Interview by Elise Dorsett, Senior Brand Explorer at New Kind
Isa Watson is the CEO and founder of Envested, an organization focused on solving the problem of how we connect emerging philanthropists with local charities. Envested makes it easy for people to give to the local organizations they’re passionate about helping.
In this interview, we learned why Isa started her business in the Triangle, and how she believes our region can still improve. We found out what’s inspiring her, and how she overcame her biggest challenges when starting her business.
Innovate Raleigh’s vision is to make the Triangle one of the top five centers for innovation and entrepreneurship in the country. What do you think still needs to happen to accomplish this?
There are so many great things about the Triangle, and it is positioned to be a top place for startups. As we continue to grow, it’s important for this region to strengthen its investor community—especially for early stage startups. Because when you have a strong ecosystem of investors, entrepreneurs gain valuable experience to better understand funding cycles, and you have more support for new ventures.
The investor community today doesn’t have a strong presence here like in Silicon Valley and New York. That will strengthen over time, but stronger more plentiful investor community would be great next step.
Why did you choose to start your business in the Triangle?
One of the key factors in creating a successful venture is the support and community you have around you. Talent and access to capital are also important, of course, along with access to family and friends.
Here I feel an incredible level of community support—all flavors of it. The most prominent business leaders, university administrators, groups of nonprofits and government officials all play a part in a supportive ecosystem for me here. That’s the type of community the Triangle is. It’s different than larger cities. That support made all the difference in catalyzing our launch, and realizing our early success.
What’s your vision for your company in next 5 years?
Over the next 5 years, I’d love for Envested to be a household name for people to look to when they want to engage with their community. We want to facilitate giving to local non-profits. A lot of local orgs are under-resourced. And many nonprofits get their funding from outside of their immediate communities.
A lot of people want to give locally but don’t have a tool to do so. We want to empower community members to make a difference in their own backyard.
What are you reading (or what do you recommend)? Listening to? Watching?
I recently saw the United State of Women Summit with Michelle Obama in the White House. The theme was women in entrepreneurship surrounding women’s issues, and it was inspiring to see how far we’ve come. I saw that through our society’s openness to change and growth, women have come a long way in the workforce.
There are things we still need to do to empower women and entrepreneurs. But it shows how far our community can go. Another key point that stood out was that you have to be diligent in the steps you take going forward. Never forget where you came from. And bring others up with you.
When I compare my experience as a woman to someone a few years ahead of me, there are a lot of things that were better about my experience than theirs. We’ve improved. If societies stay open to change, that openness can transcend to other issues. There’s hope that we can make progress on other issues we’re working on now.
It’s great to recognize how far we’ve come.
What's the biggest challenge you've faced when starting and growing Invested. Any advice to other entrepreneurs?
The biggest challenge was nailing down the scope we were going to focus on for our products at the early stages. When you’re developing your product a lot of people will come to you and say: we want this and that feature. If we had listened to every person, we would have a product that doesn’t make much sense. At the beginning we had to focus our product on what made sense from our perspective.
When you’re starting a business, you want to be customer focused and provide the right things, but you can’t be everything to everybody. You have to be the right thing to the right person at the right time. So I would tell other entrepreneurs: make sure you have a unique grasp on your scope. Don’t allow feature creep. It all starts with your mission and your brand.
We worked with experts in branding early on to clarify our mission and how we wanted to communicate. Then all we had to do when making product decisions was to go back to our core values. That was a strong lesson I took with me during my days at Pfizer and JPMorgan, and it has served us well as we work to grow Envested.
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