Person of the Week: Cathy Belk

Dear Readers,

In this interview series where we ask questions to people who are making a difference, it can be big, it can be small, it doesn’t matter, what matters is their contribution to our society. It can be anyone from any walk of life and from any country. Please, do send us suggestions of people whom you think we should interview for this series.

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Cathy Belk is the president of JumpStart Inc. which provides support, direction and an ecosystem for start-ups. Cathy works with CEOs, founders, investors & community leaders to encourage entrepreneurial growth. Cathy previously served as JumpStart’s Chief Operations Officer and Chief Relationship Officer before taking over as President. In her more than 20 years of work experience, she has lead marketing and business management projects at various organizations such as American Greetings, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble and Bank of America. Cathy was a Keller Scholar, she holds a BA in Economics from Davidson College and an MBA from Duke University.

Following are her views on some of our questions.

  1. Tell us something about yourself?

I’m currently working as the President of JumpStart, an organization which unlocks the full potential of diverse and ambitious entrepreneurs in the State of Ohio. I’m inspired by the entrepreneurs I work with as well as the incredible team at our office, some of the discoveries and technologies these folks are working with, and travelling. I’ve never been to India, but it’s a place I would love to go with my family.

  1. What motivates you in your work?

I am motivated daily by working with people who have a vision to create. Our offices are often filled with entrepreneurs and creators working hard to bring an idea to market. They are hungry and they are willing to do whatever it takes to move their business to the next stage. It’s the chance to watch innovation in motion – to see them working with mentors and business and finance consultants and evolving their thinking daily. It’s truly inspiring.

  1. What would be your advice for entrepreneurs who don’t have a prior experience of running a business or access to an entrepreneurship incubator or ecosystem?

Try to sit down with a local entrepreneur you admire to learn about their experience. Everyone’s experiences are different but it always helps to talk to someone who’s been through it before, even to learn what mistakes you can avoid making. Ask them what they’re reading or what events they’re attending. Down the line, it’s important to find a mentor who can help guide you – a lot of entrepreneurs undervalue the importance of a strong mentor or advisor.

  1. What are some of the mistakes have you seen startups make?

One of the biggest mistakes is not understanding the customer market. Entrepreneurs will have great ideas, but often it turns out that the market just isn’t there or there aren’t viable customers who are willing to pay for a product or service. Also, we see entrepreneurs who aren’t willing or ready to take the advice of mentors or others in their field. A huge part of being an entrepreneur is understanding when to pivot or when to accept that something isn’t working and to move on.

  1. Do you think that women face more challenges in starting a company than men?

Entrepreneurs need two things to succeed– capital and resources. And there tends to be less capital and resources for women because statistically, there are far fewer women investors right now (and it’s been shown that many investors invest in companies run by people like themselves, for conscious and unconscious reasons). But we’re on the path to changing that. At JumpStart, we have an investment fund called the Focus Fund, which invests solely in minority and women-owned tech businesses. We know we need to walk the talk and lead by example for the rest of the country. Right now there are only a handful of funds across the United States like the Focus Fund – our hope is that we continue to see investors step up to the plate and acknowledge that there needs to be more resources and focus put on supporting women and minority run businesses.

  1. Can you share your experience working with women entrepreneurs?

They are visionary. They are resourceful. They rely heavily on their networks and are not afraid to jump in and try to raise capital in untraditional forms like crowdfunding. And the women we see in Northeast Ohio and across our wonderful state are dedicated to supporting each other. We have an amazing networking group in Northeast Ohio called the Burning River Coffee Community, which enables female entrepreneurs to network and learn about each other’s businesses.

  1. What was the most inspiring story of entrepreneurship that you came across in your work?

There’s one story a day I could tell you that inspires me, so picking one is hard. But why don’t I mention some of the solutions entrepreneurs are working on in this area. How to detect cancer quickly through a simple blood test. How to harness the energy of heat rising off a hot sidewalk or parking lot to power homes.  How to make sure that when your internet goes out, you know exactly when someone will arrive to fix it. How to recycle leftover food to feed those who are hungry. How to determine if someone has diabetes through looking into her eye (vs. a blood prick).  How can you not be inspired by these and other realities our entrepreneurs are trying to create?

  1. What’s the incentive for communities to encourage startups and how can they do it?

We know that all net new job growth over the past 30 years has come from startups and small businesses. It’s impossible to ignore the economic impact these types of companies continue to create. The more communities can help facilitate resources and find capital to help startups and small businesses grow, the more likely those companies are to stay and reinvest in their own community. We’ve seen this first hand in Northeast Ohio where we’ve helped create more than 11,000 jobs and more than $3B in economic impact working with these types of high-growth organizations.

  1. In regards to fostering growth and entrepreneurship, what are your expectations from the next president?

First, I’d like our president to appreciate the role small businesses have in our economy, and to be interested and knowledgeable in the challenges business owners face. I’d like the president to take policy positions and start programs which accelerate entrepreneurial and small business growth as a major platform in her or his administration, and to keep it on top of the political agenda. And I’d like the president to advocate for inclusiveness in entrepreneurship. We need anyone in the U.S. interested to pursue an entrepreneurial dream to have equal access to the capital and resources which will support her or him. While not everyone will be successful, until we have more equal access, we will never have the level and type of innovation and entrepreneurship happening that the U.S. economy needs to grow.

  1. Your message for our readers?

If you aren’t an entrepreneur but you know one, please support her. Entrepreneurship can be hard and lonely.  Find out what she’s working on, and then be sure to tell her it’s important, valuable, and exciting (because I’ll bet it will be!)

 

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