than me. That’s something you just don’t see every day in the Rangers.
I asked him if wanted to make flip-flops in Afghanistan. When you’re doing something crazy and new, you want to do it with someone you can trust to watch out for you. Plus, Lee and I had already gone through plenty of crazy missions together. He said yes.
So in 2012 we started Combat Flip Flops. The idea was that we would go into war-torn areas and open factories there for local entrepreneurs to make products for the U.S. market. Part of the proceeds then fund charities and NGOs that focus on solving local issues, such as girls’ education in Afghanistan, or assistance for veterans back home.
Currently, we’re in three countries: Afghanistan, Colombia and Laos. We’ll design a product and then travel to areas where business opportunities for local residents are scarce. We teach these men and women how to make, export and market the products — besides footwear, we also sell other apparel and accessories — to American audiences.
In Laos, for example, where the U.S. dropped over 270 million bombs in the 1970s and where 80 million of them can still explode unexpectedly, we have local residents manufacture jewelry and fashion accessories from unexploded ordnance. A portion of the revenue then funds the clearance of even more mines in the area. 
We’re creating local leaders, and our strategy has been successful. One of our footwear manufacturers, for example, started with five employees and now has about 35. Last year we donated 2.5 percent of our gross revenue, roughly $30,000, to philanthropic initiatives — that’s a massive amount for our company. We’re able to do that because we run so lean.
I started in the military thinking my mission was simple: Find the bad guys and help my country. But then I learned that in order to help, I really needed to become a visitor and a welcome partner, not an invader.

As told to staff writer Joseph Darius Jaafari. This essay has been edited for style and clarity. Read more stories of service here.

How to Power a Renewable Energy Startup

Donnel Baird grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in a low-income neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. “We didn’t have heat that functioned consistently,” he says, “so we had to heat our apartment with the oven, which of course is really dangerous and also unhealthy.” Plus, as Baird notes, “It’s also really bad for the environment.”
Solving several problems at once is what BlocPower, the company Baird founded in 2013, is all about (disclosure: Baird is a member of the NationSwell Council). BlocPower’s software analyzes how buildings operate, recommends ways to save money and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and then installs renewable energy technologies. The company secures financing for the retrofit projects by grouping multiple buildings together — usually religious institutions, small businesses and public housing, all in underserved communities — and identifying investors. And Baird and his team aren’t just taking on climate change; they’re also addressing unemployment in the New York neighborhoods where they work, by training local workers for jobs in the green economy.
They are certainly big thinkers,” says Rachel Wald, Social Impact Fellowship manager at GLG. The GLG fellowship program provides select social entrepreneurs with free access to its platform and membership of more than 600,000 experts across industries. Baird and BlocPower joined GLG’s 2015 class of fellows with big goals and a clear need for the technical experts with whom GLG could connect them. “Donnel is uniquely suited to be doing this work. He grew up in these communities and knows them really well,” Wald says, adding that Baird is “pretty unafraid.”

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The GLG Social Impact Fellowship helped Donnel Baird expand BlocPower to markets outside of the company’s base in New York City.

Baird’s parents — his father is an engineer and his mother is a social worker — are from Guyana. “My mom has a set of values around trying to help the less fortunate,” Baird says. “She built a career around that, and she did pass some of those values on to me.”
Those values have informed Baird’s entire career. He was working for the Obama administration, implementing a green building program as part of the economic stimulus plan, when he got a call from a pastor he knew in Brooklyn. The pastor was looking for help with the energy costs in his church, which were eating up 30 percent of its budget.
When Baird saw how much money energy efficiency and renewable energy projects could save buildings in low-income neighborhoods, the idea for BlocPower was born. He enrolled in Columbia University’s business school and started to explore building a company to take on projects like these.
“I had to quickly learn a lot when I started — about corporate finance and accounting, and a lot of concepts that were foreign to me as a community organizer,” admits Baird. Columbia also gave him exposure to entrepreneurship, which was a little more familiar. “You hear ‘no’ a lot in both entrepreneurship and politics,” Baird says. “You have to talk to lots of people, most of whom tell you no.”
Despite BlocPower’s early promise, there are still obstacles ahead, including the current administration’s tariffs on imported solar equipment and the steep cuts to the corporate tax rate. The latter has reduced companies’ taxes enough to weaken the incentive to seek renewable energy tax credits, Baird says.
“Many people who believe in climate change and want to do something about it have actually given up on the belief that we can do something about it in a massive way,” he says.
But Baird isn’t one of those people. He envisions a total of 3 to 4 million BlocPower-enabled buildings nationwide. And he says that if BlocPower hits those goals it can assist the country in reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2 percent. It’s the same goal laid out for the U.S. in the since-abandoned Paris Climate Agreement.
“That’s what’s on the table,” Baird says. “It’s just a matter of getting people to believe.”
So far, BlocPower has worked with 3 percent of the buildings it’s targeted in New York City. The company works with utilities and regulators to electrify the heating systems of 1,000 buildings in the Bronx, and it’s beginning an expansion to Oakland and Los Angeles in California.
Each energy-updated building is another step toward BlocPower’s lofty goals. An example can be found Brooklyn’s Crown Heights neighborhood, where BlocPower studied an apartment co-op’s energy efficiency and identified interventions, including changing the boiler settings and temperature controls in units. They also connected the co-op’s management with a company that has since installed a solar array on the roof.
Annabelle Heckler is treasurer of the co-op and worked closely with BlocPower on the project. She hopes the solar array will fully power the building’s common spaces and offset electricity costs for tenants. “We’re certainly interested in keeping our building affordable for the long term,” Heckler says, “and we’re also interested in creating a more sustainable and resilient city. New Yorkers really struggled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, and we want to be part of the solution.”
Being part of the solution motivates Baird too. “I have a 3-year-old,” he says. “By the time he’s 50, the question is, ‘What kind of planet is he going to be on?’ That’s really what’s driving me now,” says Baird.
“What we’ve got to do is get back to dreaming big and really going for it, because we don’t really have a choice.”

This article was paid for and produced in partnership with GLG. GLG Social Impact is an initiative of GLG to advance learning and decision-making among distinguished nonprofit and social enterprise leaders. The GLG Social Impact Fellowship provides learning resources to a select group of nonprofits and social enterprises, at no cost. Read more about the program here.

These Parents Started Businesses to Employ Autistic Kids Like Their Own

Valerie Herskowitz never imagined she’d become an entrepreneur until her son, Blake, was diagnosed with autism. And though John D’Eri had several company launches under his belt, he too was motivated by his own autistic son to look to a new business model.
Herskowitz’s endeavor, The Chocolate Spectrum, grew out of an informal therapy program she had been running from her home kitchen in Florida. In 2016, she opened the doors of her new chocolate shop and job-training center to the public.
Nearby, John D’Eri, along with his son Tom, had launched Rising Tide Car Wash in 2013 as a means to boost the employment opportunities for his autistic son, Andrew. Today the enterprise has grown to two locations in Florida that employ more than 60 people.
Statistics show these kind of work programs are sorely needed. Approximately 80 percent of people on the spectrum are unemployed or underemployed. The good news? Herskowitz’s shop and D’Eri’s car wash are just two of a growing number of businesses working to create job opportunities for adults with autism.
Herskowitz met John D’Eri at an autism fundraiser. Through Rising Tide U — D’Eri’s related initiative that offers online courses to help aspiring entrepreneurs launch similar companies — she was able to turn The Chocolate Spectrum into a viable business.
“If we can really prove to the business community that there’s real value in employing people with autism, we’ll close the unemployment gap,” says Rising Tide’s Tom D’Eri.
Watch the video above to learn more about Herskowitz and the D’Eris — and the power of this new business model.

An Entrepreneurial Learning Curve

As an art student, Pauly Ramirez didn’t see herself in the business world –– but that didn’t stop her from becoming an entrepreneur. After graduating from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) in 2016, Ramirez co-founded Hermit, a platform that uses a unique algorithm to match artists with buyers looking to commission original work.
But Ramirez’s journey as a 24-year-old business owner hasn’t always been smooth sailing. “It was extremely difficult, not because I didn’t think I could do it, but because I thought I didn’t have the skill set,” she says.
Ramirez, who came to the United States from Mexico at age 6, is the youngest of five children and the first in her family to earn a bachelor’s degree. It took time for her to build confidence as an entrepreneur.
“It was learning from zero,” Ramirez says. “I had to find my mentors.”
While attending SAIC, Ramirez became an entrepreneur-in-residence, where she received support to get Hermit off the ground.
Ramirez and her co-founders have been bootstrapping the platform, currently in the beta-testing phase, with plans to launch it publicly in the coming months.
Watch the video above to see how Ramirez overcame her insecurities and grew into the entrepreneur she is today.  

This content was paid for and produced in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which works in entrepreneurship and education to create opportunities and connect people to the tools they need to achieve success, change their futures and give back to their communities.

A Startup With Eyes on the (Tiny) Prize

Akili Kelly and his wife, Ashlee, know a thing or two about new beginnings. The Jackson, Mississippi, couple recently welcomed their daughter, Alex, into the world. They also launched a startup: TinyJXN (pronounced “Tiny Jackson”), which plans to develop the city’s first tiny-house community. The process, so far, has taken over a year.
The Kellys met as grad students at Jackson State University and have put down roots in the city. As recent graduates with debt, they understand that Jackson’s difficulties in retaining an educated workforce is largely due to the lack of affordable housing options. So they started to explore the concept of tiny homes, which eventually blossomed into their side business.
“I was interested to see how you could squeeze everything you need into a smaller space, which is also more economical,” Akili says. “We want this to be a housing option that people in this community could benefit from.”
Sarah Stripp is TinyJXN’s first client. As tiny homes are a new concept for the city, Stripp’s challenges with homeownership and TinyJXN’s challenges with operating a startup have often been one and the same. The Kellys spent months working with Stripp to secure a loan and break ground on her tiny home. Banks weren’t accustomed to issuing such a modest construction loan, and local institutions didn’t always immediately grasp the concept.
But now, the Kellys have applied for a building permit and expect to begin construction on Stripp’s new home next month.
Like many neighborhoods throughout Jackson, whose population has been declining for decades, the area where Stripp’s tiny home will be built is pockmarked with empty lots. But where others might see blight, the Kellys see an opportunity to improve their city in a way that benefits both aspiring homeowners and longtime locals.
As Akili says, “You have to be able to see beyond what’s currently there.”
Watch the video above to see how Akili and Ashlee Kelly are turning their entrepreneurial dream into a reality, while fulfilling a need in the city they call home.


This content was produced in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which works in entrepreneurship and education to create opportunities and connect people to the tools they need to achieve success, change their futures and give back to their communities.

How to Develop Tomorrow’s Leaders Today

“In today’s world, we see a global leadership crisis,” says George Tsiatis, CEO and co-founder of the Resolution Project, an organization that funds, mentors and supports college students who are starting social-impact enterprises. “If we want great leaders, we’ve got to start training them and building them up to be those leaders from an early age.”
It is a common sentiment, but Tsiatis has taken it extraordinarily seriously. As an undergraduate, he was deeply involved in organizing the Harvard World Model United Nations, which brought together students from around the globe, with two of his college friends. And while Tsiatis, along with Howard Levine and Oliver B. Libby, enjoyed the experience, they felt unsatisfied after it concluded.
“We were bringing together these bright people from incredible backgrounds, and we were simulating something,” says Libby, the Resolution Project’s chairman and co-founder. “And that’s a valuable educational experience, but we noticed — George, Howard and I — that there was something left on the table.”
In 2007, as recent graduates, Levine, Libby and Tsiatis returned to the World Model United Nations, where they invited the undergraduate “delegates” to share their ideas for socially responsible ventures. The response was overwhelming, and they saw potential in helping these students launch their ideas. Not long after, the three friends started the Resolution Project.
Today, the Resolution Project runs eight to 10 competitions a year at undergraduate youth conferences around the world to select its fellows. After a rigorous process in which the aspiring entrepreneurs pitch and defend their ideas, the winners gain a wide support network, including two mentors who guide them through the peaks and valleys that come with starting any business or nonprofit.
Fellows are also granted seed funding, which ranges from $1,500 to $5,000. Crucially, the fellowships include lifelong support that’s not tied to the particular starting venture, which, like all new endeavors, may or may not succeed. Instead, the idea is to find would-be leaders and put them on the path toward developing and refining those skills. So far, nearly 400 fellows have created over 240 social enterprises in more than 20 states and 70 countries. These efforts have impacted over 1 million people.
“Young leaders are told, quite frequently, that they are the leaders of tomorrow and so many of them have ideas for things they could be doing now,” says Levine.
Watch the video above to see how the Resolution Project opens up possibilities for ambitious young people and, by extension, the world.


This story was paid for and produced in partnership with the Resolution Project, whose mission is to develop socially responsible young leaders and empower them to make a positive impact today.

Manufacturing Chainmaille in the Rural Midwest

For Edie Ramstad, retirement didn’t exactly go as planned. In 2011, she moved to the tiny city of Ada, Minnesota (population: 1,700), to settle down, but she quickly got bored. So she started a side business, called Weave Got Maille, that manufactures supplies for chainmaille, small metal rings that are woven together to create jewelry and are often seen in Renaissance costumes.
“I’ve always loved chainmaille,” Ramstad says. “Even though I made more high-end jewelry as a profession, it was chainmaille that I did as a hobby.”
Though her hobby-turned-business venture proved a hit, Ramstad faced challenges as it expanded. “It just took off,” she said. “It had a mind of its own, and it just kept growing.”
Weave got Maille was the first non-agricultural manufacturing business in the county. “We’re a very small farming community, and I was an internet company in a town that only had dial-up internet,” Ramstad says.
In 2013, Ramstad was so overwhelmed she decided to close the business. Seeking support, she drove an hour to Fargo, North Dakota, and attended 1 Million Cups –– a free program developed by the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to connect entrepreneurs and provide resources for new business owners.
“It was life-changing,” Ramstad says about meeting other entrepreneurs. “I realized I wasn’t alone.”
With help from 1 Million Cups, Ramstad was able to manage her company’s growth challenges and keep the business going. Weave got Maille’s products are now sold in 76 countries and can be seen on HBO’s “Game of Thrones.”
Watch the video above to learn more about how a novel networking community helped Ramstad and her business thrive.


This content was produced in partnership with the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, which works in entrepreneurship and education to create opportunities and connect people to the tools they need to achieve success, change their futures and give back to their communities.