Unless It Comes Out of Your Soul Like a Rocket...

A girl friend of mine came over a few nights ago, we sat in my living room drinking wine and catching up. I told her about my last few years, and the giant leap I had just taken to start Haven. She listened, and openly admitted that she didn't think she had "it". The "it" that drives me to create, to pursue new ideas and build businesses, as if my life depended on it. Which I suppose in a way it does. At first, I wanted to deny her this division, and then I realized, she was right. Only she knows this in herself. Her honesty and her support of my many dreams are some of the qualities that make her so endearing to me over the years. So I got to thinking about my creative pursuits, and how I've gotten to where I am today.

The first time I really felt I had found my "people" was in freshman poetry class at University of Michigan, with Professor John Rubadeau, still one of the best teachers I've ever known. He introduced us to so many formats and structures, then encouraged us to break them, and to express ourselves. In his class I learned that I could be free, while writing poetry in a structured format, and I fell deeper in love with the written word. In his class I discovered authors that spoke my language; Kerouac. Bukowski, Dillard. I re-read authors that I had left in junior high, like L'Engle, and fell into the worlds they described, resonated with their emotion and depth.

Years later now, happily launched into the unknown with my 4th startup, I realize this passion for creation is the same in innovators as it is in designers, filmmakers and poets.

And so if you are considering a leap, if you want to create a new business or start something impactful and new from scratch - I'll leave you with this, from Bukowski. And I'll urge you to ask yourself the question - is it coming out of your soul like a rocket? If the answer is HELL YES, then embrace it and enjoy the crazy journey. If it's not, get behind your crazy girl friend who is on a rocket of a journey, she'll appreciate every minute of your support, trust me!

So You Want To Be A Writer
if it doesn't come bursting out of you
in spite of everything,
don't do it.
unless it comes unasked out of your
heart and your mind and your mouth
and your gut,
don't do it.
if you have to sit for hours
staring at your computer screen
or hunched over your
searching for words,
don't do it.
if you're doing it for money or
don't do it.
if you're doing it because you want
women in your bed,
don't do it.
if you have to sit there and
rewrite it again and again,
don't do it.
if it's hard work just thinking about doing it,
don't do it.
if you're trying to write like somebody
forget about it.
if you have to wait for it to roar out of
then wait patiently.
if it never does roar out of you,
do something else.

if you first have to read it to your wife
or your girlfriend or your boyfriend
or your parents or to anybody at all,
you're not ready.

don't be like so many writers,
don't be like so many thousands of
people who call themselves writers,
don't be dull and boring and
pretentious, don't be consumed with self-
the libraries of the world have
yawned themselves to
over your kind.
don't add to that.
don't do it.
unless it comes out of
your soul like a rocket,
unless being still would
drive you to madness or
suicide or murder,
don't do it.
unless the sun inside you is
burning your gut,
don't do it.

when it is truly time,
and if you have been chosen,
it will do it by
itself and it will keep on doing it
until you die or it dies in you.

there is no other way.

and there never was.
Charles Bukowski

Can't Rain On Our Social Enterprise!

Yesterday at Haven I co-hosted an afternoon NewCo session, with Ben Gibson, Founder of local social enterprise Youvolution. An hour before our outdoor session, the skies opened up and it started to pour rain. We looked at each other and decided, the show must go on! We had a fantastic turnout, despite the rain, and we ended up putting all the chairs underneath our small tent, so we could give our attendees somewhere to sit. It was much more intimate than we had planned, and in fact I think it turned out just as was meant to.

We shared about our journeys as social entrepreneurs, and the real challenges we have overcome, our failures, and the challenges we still face ahead. Our goal with the session was to shed the usual formalities and talk from our hearts. We shared the stage (well, the umbrellas!) with Courtney Santana, Founder of Survive2Thrive Foundation and Jessie Rodriguez, a filmmaker with Youvolution. Their stories were real and full of both discouragement and hope for the road ahead.

One of our attendees messaged me this after the event and said this:

"The event was awesome even though it was pouring down rain no one left and listen to the four speakers the entire time. I was so inspired and energized and just juiced up -- I'm so bummed I don't have a business to go start!"

This is exactly the kind of feedback and support that energizes me to keep doing what I am with Haven, creating environments were we can get real and inspire one another to carry on with our dreams.

For those of you who weren't able to join us, I encourage you to check out our speakers and their work, or connect with them if you want to collaborate!

  • Ben Gibson: Youvolution (@yvimpact)
  • Jessie Rodriquez: Filmmaker (@jessiepeliculas)
  • Courtney Santana: Survive2Thrive Foundation (@survive2thrivef)

A huge thanks to Createscape for hosting us in the back yard, and to the Youvolution team for helping produce this whole event, even in the rain! And the ladies of Eslena, thank you for bringing your spirit, and your yummy lemonade drinks for everyone!


Is Courage a Requirement for Dreamers?

Yesterday, as I was thinking about our NewCo presentation and prepping my talking points, I saw a post by my dear friend (and musician) Iyeoka. She had posted a video asking her fans if they thought courage was a requirement to dream. She and I met more than 10 years ago in Boston, long before she was a TED Fellow, before she was touring internationally. She was a pharmacist at CVS and on the weekend she performed slam poetry at the Lizard Lounge. Our friend Francis was helping her produce her first record, Black and Blues, and he recruited me to design the cover. It took such courage, for her to dream that one day she would be where she is now.

As I anticipate the chance to talk about my journey as a social entrepreneur tomorrow, for the first time, I'm not gonna lie I have some nerves. But that's ok - I'm gonna borrow some of Iyeoka's courage. Because after all, that's what we're all here for anyhow, to encourage and empower one another along the way.

Please join me tomorrow at our NewCo Session. I'm honored to be co-hosting with Ben Gibson, founder of Youvolution, a social enterprise dedicated to empowering the dreams of indie filmmakers. We'll share the stage with Courtney Santana, Founder of Survive2Thrive Foundation, and Filmmaker Jessie Rodriguez. Each of their stories are inspiring, and I hope you come away with a little more courage for your entrepreneurial journeys!

Here's a preview of our lineup, we look forward to seeing you there!




Get Messy or Go Home

I picked my daughter up from school the other afternoon, and she was covered in paint. I mean it was in her hair, under her fingernails, all over her clothes and even on the soles of her tennis shoes. I said to her "so, you guys painted today?" She said, "yea Mommy, sorry my clothes are dirty!" I told her it was ok, I mean after all I thought - she's 8. I expect her to come home messy. She looked at me tentatively and said, "Our art teacher told us to get messy. She said to get messy or go home."

"That's right, hell yea!" I thought. To me, getting messy means creating without fear. It means getting in there and exploring, pursuing our passions with abandon, and not worrying what we look like in the process or whether we can clean up good afterwards.

It's our choice as parents (and teachers, thank you to each of you!) to encourage our kids to fully experience life. Whether that's messy paint in art class or much messier situations as they get older. And the example I set for my daughter matters.

In my life, I continue to ask myself, am I surrounding myself with people who support this approach to living? When I come home from a "messy" day as an entrepreneur, I hope those closest to me will smile and say "you got messy today, didn't you?" And then we'll talk about my messy day, and theirs. And we'll revel in the freedom or empathize if it was hard, or both. Either way, we'll encourage one another to get back out there tomorrow and get messy.


Haven Is The Space Between Dreamers Where Life Is Breathed In

I've been a social entrepreneur since I was young, but it took me until a few years ago, when I Co-Founded 121Giving, to realize this was a life-time pattern. Over the last few years I've stopped defining social entrepreneurship as just the act of leaving your day job and starting a social enterprise. It can look like that. But, it can also look like the act of volunteering, helping build programs in your community, supporting efforts to give back. It is part of who we are, it is something we chose to do with our lives and our talents, as women. And it spans the range of experience from our youth and past retirement.

Over the years I've helped countless nonprofits and startups to build their brands, programs and communities. Many of those roles were volunteer ones, as I followed my passion. From my early days teaching poetry to 3rd graders with Inside Out Literary Arts in Detroit to the life-changing year I spent serving with Youth Initiatives in Belfast, I've always been drawn to communities that nourish and empower. Haven is technically the 4th business I've started, but it's the first one that is focused on empowering women.

Over the last 3 years in the process of launching 121Giving, securing close to $1M in funding, and bringing the business to life, I've experienced first-hand the startup incubators and pitch contests available for entrepreneurs in Austin and beyond.  As a female co-founder of a startup in Austin, I was even more of a minority that I thought. Even though close to $1B in funding went to startups in Austin in 2014, only 15% of startups in Austin are women-founded.

Many if not all of my pitch experiences were "shark tank" pressure cookers or some derivation of that theme. They may have taught me the basics of pitching, business plans and more, but they didn't nourish or resonate with me. I was often left feeling intimidated or ashamed, and often was one of only a few women. From gongs on stage to other gimmicks, I have seen it all. Now I don't mean to diminish the impact of these programs and the incredible growing startup funding scene in Austin, it's so important and I'm proud to call Austin home. But this approach just doesn't work for me. And as I started to talk to other women and share my perspective this year, one by one they shared their own versions of the same story. So last month I decided, it's time to launch Haven.

Haven is the community I have wished for over the years, and still need. We support women in all stages of their journeys as social entrepreneurs with programming and co-creation that empowers them with the network, skills and nourishment to get back out there and change their communities.

Our programming is not specifically focused on the businesses or nonprofits themselves, and their fiscal success. It's focused on empowering individuals who are changing the world and cultivating their passion and talents along their journey. It's about the whole woman, and what she needs and what she can give back.

As one of my mentors said to me recently,

When you venture to do any kind of social impact, the journey asks you to step up your game. - Linda Ford

Haven is here to support that growth and leadership, and we're here as a place where you can be completely real and raw about the challenges. At Haven, vulnerability is strength.

I'm blessed to be joined in my efforts to bring Haven to life by the enthusiastic and talented Rachael Windsor who has taken the jump with me. We're both passionate about this dream and we're working hard to bring it to life.

If this resonates with you, we'd love your support or involvement. We need funding to fund this summer and spread the word about Haven in Austin. If you're in Austin and you want to become a member, you can join and donate whatever works for you each month. We suggest a donation of $20/month.

If you're considering joining anyhow, and you are able to donate 3 months up front please do! We'll send you a Haven t-shirt and our everlasting gratitude.

Maybe you just want to be part of this goodness, and empowering more of our members and programs. If that's the case, please consider donating what you can. We need $15K for the summer to provide all the programming we have planned. So please give what you can towards that goal.

Thanks to each of you who has already become part of this movement, from mentors and facilitators to sponsors and partners, I'm so grateful for you and excited to see Haven grow this summer!

- Liz








You'd Better Bring Your Shovel

There's something about the intensity in Ron Finley's voice, and the look in his eyes that tells me he's no-nonsense about the particular kind of change he's making in his community.

Who is Ron? His bio reads: Ron Finley plants vegetable gardens in South Central LA — in abandoned lots, traffic medians, along the curbs. Why? For fun, for defiance, for beauty and to offer some alternative to fast food in a community where "the drive-thrus are killing more people than the drive-bys."

But to me, Ron represents much more than the "guerilla gardener" in his community - he's an example of the type of entrepreneur we need more of. I don't just mean that he's game-changing, disrupting, and change-making. Those things are true too. I mean, he's a DOER.

At the very end of his TED talk, he says the following:

If you want to meet with me, don’t invite me to come sit in a cushy chair somewhere and TALK about change. Come meet me at the garden. And bring your shovel, so we can plant some shit!
— Ron Finley

Ron's got me very encouraged, because this is what I see missing in so many entrepreneurs, especially in my peers, the under-40's. They talk the talk but they often don't walk the walk. They have ideas, but they don't execute on them. They have opportunities but they don't take them. Why are we all sitting around TALKING about all the great change we can make in our communities, when we need to be spending so much more of our time rolling up our sleeves, and PLANTING CHANGE?



Sparking Impact, Austin-Style

Sunday March 13th I had the pleasure of co-hosting the first Discover Local Impact event, with 121Giving, Plus Social Good, YOUvolution and Urban Co-Lab. The event was full of memorable moments, especially conversations between social entrepreneurs working to break down barriers and close gaps in diverse categories from healthcare to technology to food access and affordable housing. 

A huge thanks to our 4 panelists:

Here are some of the highlights:

 "If we can’t sustain ourselves, how can we sustain others?" - Michael Henderson, Doing Development

"If we can’t sustain ourselves, how can we sustain others?" - Michael Henderson, Doing Development

 Panelists: Michael Henderson, Chelsea Elliot, Paige Oliverio, Damon Polk

Panelists: Michael Henderson, Chelsea Elliot, Paige Oliverio, Damon Polk

Paige Oliverio, Founder of Urban Patchwork, talked about how hard it was to start her business, and then recover when she lost it all and had to develop a new approach. How do you start your own social good project?

You have to find people as passionate as you are, about your cause. And you have to be willing to give up your baby.
— Paige Oliverio, Urban Patchwork
Discover Local Impact was more than just another event during SXGood, it was an opportunity for communities and leaders from different impact circles to meet and connect with each other. The beauty of events that we put on are that it create new opportunities that we would have never predicted. Our SXSW event brought the best of creativity, innovation, servant leadership and interested and committed citizens who are looking to get invovled. This event was the catalyst to drive action within our community. In a month we will be gathering and recapping what we started so that the conversation and action continues. Its more important to try and experiment than just listen and be informed. We are doing that together as a team and that is how innovation begins.
— Ruben Cantu, Austin Plus Social Good



Why Steadfast is my New Favorite Word

Lately I’ve been thinking about the notion of steadfastness and strength. Such an old-timey word, but so on point. I’m not taking about the “grit your teeth and get through it” kind of strength. I’m talking about the kind of strength it takes to walk through hard situations, and hold fast to the truth in your heart. Remaining open-hearted, but staying true. Both as a single mom, and as a social entrepreneur, I'm being tested in ways I’d never imagined.

I used to be annoyed when I’d read authors who talked about how life’s challenges and hardships are blessings, thinking ‘riiiight, sure…nice spin”. But this year it’s starting to ring true for me, for the first time ever. Because with every challenge I face, I’m brought an opportunity to practice my approach. Just like pop quizzes in school, each of these situations tests me, and I’m faced with the hard questions. Do I need to re-set boundaries with this person? Am I being threatened or am I just intimidated? What am I really scared of? Is this shame I’m feeling? What is the story I’m telling myself? (thanks Brene!) 

For the most part, I realize that I am called to be much more tenacious than I anticipated in order to pursue what I believe is true. And sometimes I just don’t feel capable. In the most trying moments, the steadfastness in me comes from the desire to be true to myself, and honor the people in my life.

Right now that means holding fast to my dream to grow 121Giving, to empower nonprofits. Although I get excited about our enterprise-level technology and scalability and all the other fancy industry words I know so well, what really gets me motivated is the impact on people. I want to see organizations around the country freed up to focus on their mission. I want to empower the hard working people on the ground who bring such amazing energy to helping those less fortunate than themselves. I have a vision of the impact our organization can have, and I won’t settle for anything less than the truest path there.

Many opportunities arise daily, many distractions and deviations. Things that might dilute the mission, or the ethos of the company and incredibly heartfelt team behind 121Giving. The more traction we gain, the more I’m tested, and the stronger I feel. Surely I complain to my dearest friends, about the constant battle to guard this dream and the culture I’m so passionate about building. I’m weary at times, and overwhelmed. I’m so grateful for them, because they remind me of my purpose, and send me back in to advocate.

Paul Ferrini says the following, which both challenges and encourages me. I hope it speaks to you too in whatever challenges you're facing.

Stay focused on what you want, regardless of what people offer you. Reject all the conditions with which love and attention are offered to you. Hold fast to the truth of your heart.
— Paul Ferrini

You Can Be Sweet, and Be Profitable

This week I took my 7-year-old daughter Sydney to see the taping of a colleague’s KLRU show, Blackademics. My goal was to have fun with her and show her behind the scenes of a TV show, but we both came away with so much more. This season Blackademics is focusing in on telling stories of black youth who are change-makers. My daughter was fidgety during the first speaker. Then when 11-year-old Mikaila Ulmer walked on stage in her yellow dress, Sydney looked up at me with a big excited grin, recognizing herself in this brown-skinned little power-house. Mikaila, as you may know, is the founder of Bee Sweet Tea, and a social entrepreneur. She set out to save the bees and make money at the same time, and made it all the way to Shark Tank, coming away with a deal with Daymond John and a retail deal with Whole Foods.

As I watched her speak, the cynical adult in me thought, "this is rare even for a grownup with lots of skill and connections..” But the dreamer in me was mesmerized and inspired by her. She had command of the stage. She was cute but she was so serious about her work and her mission to save the bees. At the end of her presentation, she stopped on a slide that simply said,

You can be sweet, and be profitable.
— Mikaila Ulmer, Founder - Bee Sweet Tea

For her this was about being a social entrepreneur, working for good and also for profit at the same time. But to me it held an even deeper message. As a female entrepreneur, I struggle daily with the connotations of the word “power” assigned to women. Many of the most powerful women, are arguably not sweet in their public personas. Many have adopted the stereo-typically male approach to leading, to get where they are. Demanding, coercive controlling and not empowering their teams or showing compassion. Perhaps they were once less abrasive, but couldn’t get ahead. Perhaps now, when they engage in the same debate and language as their male colleagues they are called names like “bitchy” and “shrill”. 

I think about my daughter, and Mikaela and so many other young girls growing up in this era, future CEOs of technology companies and creators of new innovative products. I have always thought, there has to be a way to be sincere and compassionate and also powerful as a woman. As a side note - I don’t mean to imply that men don’t struggle with this as well. Several of my closest friends over the years have been men who also struggle to find this balance. And one of the most prolific thinkers on the topic of servant leadership and compassion, Robert Greenleef, is a man. So this is not a male versus female topic in my mind. It’s just that I’m a women - so my heart is in helping change the status quo for women entrepreneurs. 

Back to Mikaila for a minute. As I watched her speak, it was hard not to think of her future. Who will she grow up to become? Will she hold herself back, out of fear of how she’ll be perceived by men? She hasn’t yet learned to fear that some day a man might be threatened by her drive, and it might reduce her pool of “eligible men” to a really small number.  She is just going for it, following her passion and creating change in the world. Unapologetically. To her, and all the little girls like her - thank you for reaffirming me in my pursuit of both sweetness and leadership. Without realizing it, just by being you, your boldness gives me and so many other women courage for this journey.