It’s Female Founder Friday and I couldn’t be more excited to share the inspiring story of woman entrepreneur, Courtney Klein. Courtney is the female founder of SEED SPOT, which is nationally ranked by Gust as one of the Top 20 Accelerators in the World and in 2015 was named by Cisco & UBI Global as one of the Top 3 Social Impact Incubators in the United States. SEED SPOT also won a 2016 Emmy for their partnership with Univision supporting Latino entrepreneurs through Véndeme tu Sueño. With a mission to educate, accelerate, and invest in the dreams of social entrepreneurs, SEED SPOT exclusively supports entrepreneurs building products, services, and technologies that improve lives or communities. Incredibly cool and inspiring, right?!
I met Courtney on a panel at the Women In Tech DC Conference. It is always easy to tell when someone is passionate about their company, and Courtney’s every word and gesture vibrated with excitement about her journey and mission founding SEED SPOT. I had the honor of recently attending the SEED SPOT DC launch party on Wednesday night and was blown away by the high-caliber cohort members and the tremendous amount of good they are striving to achieve. It is incredibly exciting to have them in my home town!
If you are a student with a business idea or a woman who is fascinated by social entrepreneurship, Courtney’s candid answers to my questions are particularly insightful.
What inspired you to create your company?
When I was in college, I thought I was going to become a broadcast journalist…but after my freshman year in college I spent part of the summer volunteering in a rural village in Mexico. I saw first hand how the rest of the world lived and was astonished that my first exposure came at the age of 18. I flew home determined to start a nonprofit that would educate students about global issues and empower them to create change and my senior year in college Arizona State University gave me $1,000 and office space along with mentorship from the former President of the university, Dr. Lattie Coor. Through dozens of mentors, community leaders, and people who believed in a girl with dream…the organization grew into serving students across the country and partnering with global organizations around the world. Years later, I transitioned to the Board of Directors and wondering what would be next… I found myself sitting nights and weekends at coffee shops meeting with other entrepreneurs who had dreams to creating positive social change but lacked access to a community of mentors, leaders, investors, and peers. SEED SPOT was born in 2012 to provide a safe space for social entrepreneurs and surround them with the education, training, and connections they needed to grow their ventures to the next level.
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
The biggest challenge was convincing people that social entrepreneurs (a) existed in Arizona, and (b) were worthy of being taken seriously. To this day many think that you have to chose between impact and profit. The best social impact companies do both – profit leads to more impact and more impact, in turn leads to more profit. The early days were all about proving value to both the entrepreneurs and the broader community. We had some ventures close their doors, we kicked out some mentors that lacked the right intent, and we fought to get donors that were aligned to our mission for the pure sake of mission and had no interest in “sharking” early stage companies.
We are five years in and just opened our second location in Washington, DC where we are serving our first cohort of social entrepreneurs through our 14-week program. We have our sites set on expanding our model to serve dozens of other communities in the months and years ahead by empowering local community leaders to build momentum around the SEED SPOT brand and leverage our model in their areas. We also have a high school program now where we work with schools that have an interest in teaching social entrepreneurship in the classroom as a full year-long course. We are working to rapidly scale that program to serve the next generation of entrepreneurs and empower young people to start solving problems today.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
A famous quote that I love is “Never doubt yourself, plenty of other people will do that for you.” I advise a lot of women to just get out of their own way, to go after it – be bold and brave and keep a focus on the bigger picture. It is so easy to get lost in the weeds or taken down by the daily frustrations or hiccups but trusting the journey and keeping your chin up, leaning into the wind… is key.
If you had a theme song what would it be?
“Roar” by Katy Perry. I trained for and completed an Ironman a few years ago and that was my go-to. Still gets me fired up…