Nicola Corzine is the Executive Director of the non-profit Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center, a global non-profit dedicated to increasing underrepresented communities’ access to entrepreneurship through education, mentorship, incubator-style programs, and policy-advancing research. Entrepreneurs connected with Corzine to learn about the Center’s signature program, Milestone Mapping Coaching Circles, which provides free 12-week programs to assist women entrepreneurs in revitalizing their business vision, establishing a critical business milestone, and developing a network of support to assist them in achieving their goals.
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During the pandemic, you specifically established the Milestone Circles program to assist female and diverse entrepreneurs. Why was that your primary objective?
We created Circles to help individuals build social capital and peer support regardless of their zip code, skin tone, level of education, or country of origin. The program provides biweekly opportunities for women-owned businesses to address specific challenges, celebrate milestones, attend workshops, and network with small business experts and mentors. Social capital is critical to the success of any business — we examined this with our program partner, Wells Fargo, and there is clear evidence that access to support systems results in increased revenue.
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Could you please explain the value of social capital?
Being a successful entrepreneur is about identifying untapped growth opportunities, and ironically, to arrive at a place of abundance, you must begin with an abundance mindset, which is frequently not the case for businesses or founders. Having a group of peers, a network, mentors, and people you trust are transformative. Because entrepreneurs require confidence to advance to the next stage, having people who understand where you are at this point in your journey is critical. Additionally, social capital enables entrepreneurs to address current challenges such as access to talent, prosperity, and the ability to adapt to an evolving supply chain. Supporting women entrepreneurs, in particular, will have a disproportionate impact on closing the wealth gap as these women are more likely to solve problems that strengthen their communities and families.
What are your entrepreneurial tips for 2022?
We will see an increase in investor appetite for mission- or purpose-driven companies as talent becomes more scarce. The CEO’s primary responsibility will be to recruit and serve as the champion/ambassador.
If you only get one question from an entrepreneur you admire, inquire about their playbook for determining how and where they seek guidance. Again, it is critical to provide positive role models.
The organisational structure of your business can influence where and how you are compensated. Bear this in mind when deciding on the type of business to form.
Your stakeholder or customer network approach should be as automated as possible, not as spontaneous as possible. The most challenging part is managing an unmanageable number of leads, whether customers, vendors, talent applicants, or mentor prospects, especially for investors. You must continually qualify all stakeholders and recognise that this is a dynamic engagement. As unanswered questions or unknowns are clarified and milestones are met, what was once a “no-brainer” for a candidate or investor may no longer be a good fit. Ascertain that you are sending news alerts to all of your target stakeholders—regardless of category—and that you are also following their news online via social media channels.
Avoid projecting too far into the future. For example, consider 1-3 years; consider 5 years, but avoid substituting momentary truths for permanent states of confidence just yet.
How did you achieve such a high level of diversity in your program?
Collaboration. As business owners, we expand our capacity to reach new customers (in our case, entrepreneurs) by collaborating with incredible organisations such as the ParentPreneur Foundation, Hello Alice, and Vets in Tech. Diversification requires us to learn from our entrepreneurs and partner communities. Through our network of over 950 responsive free educational programmes serving 50,000 entrepreneurs worldwide, we are constantly monitoring entrepreneur needs and rapidly establishing programmes to meet the real-time needs of our diverse business owners based on data and insights shared by them.
This is a unique aspect of our business model: we develop software and then analyse the data to shape the next iteration of our offering and the entrepreneurial challenges we take on. For example, we conducted research and gained a better understanding of the needs of aspiring entrepreneurs and the bridges necessary 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 partnered with us on systems-level research on inclusion. In addition, Wilson Sonsini has aided us in putting our research findings into action by assisting us in developing tools and resource centres for entrepreneurs.
Education alone is insufficient for entrepreneurs. We need to change the system so that every entrepreneur has an equal opportunity to succeed. Capital access remains a critical gap, and we are currently collaborating with nine other organisations on the Venture Capital Equity Project to accelerate the capital flow to entrepreneurs of colour. In addition, we’re leveraging data sets to inform intervention opportunities through the Penn State Evidence to Impact Collaborative while hosting action-oriented convenings. Similarly, our commitment to women-owned businesses and the barriers they face due to pay, ownership, and valuation disparities remain a central component of our global effort to advance equitable entrepreneurship.
What are the most pressing issues confronting entrepreneurs today?
Capital Access: More private capital is available today than ever before, but access for BIPOC entrepreneurs remains a challenge. Through our Venture Capital Equity Project, we’re exploring ways to expand capital access opportunities for BIPOC entrepreneurs in collaboration with organisations such as Camelback Ventures, Eifel, Vets in Tech, Parentpreneur Foundation, Venture ESG, and Diversity VC, as well as researchers at Penn State, Stanford, and Carnegie Mellon University. And it’s encouraging to see entrepreneurs embrace new models such as revenue-based loans (Nicola, what else?) and other capital pathways that are authentically aligned with the business they’re building.
Whether in supply chain management, talent development, access to capital, or markets, there has never been a more vulnerable recognition that those who prioritise resiliency as a fundamental goal are the ones who can weather difficult times. John Chambers spoke at the Center last year, and his one piece of advice to entrepreneurs is to keep six months of operating capital on hand in case of unforeseen circumstances.
Access to talent: Perhaps at no point in history has the talent market been more competitive than it is right now. However, the battle is no longer won on perks; it is won on values and the opportunity to work for a purpose-driven organization.
Burnout: While founders have always had 150 items on their daily to-do list, the volume of opportunities and the capacity for more (not fewer) meetings have increased burnout. Sustainable founders must prioritise the sustainability of themselves and their teams and lead by example, which is always a difficult task!
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