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INVESTING IN THE FUTURE OF SMALL BUSINESS

Graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses Program check in at the V.F. Summit to gather ideas and inspiration

Originally published by Vanity Fair

It is a truth universally acknowledged that small businesses are the cornerstone of any community. They give a town its authenticity and charm, and its individuality and vivacity. And according to five graduates of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program—an investment to help entrepreneurs create jobs and economic opportunity by providing access to education, capital, and support—small business more importantly represents the backbone of local and national economies. Small businesses are credited for employing nearly half of the workforce in the United States alone. They have the power to transform the economy by creating jobs, sparking important innovations, and strengthening the fabric of communities.

This week, five entrepreneurs from the program experienced the cutting edge of innovation and technology with a visit to the third annual Vanity Fair New Establishment Summit in San Francisco. There, they attended panels about the upcoming waves of change in business and technology and provided their unique take on the nature of social entrepreneurship. They also got to talk shop over lunch with mentors in big business. “I was honored to sit down with the small-business owners and hear about their companies and their trajectories,” says Julia Hartz, co-founder and C.E.O. of Eventbrite. “And to share some war stories, too.”

Some of the topics covered during the lunch mentorship session included growth, defining a clear and compelling vision, and how to lead. “The founder is the keeper of the culture, and how they build and keep that culture is key,” says Ron Conway, the founder of SV Angel investment firm. “Managing and leading are very important traits, and you have to force yourself to learn that.”

The small business grads also benefited from some practical guidance: “I think this is one of the most amazing times to start a company,” says Jennifer Fonstad, the co-founder and managing partner of Aspect Ventures. “There’s a lot of capital available, and my advice to entrepreneurs is if you’re passionate about an idea or problem you want to solve, just go for it—because taking that leap of faith really makes things happen.”

And as the Summit drew to an end, there was a definitive takeaway: “I heard a call to action and some urgency,” said Suzanne Scanlon Rabinowitz, a 10,000 Small Businesses alum and founder of Bliss Lawyers. “And the call for all of us was this: if there’s something that you can do in your position to make this world a better place, do it now. Don’t wait.”

Bill Glaab
C.E.O. and co-founder, Hand in Hand

Former sales executive Bill Glaab and his photographer wife, Courtney, were perusing the newspaper one morning when they stumbled on the single sentence that would prove to be their “a-ha” moment: the startling statistic that each year, more than 5 million children under the age of 5 die due to water-related illnesses. Not long after, Hand in Hand, the beauty company that provides one bar of soap and one month of clean water to children in the developing world for every product sold, was born. “Shortly after the 2010 earthquake, we went to Haiti for the very first time and saw the devastation up close,” Glaab says. “That was the moment when it hit us in our hearts. These weren’t just numbers anymore—these were kids with faces and stories.”

Since then, Hand in Hand has grown by leaps and bounds, steadily moving up through bespoke boutiques into larger stores, like Anthropologie, and as of next year, every Target in the U.S. As a result, Hand in Hand has made a massive impact in Haiti: To date, it’s donated more than 300,000 bars of soap and built four wells that serve more than 4,000 people every day. “The idea of being a social entrepreneur is changing the whole business ethos in that doing good and being good are part of and crucial to having a successful company,” Glaab says. “Each victory you achieve simultaneously makes you stronger and a little bit more tired, but the key is to be positive and just keep going—and never give up.”

Rhys Powell
Founder and president, Red Rabbit

“I spent two years as a lunch lady at a middle school in downtown Manhattan,” says Rhys Powell. “Being with those kids and seeing how important food was in their day, and realizing my role in providing them with that food and then how important I became in their lives, was a pivotal moment for me.” It also gave the founder of the New York City–based, healthy school-food provider Red Rabbit a glimpse into the city’s broken food system and a more sharply focused mission for his company, which had previously serviced only the private-school sector: to provide healthy food for all kids.

Addressing the improvement of the local healthy-food infrastructure is an ongoing challenge that’s been a large part of building Red Rabbit, and Powell works tirelessly with some of the healthy-food movement’s pioneers, like Grow NYC, to help move the needle. It’s a calling that he approaches with his signature can-do attitude and a level head, because helping to solve the problem is not only the business he’s created but also his service for society. “Our mission is our business. And everyone at Red Rabbit, from the top level down, works here because of our mission,” Powell says. “They are talented folks who could get great jobs elsewhere, but because of what we do and how we do it and our commitment to the kids we serve, they’ve decided to give their careers to Red Rabbit. It’s a shift that’s happening in business and really indicative of what’s happening in society, too.”

Carla Walker Miller
President and C.E.O., Walker-Miller Energy Services

As an engineer at the same firm for 18 years, Carla Walker Miller had come to the conclusion that her path to success was actually leading her out the front door. So with her vast experience and knowledge of her product, she isolated a gap in the market and started a company to help residential and commercial building owners in Detroit save energy and money that could then be invested back into the local economy. Her community-driven model is the beating heart of Walker-Miller Energy Services. “My proudest achievement is employing people who live and work in Detroit. That gives me the greatest amount of joy,” Walker Miller says. “Just from our little circle of influence, from the little spirit that we control in the community, we’re able to make a difference in people’s lives.”

And the good the company is doing for the community is not just limited to the employees it hires: When a recent project to install a two-megawatt solar array on behalf of a private company got the community up in arms, Walker Miller’s team collaborated with the mayor’s office to show residents how this solar array could be a catalyst for transforming the entire neighborhood. “We see it every day. We see it in our neighborhoods and our communities: we all want the same things. We all want to be part of a team, to be respected, to be valued, to make a good living. But the universal themes of humanity are business. It’s what business should be. And that’s just how I feel about it.”

Kristen Preau Moore
C.E.O. and owner, Jambalaya Girl Food Products

Kristen Preau Moore’s ambition in life has always been to celebrate the place she proudly calls home—which is why her early career shows a distinct pattern: She was a costume character at Jazzland, an intern at the Superdome, and worked in marketing and sales for University of New Orleans Athletics, among other things. But it was only after Hurricane Katrina that the New Orleans–born entrepreneur’s dream came into sharper focus. “My house flooded and I was evacuated. I had this sense that I had my whole life ahead of me and I had to figure out something. And like the natural response of most Louisiana people to tragedy, I decided to cook.”

The daughter of a small-business owner whose company made cooking equipment, Preau Moore was no stranger to the food business, or jambalaya, which she grew up cooking with her father. The pair embarked on a traveling football-season tailgating fundraiser to 11 universities serving jambalaya—and raised $100,000 for her hometown. “People kept asking me for my recipe and I knew that there was a connection … and I wanted to turn that connection into a business.” After a crucial rebrand to Jambalaya Girl (her childhood nickname), the girl with the fork earrings is now preparing to launch her seasoned mixes in grocery stores across the country. But she never forgets where she came or how she realized her dream. “What I live by every day comes from my high school motto of ‘Veritas.’ Be true to yourself. So I make sure I’m bringing it back to my city, no matter where I’m taking it around the world.”

Suzanne Scanlon Rabinowitz
Co-founder and managing director, Bliss Lawyers

A law firm with the tagline “Happy clients, happy lawyers” seems to be a bit of misnomer—but not to Suzanne Scanlon Rabinowitz. While it’s true that the lawyer left her position at a large firm because it was not a hospitable environment to start a family, it was that experience along with her reentry into the practice of law at a virtual firm that led her and a partner to create Bliss Lawyers. An alternative legal model, Bliss Lawyers acts as a virtual staffing business with a national network of more than 15,000 lawyers who are immediately available on a full-time or part-time basis. “It’s a national community of lawyers who have reached out to us to say, ‘We want to work differently.’ We do focus on women who want to return to the practice of law and do meaningful work, but also have some flexibility and try to maintain some work-life balance, which, historically, has eluded the legal profession.”

This year alone, Bliss Lawyers will have helped find permanent employment for more than 100 people, including females, minorities, and those displaced by the financial downturn. “I get verklempt when I think about the jobs I’ve created for people and their families,” Scanlon Rabinowitz says. “We wanted to have a successful business, but we needed it to have a mission and a purpose. To me, employing people with generous compensation and not being greedy and keeping all of the money for the business, has been something I’m extraordinarily proud of.”

Learn more about the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.

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