STARTUP SPOTLIGHT The Making of an Entrepreneurial Promise How One Founder Embarked on a Journey to Educate & Empower Women Nikki Blacksmith, Ph.D. Oct 21 · 6 min read
Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash
By Nikki Blacksmith, Ph.D. & Mo McCusker, Ph.D.
The path to entrepreneurship is so often romanticized in the media, and rightfully so- there is a lot to love: autonomy, creative freedom, realizing your life dream, and -the best part for me- choosing your teammates. But the entrepreneurial path is also very often unpaved, rocky and steep, and like the founder themselves, unique. But it’s just that — the idiosyncratic, colorful experience- that is the very essence of entrepreneurship.
For this reason, we at Blackhawke, aim to illuminate the diversity of the entrepreneurial journey by sharing stories that uncover human-aspects of startup life. Enter: Maya Garnett, Founder and CEO of P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her. We chose to spotlight Maya and P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her not only because empowering women entrepreneurs is a key value we hold at Blackhawke, but also because her story illustrates the power of self-understanding, social support, and stellar teammates.
In September, my co-founder Mo and I attended DC Startup Week and were fortunate to meet Maya. She graciously shared with us the story of her journey and how she designed her vision for P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her, a women’s empowerment and support organization that offers a safe space where all women and girls are embraced, accepted, and taught to build a life in which they will thrive.
“Undereducated workers today have few options to move up. By and large, it’s difficult for such workers to find the time or resources to dedicate to furthering their education. The people who manage to do so while working low-wage jobs are practically superhuman. But that shouldn’t be the requirement for living a good life in America.” ~ Steve Case, Investor, Former CEO & Chairman of AOL
The Power of a Single Vote of Confidence
There comes a point in the entrepreneurial journey, where you have to make a dedicated commitment to your unpaved path. A moment where you determine whether you are comfortable (enough) with the risk of the unknown and are ready to make sacrifices to breathe life into your dream. But before that point… you must wrestle with this one question: do you think you can do it?
At the beginning of Maya’s journey, she reached out to her cousin Cierra to share her vision of building a small women’s support group and then one thing led to another. Cierra thought Maya’s idea was noble, exciting, and greatly needed, but there was one thing Cierra brought to light: Maya was selling herself short. Cierra saw something powerful in Maya’s ideas but more so, she saw the power in Maya’s capabilities to make the vision happen. She helped Maya build self-awareness and confidence, inspiring Maya to take her ideas to the next level, and so P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her was born.
The power of a champion was not lost on Maya and that’s why one of her guiding principles is the notion that we as human beings owe it to others — fellow entrepreneurs, friends, family, the generations that will come after — to set standards of excellence by striving to be everything they can be and helping to push other people past their own perceived limitations. In other words, it’s our duty to be our best selves and champion others to do the same.
It Takes a Team
P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her provides a space where women and girls feel comfortable being uncomfortable. A place where girls are not afraid to try and to fail. After all, if you are not failing at something, how will you ever know how far you can go?
Once committed to growing her vision, Maya knew she needed a strong team, who could inspire and push others to be their best selves. She needed a compassionate team qualified to offer support and facilitate difficult conversations about sensitive topics. She needed a person on her team that had a futuristic-orientation, someone with leadership capabilities, and someone who was sociable to help build relationships in the community. Who better than the very same people who had inspired her and pushed her during adolescence and through her professional career?
“My team is winning,” says Maya, “I wouldn’t have chosen any other people.” Maya and her Board of Directors have watched each other grow up, they have supported each other for years, held each other accountable, looked out for one another, and pushed each other to be better. They have walked through challenges together in the past, and she knew they’d walk through this challenge with her, and compliment her skillset. The team is highly aware of the benefits that have sprung from supporting one another and that not everyone is lucky enough to have support. It is for this very reason, her board has a strong shared purpose and a genuine belief in the importance of P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her’s mission.
Educating & Empowering the Next Generation of Leaders
“Building a life in which you can thrive is much more likely to be achieved when people have a safe place to grow,” Maya explains, “and every girl deserves the opportunity to thrive by following her dreams and living the best version of her life.” She wants women and girls to know that they are not alone and that at P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her, there will always be a group of inspirational women ready to help them through any difficulty and to thrive by…
1.Equipping them with the basics.
They will teach women and girls the ins and outs of achieving financial wealth, basic etiquette, communication skills, and professionalism.
2. Removing gender roles.
Many life skills such as auto mechanics come with stereotypical gender assignments and therefore are not broadly taught to women. Maya and her team plan on changing that paradigm, empowering women to manage core aspects of their lives.
3. Bringing awareness and light to reality.
Many common struggles, such as mental health, are topics that still carry a stigma or go unspoken. Her team will educate women and girls about the realities of motherhood, how to cope with stressors, and how to build resilience.
Maya and her team want P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her to feel less like a corporate organization and more of a family; a place where girls can feel free to be vulnerable. So it doesn’t matter what you look like, where you come from, what you want to do, or who you will be, you’re welcome.
Know Thyself and Thy Team
“When it comes to the way we see ourselves, we must be brave enough to spread our wings, but wise enough not to fly too high, lest our blindspots send us soaring into the sun” ~ Tasha Eurich, NYT Best-selling author
What you can learn from Maya’s story is this: the final decision to take the leap into startup life does not begin when a good idea “pops” into one’s head. The decision to take that leap is a mental trek that requires knowing, understanding, and committing to your unapologetic self, no matter how that looks. It requires realizing that your trek and path may look totally different than every other person’s. It requires courage, confidence, and wisdom. Above all, it requires surrounding yourself with people and teammates who help you build and maintain that self, those traits, and those beliefs, even in the rockiest of times. When entrepreneurs understand themselves, their assets (strengths) and liabilities (weaknesses), they can more effectively partner with people who uniquely complement them and bring out their best selves. Find those people. It’s worth it, I P.R.O.M.I.S.E. you.
Pass on Your Valuable Skills to Her
Want to volunteer and support P.R.O.M.I.S.E. Her? Contact Maya https://www.promiseher.org/ and offer your wisdom to the next generation. The more volunteers the better!