Nicola Corzine is Executive Director of the non-profit Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a global non-profit focused on growing access to entrepreneurship among underrepresented communities through educational, mentorship and incubator-style programs, as well as policy-advancing research. Entrepreneur connected 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 critical business milestone and build a network of support to help them achieve their goals.
You launched the Milestone Circles program during the pandemic to support female and diverse entrepreneurs specifically. Why was that your focus?
We built Circles to create social capital and peer support no matter your zip code, skin color, level of education or country of origin. The program gives women-owned businesses biweekly opportunities to work through specific challenges, celebrate milestones, attend workshops, and connect with small business experts and mentors. Social capital is the foundation for any business’ success -— we looked at this with our partner on the program Wells Fargo, and there is clear data that access to support systems result in higher revenue.
Can you explain the importance of social capital?
Being a successful entrepreneur is about seeing the opportunity for growth that hasn’t yet occurred, and ironically, in order to get to a place of abundance, you need to be coming from a mindset of abundance, which often isn’t where businesses or founders start out. It’s transformative to have a group of peers, a network, mentors, and people you trust. Because entrepreneurs need confidence now to get to the next stage, and we are always having people who appreciate where you currently are in the journey is a huge support. Also, having social capital better equips you to take on the current challenges entrepreneurs face — access to talent, capital, ability to react to an evolving supply chain. Supporting women entrepreneurs specifically will have an outsized impact on the wealth gap, because these women are likelier to solve problems that make their communities and families stronger.
What are your tips for entrepreneurs for 2022?
We’ll see growing investor appetite for mission/purpose-driven companies, due to talent criticality, and so the CEO has to recruit and be the champion/ambassador above all else.
If you get only one question from an entrepreneur you look up to, ask them what their playbook is for how and where they go for guidance. Positive role modeling is critical.
The structure of your company can set the stage as to where and how you are compensated. Keep this in mind when determining the type of company you form.
How you approach your stakeholder/customer network should be the most automated thing you do, not the most off the cuff. The hardest thing is to manage an unmanageable number of leads, whether customers, vendors, talent applicants, mentor potentials, and certainly that’s true for investors. You have to qualify all stakeholders as you go and realize it’s a dynamic engagement. As questions/unknowns become clearer and milestones are met, what was once a “no-brainer” of a candidate or investor may no longer be a great fit. Make sure you have news alerts to your target stakeholders — all categories — and that you’re following their news online on social channels too.
Don’t try to see too far into the future. Think 1-3 years; consider 5 years but make sure that line of sight doesn’t overweight momentary truths for permanent states of confidence just yet.
How have you achieved such tremendous levels of diversity in your program?
Collaboration. Like business owners, we grow our ability to reach more customers (in our case entrepreneurs) working with other incredible organizations such as ParentPreneur Foundation, Hello Alice and Vets in Tech. Learning from our entrepreneurs and partner communities is critical to fueling diversity. Through more than 950 responsive free educational programs serving 50,000 entrepreneurs worldwide, we’re constantly monitoring entrepreneur needs and quickly standing up programs to support the real-time needs of our diverse business owners based on data and insights they’ve shared.
This is a unique aspect of our model — we build programming and then look at the data to shape the next iteration of our offering, and also the next entrepreneurial challenges we take on. Working with Lehigh University to analyze the data, 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 close critical talent gaps facing the future of work. KPMG and the JP Morgan Foundation have also been thought-partners on systems-level research on inclusion, and Wilson Sonsini has helped us act on our research findings to build tools and resource centers for entrepreneurs.
Education alone for entrepreneurs isn’t enough. We need to change the system so every entrepreneur everywhere has equal access to opportunity. Access to capital continues to be a critical gap, and we’re currently working with 9 other organizations on the Venture Capital Equity Project to accelerate the flow of capital to entrepreneurs of color. With Penn State Evidence to Impact Collaborative, we’re leveraging data sets to inform opportunities for intervention, while hosting convenings that drive action. Similarly, our commitment to women businesses and the barriers that face them with pay, ownership and valuation disparities remains a prominent part of our commitment to advance equitable entrepreneurship worldwide.
What are the biggest challenges entrepreneurs are facing right now?
Access to capital: There is more private capital in the market today than ever before and yet, access for BIPOC entrepreneurs continues to be a struggle. Through our Venture Capital Equity Project, we’re learning alongside organizations like Camelback Ventures, Eifel, Vets in Tech, Parentpreneur Foundation, Venture ESG, Diversity VC and researchers at Penn State, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon University ways create more capital access opportunities for BIPOC entrepreneurs. And it’s exciting to see entrepreneurs leaning into the new models like revenue-based loans (Nicola, what else) and other capital pathways that are authentically aligned to the business they uniquely want to build.
Resiliency: Whether in supply chain, talent development, access to capital, markets or more, there has never been a more vulnerable realization that those with resiliency as a foundational goal are the ones that can withstand hard times. John Chambers spoke at the Center last year, and his one piece of advice to entrepreneurs, make sure you have 6 months of operating capital in the bank for unforeseen circumstances.
Access to talent: The talent market has perhaps never been more competitive than it is right now. But the battle is no longer won on perks, it’s being won on values and the opportunity to be a part of a company leading with purpose.
Burnout: Founders have always had 150 things on the to-do list each day but the volume of opportunities and the capacity for more (not less) meetings means burnout is on the rise. Sustainable founders have to drive sustainability of themselves and their teams as a top priority and lead by example…always a hard thing to do!