Nicola Corzine is Executive Director of the not-for-profit Nasdaq Center for Entrepreneurship, a global nonprofit organization focused on increasing access to entrepreneurship among underrepresented communities through educational, mentorship, and incubating programs, as well as policy development research. An Entrepreneur Connects with Corzine to learn about the center’s signature program, Milestone Mapping Coaching Circles, which offers free 12-week programs designed to help women entrepreneurs revitalize their vision for their business, set a business milestone and build a network of support to help them achieve their goals.
She launched Milestone Circles during the pandemic to specifically support women entrepreneurs. Why was this your focus?
We’ve created Circles to create social capital and peer support regardless of zip code, skin color, education level, or country of origin. The biweekly program gives women-owned businesses opportunities to work through specific challenges, celebrate milestones, attend workshops, and network with small business experts and mentors. Social capital is key to the success of any business – we’ve looked at this with our partner Wells Fargo, and there is clear data that access to support systems increases revenue.
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Can you explain the importance of social capital?
Being a successful entrepreneur is about seeing a growth opportunity that hasn’t yet occurred, and ironically, in order to get to the place of abundance, you have to be coming from a mindset of abundance, which is often not where companies or founders start. A transformation is having a group of peers, a network, mentors, and people you trust. Since entrepreneurs need confidence now to get to the next stage, having people who appreciate your current place in the journey is a huge support. And having social capital better prepares you for the current challenges that entrepreneurs face – access to talent, capital, and the ability to respond to an evolving supply chain. Supporting female entrepreneurs specifically will have a huge impact on the wealth gap, because these women are more inclined to solve problems that make their communities and families stronger.
What are your tips for entrepreneurs for 2022?
We will see a growing appetite of investors for mission/purpose-driven companies, because of the importance of talent, and therefore the CEO has to do the hiring and be the champion/ambassador above all else.
If you get just one question from an entrepreneur you’re looking forward to, ask them for their operating guide on how and where to go for guidance. Positive role modeling is critical.
Your company structure can pave the way for where and how you will be compensated. Keep this in mind when deciding what type of company to form.
The way you engage with your stakeholder/customer network should be the most automated thing you do, not the most. The most difficult thing is managing an unmanageable number of potential clients, whether they are clients, sellers, talented applicants or potential mentors, and this certainly applies to investors. You have to qualify all stakeholders as you go and realize that it is a dynamic engagement. As the questions/unknowns become clearer and key milestones are met, what was once a “no-brainer” for a candidate or investor may not be a perfect fit. Make sure you have news alerts for your target stakeholders – all categories – and that you follow their news online on social channels as well.
Don’t try to look too far into the future. Think 1-3 years; Consider 5 years but make sure that this line of sight doesn’t overburden the momentary realities of lasting trusts yet.
How did you achieve such tremendous levels of diversity in your program?
cooperation. Like business owners, we grow our ability to reach more clients (in our case entrepreneurs) by working with other great organizations like the ParentPreneur Foundation, Hello Alice, and Vets in Tech. Learning from our entrepreneurs and partner communities is critical to nurturing diversity. With over 950 free, responsive tutorials serving 50,000 entrepreneurs worldwide, we are constantly monitoring the needs of entrepreneurs and standing up quickly to support the real-time needs of our diverse business owners based on the data and insights they shared.
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This is a unique aspect of our model – we build the programming and then look at the data to shape the next iteration of our offering, as well as the next entrepreneurial challenges we face. Working with Lehigh University for data analytics, we’ve researched and better understood the needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and also the bridges needed to connect entrepreneurial thinkers with early-stage startups to help bridge critical talent gaps facing the future of work. KPMG and the JP Morgan Foundation have also been thought partners in systems-level research on inclusion, and Wilson Sonsini helped us work on the findings of our research to build tools and resource centers for entrepreneurs.
Education alone for entrepreneurs is not enough. We need to change the system so that every entrepreneur, everywhere has equal opportunities. Access to capital remains a critical gap and we are currently working with 9 other institutions on the Venture Capital Equity project to accelerate the flow of capital to entrepreneurs of color. With the Penn State Evidence to Impact Collaborative, we leverage data sets to inform opportunities for intervention, while hosting meetings that drive action. Likewise, our commitment to women’s businesses and the obstacles they face with disparities in pay, ownership, and evaluation remain a prominent part of our commitment to promoting equitable entrepreneurship worldwide.
What are the biggest challenges entrepreneurs face now?
Access to Capital: There is more private capital in the market today than ever before, however, access to BIPOC entrepreneurs remains a struggle. Through our Venture Capital Equity project, along with organizations such as Camelback Ventures, Eifel, Vets in Tech, Parentpreneur Foundation, Venture ESG, Diversity VC, and researchers at Penn State, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon University, we are learning ways to create more access to Capital for BIPOC Entrepreneurs. It is exciting to see entrepreneurs lean towards new models such as revenue-based loans (nicolas, what else) and other pathways of capital that are uniquely aligned with the businesses they want to build.
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Resilience: Whether in the supply chain, talent development, access to capital, markets, or more, there has never been a weaker realization that only those with resilience as a primary goal can withstand tough times. John Chambers spoke at the center last year, and his only advice to entrepreneurs, make sure you have 6 months of working capital in the bank for unforeseen circumstances.
Access to talent: The talent market has probably never been more competitive than it is now. But the battle is no longer won over privileges, it is won on the basis of values and the opportunity to be part of a purposeful pioneering company.
Burnout: The founders always had 150 things on their to-do list each day, but the amount of opportunities and the ability to have more (not less) meetings means burnout is on the rise. Sustainable founders have to push sustainability for themselves and their teams as a top priority and lead by example… It’s always hard to do!