un-incubator

Fuck Yes

One year ago today was my last day as COO of 121Giving. At the time, I remember feeling like I was jumping off a cliff with no parachute. I just knew it was what I needed to do.

I had spent 5 years building 121Giving, from scratch, with my then co-founder. I helped take it from a logo and a powerpoint diagram, to $1M in funding and a fully sustaining business. Through lots and lots of hurdles, including incubators, pitching, fundraising, launching, acquiring customers, and most complex of all, navigating team and relationships. 

In that 5 years I went from thinking of myself as a designer and marketer who was helping build the brand for a startup, to an entrepreneur who really had what it took to weather the storms. I found a way to embrace the power I have always had, resilience and consistency. And I started to own it. I mean, really own it. 

I could give you a sob story about how hard it was to do all this work, and endless nights and weekends, the sacrifices and all that. And they would all be true. But what hits me today as I think back to where I was a year ago, is that I'm really fucking proud of myself for realizing that chapter was done and moving the fuck on. I learned what I was meant to learn, and the challenges had become unhealthy. Toxic really. 

As the near year turned in 2016 I found myself asking this question - is this leading to where I want to go in my future? Can my partner support me in reaching my full potential? And the answer, sadly, was no. It was a very hard decision to step down as COO. I had built the business from scratch, and invested personally and professionally. I felt accountable to everyone; my co-founder, my team, and most of all our nonprofit customers. I had no idea what the future held without that work. But ultimately, I realized after lots of soul searching that I was very done.

One of my favorite authors, Mark Manson, wrote a wonderfully honest blog post a while back called Fuck Yes or No and in it he described how you should not be in any relationship, business or professional, unless it's a "fuck yes" for you. That hit me hard because it rang so true. When I made the choice to leave, my co-founder was very upset and angry. Frankly have never felt more alone. I went through months of deep sadness about the end of our professional relationship and friendship. But ultimately, I still felt clear that this was the right choice for me. 

As I left and began Haven last spring, dozens of mentors and supporters came to my aid. I found a space to host our early workshops, and I took the leap to move into a tiny home in Hyde Park with my daughter. Then, I discovered a shared passion for this safe space and incubator concept in my dear friend Ben Gibson, the Founder of Youvolution. We had met a year before, on the street at SXSW. He filmed the first video for my last business and had become a trusted collaborator over that year.2

This photo was taken at NewCo 2015, a few months after we met. Here I am, standing between my co-founder at the time (right) and my future co-founder (left). Little did I know!  

Fast forward to spring 2016 - Ben and I began searching for a space to open together, and we became increasingly discouraged as we found place after place that didn't match our budget or our vision for the right tone. We wanted a homey, authentic place that we could welcome people into. Then, magically it seemed, the house in front of my tiny home became available. We leapt and took it, merging our business operations and routines.

Now, 9 months later, I have the integrated life I've always dreamed of. My 9-year-old daughter gets to be there as I run Haven and The Un.Incubator, and I no longer spend my life driving from place to place feeling guilty about either shirking my parenting or business duties. None of this would have been possible if I had not made these two momentous and risky choices; to leave my previous startup role, and face the negative responses all around me, and to start Haven, sharing my needs and asking for help from everyone in my network.

Late last year Ben and I began collaborating on his vision for Novo, a 9-acre plot of land we intend to develop as an intentional tiny-home community for social entrepreneurs. (below)

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We spent this weekend out on Novo preparing for our June 1 opening - we showed our first residents the land and shared our dreams. It was an incredible feeling to realize all that has transpired in just one year. We have an urban space on 35th Street full of 20 social entrepreneurs and the beginnings of our future vision out on the land. And, on a personal level, in one year I have gone from incredibly isolated as a single mom and entrepreneur, to the fullest life I have ever experienced. 

Things have not been easy, financially or emotionally. And if you ask me about it, I promise I'll tell you the real deal. But, if you are feeling stuck or unsatisfied I would challenge you to think about this - what do you crave? What would bring you joy? As one of our mentors, Ann Fry, likes to say. What would you do, if you knew you would not fail?

If you are in a relationship, whether it's personal or work-related, that's keeping you from being the original soulful beautiful human you were born to be, if it's not a fuck yes - you might need to consider a change. Trust me, it'll be worth it. You're bolder than you think. 

 

Risk Being Fully Yourself

This week we've been hosting dinners each night to kick off our new cohorts at the Un.Incubator. The food is simple and the premise is too - let's connect and let's get to know one another. Let's be present. Let's listen. Let's see what evolves, if we bring dreamers around a table and hold the space for them to share, risk and create.

This is our 3rd quarter of the Un.Incubator and the first time that I have been filled with such creative excitement. Because building this business is teaching me to trust more, risk more, love more, and most of all to be present more. With each new dreamer I meet, I become more and more courageous. To each of you, thank you for bringing your heart and soul with you. For being willing to re-invent over and over, in pursuit. For teaching me each day. It is lonely and often deeply mortifying to risk financially, professionally, and personally to live into your dreams and bring them to life. To create what you have never seen. But there is nothing else I can imagine doing with my life.

I opened one of my favorite books this morning for a visit to several dog-eared pages. This quote jumped out at me, stronger now than ever in my life:

"The gifts you have been given in this life do not belong to you alone. They belong to everyone. Do not be selfish and withhold them. Don't imprison yourself in a lifestyle that holds your spirit hostage and provides no spontaneity or grace in your life. Risk being yourself fully. Let go of the expectations others have for you and get in touch with what brings you the greatest joy and fulfillment. Live from the inside out, not from the outside in." - Paul Ferrini

 

 

Because We're Stronger Together

Last week I marched in the Women's March on Austin, alongside an estimated 50K other people. And most importantly, alongside my partner in impact, Ben. There he was, with a pink Dreamer t-shirt on, camera in hand, chanting and supporting all the women who came out. I kept looking around me, at the men in the crowd. And it felt so empowering. To have their support. To know that so many men were there, despite perhaps a sense of awkwardness, to support the women in their lives.

This, is what matters. Strong women, dreamers, those pursuing activism or art or any form of impact - they deserve to be uplifted, to be championed. And although I value the beautiful sweetness that comes from women supporting women, I want to make a point with my work at Impact Haven, to show men how important their role is too. There is nothing like the feeling of living to your fullest possible potential in the moment, expressing your voice and your talent and your fire. And there is nothing that compares to feeling supported by a man while doing that.

All around me at the march I saw this happening. Women chanting for their rights and equality, and men chanting with them. Men starting chants, in support of women. It was electric, the atmosphere at the capitol. I saw the look on the men's faces, looks of pride and honor.

So this is what I want to say about Impact Haven and the future of this brand. We are not just a space for women. We never have been. We are a space for dreamers, change makers and misfits. Because let's be honest, those usually go together :) We welcome anyone who resonates with our intent to empower change and impact, in Austin. 

Impact Haven and the Un.Incubator would not have gone from an idea to a building full of energy with the momentum and strength we already have as a community, if it were not for the men who have shown up to nurture and strengthen us. Men play a huge role in impact, both as leaders and as champions. To the men who mentor, teach, and support this program, I cannot thank you enough.

2017 is going to be a huge year for us, full of growth and pursuit and probably plenty of fear too.

I hope you'll join us, because we are stronger together.


Interested in joining our next cohort and building your impact idea into a business?  Applications are open until February 15th, and we'd love to meet you! Apply here.

Looking for a space to meet or cowork? We have openings, and it's super affordable at $75/month. Sign up to cowork or just drop by for the day for $5.

 

Talking Circles: Different Paths to a Shared Place

Guest Post by Meghan Williams

For four nights a week, Impact Haven is filled with groups of entrepreneurs ready to roll up their sleeves and make 2017 their year, the year they take ideas for social change and bring them to life. Sitting in a tight circle with our notebooks out we start each night off by catching up with everyone while secretly wondering what assignment we are going to get that day. Is it going to be a challenging night? How vulnerable will I have to be? Will I have my “aha!” moment?

But that’s why we are all here, taking on the challenges the Un.Incubator brings to us each week. We’re here to be vulnerable and to dig deep. Some of us are at different stages: too many passions, but no cohesive concept or an innovative business idea that lacks structure. And every single one of us has a different passion with a different outcome in mind. So, how will this work for me as an individual with my own plan? It’s easy. Surround yourself with motivated people, and you will be motivated. Surround yourself with creative people who want to make a difference, and you will be inspired. Surround yourself with entrepreneurs in similar phases, and you will find empathy and support.

Recently, I read Gloria Steinem’s book On the Road and was inspired by her stories about talking circles. As she discussed the impact that witnessing and participating in these circles around the world has had on her life and her community organizing, I kept thinking about all of the sharing and supporting that occurs during Un.Incubator sessions. These sessions are just that, fire-side-like chats full of expressing ourselves freely, guiding each other through solutions, and formulating smart and effective actions.

“some deep part of me was being nourished and transformed right along with the villagers”

I have experienced that same feeling Steinem had when she discovered the significance and necessity of talking circles in moving change forward. If it weren’t for the conversations within the supportive circles the Un.Incubator offers, I would not have developed my idea into realistic action nor would I have had the courage to pursue it like I am doing this year. I started with the Un.Incubator in the fall with no clue which of my passions I wanted to follow. Through the deep self-reflection activities I was able to narrow down my passions to a main idea and the fire started building inside me. It was then through the sharing and discussion of this idea with my peers that I began to visualize a business concept and the fire grew. Now, as I work through the second phase of the Un.Incubator with a new cohort I can begin to believe in this idea and that it will make a difference in the community.

“…nothing can replace being in the same space. […] we discover we’re not alone, we learn from one another, and so we keep going toward shared goals.”

It will be exciting to see where each of my fellow Un.Incubator members will be at the end of the year as well. I can see the fire in every single one of them. And I also see the struggle. But that’s why we form a circle each week and roll up our sleeves. Our ideas couldn’t be more different: from filmmaking, art curating, fair trade, alternate currency, ending human trafficking, to eco traveling. Yet our end result is the same: social change. So, watch out 2017, we’re changing things up a bit. We are motivated. We are inspired. And we have found community.

The Time Is Always Right

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
- MLK Jr.

As we kicked off our 4 cohorts last week, I found myself full of a mixture of fear and anticipation. Launching Haven early in 2016, and then the Un.Incubator program in the fall, all of it is heartfelt. The recurring thought that runs in my mind is, what if I'm not enough? What if this fails? As my dear partner Ben likes to say, "this venture is our bloody hearts on a platter." And it is. We're pouring into this program everything we wish we had, when we started out as entrepreneurs. And we're committed to walking alongside each person who comes through our doors ready to make change, ready to work. To see it come to life, to see such a overwhelming response, is proof that this community and program need to exist. Especially now. Oh, especially now.

Later this week, we all know, is the inauguration. I've never been less ready for a change in power. But I also feel momentum brewing, and I see it and hear it in these 4 walls at Haven. I see so many women stepping up to the plate, ready to use their voices and creative talents to make an impact. To create a platform for those who don't have to voice. To create opportunities for others to claim their own value. To fight for the defenseless.

 Lauren Bruno, Leti Bueno, Yviee Quintanilla, Tyeschea West, Liz Deering

Lauren Bruno, Leti Bueno, Yviee Quintanilla, Tyeschea West, Liz Deering

Ladies, my message to you is this - you are powerful beyond your imagination. Your willingness to step up, is the most important thing. Please remain willing. Tenaciously willing. To put yourself in the epicenter of heartfelt, hard, change-making work. To fiercely apply your craft, skill and power to your mission. After all, as MLK Jr. said, the time is always right to do what is right.

Take Your Broken Heart...

Meryl Streep gave a moving speech Sunday as she accepted the lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes. Many things were wonderful about her speech. Including her focus on diversity and her stern reprimand of Trump's bullying behavior. But my favorite bit was at the very end. She recognized her fellow actors for modeling empathy in their work. Then she said,

"As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia, said to me once, take your broken heart, make it into art." - Meryl Streep

Tonight we're kicking off our next chapter of the Un.Incubator with 4 cohorts made up of 21 inspirational entrepreneurs. To us, social impact is not just traditional nonprofit work or even just giving to those in need. It is those things. It is also inspirational work, work that moves and motivates people, and who better to do that work than artists of all kinds? We have creative impact entrepreneurs of all sorts in our cohorts this winter: filmmakers, designers, photographers, musicians, art curators, performance artists and more.

 

If you haven't watched Meryl's speech, take a minute and do it. Just another example of how powerful artists can be to move people and change the world.

I'll leave you with a quote from Mary Oliver which I discovered recently in a book given to me by a new friend, Blessed Are the Wierd.

Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all. But fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.
- Mary Oliver

Here's to 2017, to all the misfits, rebels and lonely dreamers. May you take your brokenness, your indignation, your pain - and may you create that which heals, inspires, moves, and changes our world!

 

 

 

 

We Are: Meant To Come Together

Last night we had a full house at our election party. As election numbers rolled in I looked around and saw fear and anger on the faces of so many. Some on the verge of tears. We are a diverse group, Haven and Youvolution. We are young and old, men and women, gay and bi and straight, immigrants and children of immigrants, white, brown and black. We shared the space and our fears.

To me last night marked a very low point in our country in my lifetime. It also lit a fire in me. To push even harder towards the vision I have to empower changemakers from minority backgrounds, those who don't feel they fit. Women, and all minorities. These are my people, they have always been.

I woke up heavy hearted this morning knowing I had to tell my 8 year old daughter that Trump won the election. This beautiful soul, born the year Obama was elected. When I told her, she cried. And then so did I. I sat there with my coffee, holding her, not sure what to say. Her father is an immigrant from Haiti who got his citizenship the year before we elected Obama. He is living the American dream. My beautiful mixed race family represents my perspective and my intent. To be open and welcoming and to embrace our diversity, it is our strength. 

As I look around our space today, our Haven, I'm feeling somber and sad, and prayerful. 

May this election pull some incredible dreamers and changemakers to their feet, may we see their fire and passion, and may I get to play a part in supporting them. 

We are meant to come together. To all of you, who show up here in this space pursuing your dreams and passions, who share your struggles and your victories, thank you. You give me courage for the road ahead. 

We Are: Dreamcatchers

The Un.Incubator is in full swing this fall. Night after night I see our space full of energy - with this growing community of idealists. Women who intend to change the world, change their communities, bring new perspective or new solutions to life. And the mentors who have come alongside them to collaborate and champion them. Helping bring this creative, flexible, co-creating, nourishing space to life is already a dream come true for me.

I have been blessed to be joined in this effort since the early summer by my co-conspirator, Kim Tidwell. She has brought her extensive background in marketing and branding as well as her big heart and even larger network to the table. Although she won't tell you this when you meet her, she's a pretty big damn deal :)  It was her collaboration that has made it possible to launch the founding cohort of the Un.Incubator this fall. To you Kim, an endless thank you, for who you are and how you've continued to show up in this endeavor!

To my great surprise, and delight this fall, I have discovered another co-conspirator in the Un.Incubator, Ben Gibson. Ben is the founder of Youvolution, and my partner in the coworking space we run in Hyde Park. He is also an idealist, like myself, who believes that when given the right resources and community, creators will thrive. He has built a membership of more than 20 independent filmmakers since he launched over 2 years ago, and has seen firsthand how the resources he provides them have helped propel their solo careers.

Recently he and I sat down to brainstorm together and landed on this - we want to expand the Un.Incubator together, to serve both women in impact and creatives of all types. In January we will launch 2 new cohorts; another cohort of women in impact and also a cohort of creatives: filmmakers, designers, maybe illustrators or artisans or others who want to turn their creative skill into a business. They all share a common theme, and perhaps you resonate with this too, or know someone who does.

You have a dream, an idea that is bigger than you, it's personal, and you want to venture out on your own. You want a sustaining career following this passion. You want to know where to start, or you have already started and you need resources along the way. You need a place where the self-sabotaging negativity and doubt is filtered out, and you can see your dream clearly ahead.

The Ojibwe believe that a dreamcatcher changes a person's dreams. "Only good dreams would be allowed to filter through... Bad dreams would stay in the net, disappearing with the light of day. Good dreams would pass through and slide down the feathers to the sleeper." - Konrad J. Kaweczynski

This is a central theme of the Un.Incubator. To be the space which empowers creators to dream big, and to provide the collaborators you need to filter out all the negativity. I think there's no better time than now to expand the Un.Incubator. Let's be un-apologetically idealistic. And let's imagine future generations of creators and dreamers among us, with the resources to sustain, changing and empowering the communities we live in.

If this resonates with you, I'd love to connect. Feel free to reach out to me at liz at impacthaven.com. You can also nominate someone for the Un.Incubator, apply yourself, or get involved as a mentor.

 

 

Permission to Succeed at your Art

As I've launched Haven this summer I've met so many incredible, talented women. Surprisingly, many of these women who don't see themselves a entrepreneurs. They are filmmakers, musicians, creatives, writers, nonprofit innovators, inventors. They identify with their art, and the community surrounding it. They want to take their experiences and make big change happen. 

They are the ones I started Haven for. The dreamers and creators, the ones who want to give back to their communities but feel that the current accelerators or incubators serve them. I share their story. I spent years feeling on the outside of the startup scene here in Austin. Yes, it's one of the friendliest places you'll ever live, and yes, people are very willing to support here. However, the systems that exist are built almost entirely by and for men. I'm sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. They are full of contests, pressure-cooker scenarios and high stakes moments. There is very little mentorship or co-creation. 

It's my belief that it's time for a new system to emerge. One that is built for women. For social innovators. One that nourishes the whole woman, personally and professionally. One that provides her with business tools as well as a network in which to grow her idea and succeed in her art. 

Many of us struggle with the notion of being successful at our art, or our passion. We wonder if we can ever, or perhaps we tell ourselves that it wouldn't be savory to make money doing our art.

I love this quote from Elissa Altman, it sums up what I hope to nourish inside the Un.Incubator here at Haven. 

Quiet the noise around you; soften its pitch. Our deepest stories are our best teachers. Let the weapons of the weak — the poison, the nagging, the gossip — burn themselves to ash. Cast them to the wind. Take back the permission to succeed. Make it yours.
— - Elissa Altman

 

If you're ready to embrace your passion as your business, please come check out Haven. We offer coworking for $75/month. And we're now accepting nominations and applications for the Un.Incubator, our new take on empowering women-led social impact startups.

 

 

 

 

 

Girl on Fire

Last fall I found myself sitting in a therapist's office, talking about my relationship struggles and my professional struggles, which seemed to be converging into one big theme. The men in my life were threatened by me. The men who I worked with wanted to tamper down my voice, as if it diminished their power. The environments I was in were male-dominated and it felt there was no space for me to be a strong, committed, powerful woman or for me to grow. The men I dated were interested, and then they shrunk away and disappeared once I shared with them my vision or ideas for change.

Woefully I described this to the therapist. She looked at me with a knowing look and said, "Maybe it's time for you to stop catering to the men in your life. Do what's in your heart! Men who resonate with your powerful presence and your passion will appear, if you chart your own path."

I wrote it down in my journal. And I went home, and thought to myself "nope...hell nope!" Then, I processed it a bit over the following weeks and realized, it was exactly what I needed to do. Shit. It set in.

I started choosing differently. At first it was really painful. Choosing to express my vision and passion, without reservations for the first time. I'll be honest, it created a shit storm in my personal and professional life. This is not a great pep talk yet, I realize :)

But slowly, surely, I started to notice new people appearing in my path. Men who not only resonated with my passion and powerful intent for Haven, but who wanted to help me bring it to life.

Following my passion and my desires, I left the startup I had helped bring to life 5 years before and launched Haven. I asked for help. All the time! I shared my vision, without reservations. And doors started opening, easily. I found a partner who supported me by offering me event space for the summer. I found other collaborators who helped me shape my approach. And magically, it seemed, another partner who wanted to open a co-creating coworking space with me.

Here we are, 3 months after I started practicing this new way of being, and I'm sitting at Haven watching this dream of mine come to life. It has happened so much faster and so much more effortlessly than I anticipated. I'm still waiting for the reality to sink in.

Ladies, if you're wishing that you didn't threaten the men in your life, all I can say is use your powerful heartfelt voice! Burn and blaze away! And the people who are meant to be there for your journey will appear.

To each of the men who has helped propel me, support me, and continue to rally with me, thank you from the bottom of my heart. I have met so many women with big dreams and powerful unique voices, and they each deserve to be supported like I have been and am.

Men, if you have a badass powerful spirit in your life (or more than one!), get alongside her and help her bring her vision to life. It will be one of the best investments you will ever make.