Diversity & Inclusion

Tomorrow’s Entrepreneurs: The Importance of Selling Your Story

The story of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center's Mentorship Circle program isn’t just about today's entrepreneurs making waves in business.

Crystal Hills Headshot

“I want to start my own logistics company.”
– Crystal Hills, aspiring founder

It’s the story of tomorrow’s potential founders.

Crystal Hills is a colonel on active duty in the U.S. Army. She is also an aspiring founder. In our interview (which has been edited and condensed for clarity), the DC-based Army Logistician and Supply Chain professional discusses:

· her plans to launch a technology-led logistics company;

· the distinguishing feature of the Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center's Mentorship Circle program; and

· the role of storytelling in business.

As a special guest on the Mentorship Circle program, you don’t have a business as yet, but you do have entrepreneurial interests. What are they?

CH: I’m a logistician, so I’m interested in anything that moves.

I want to start my own logistics company. Initially, I was going to begin with trucking, but I’ve since narrowed down that niche to disaster relief supplies in order to support the government and help people in need.

My logistics company will have a technological edge. Today, we hear a lot about autonomous vehicles, so I plan to find out how I can adopt them and other technological advancements that enable seamless item tracking from pick-up to delivery.

Last night, I was watching a documentary about COVID-19 vaccinations. Pfizer has it so that every package, which contains 200 vials, has a barcode that indicates if the package is falling below the required temperature, etc. That’s the level of logistics I want to incorporate in my company.

My logistics company will be a ‘feeder’ for a passion of mine. I love wine and music, so I also want to own a wine bar.

Have you previously participated in a structured mentorship program before (as a mentee) and, if so, how does it compare with this program?

CH: Yes, I have.

This program wasn’t just about mentorship from the top down. It involved peer-led mentoring, too. That’s the big difference.

What skills did the program add to your repertoire?

CH: I learned about how to get funding to build and grow your business and the importance of selling your story.

I also learned that your story and your business are one and the same. Being on active duty in the military, I appreciate this concept because we also have core tenets that not only apply to our day jobs, but also to who we are as individuals.

Briefly describe your eight-week journey on the program, including any highs and lows.

CH: Let’s start with the low point first.

I’m far from delusional about the world we live in, but I always thought that if someone – anyone – has a credible business plan showing an investor exactly how they’re going to make money, how their business is going to add value to the world and so forth, they would automatically attract investment.

So, it was sad finding out that many of the founders and entrepreneurs on the program – who built such innovative products and services – have faced so much rejection.

My rhetorical questions to investors are twofold. Firstly, why wouldn’t you invest in these founders? And, secondly, does the founder pitching to you really have to look like you in order for you to understand their business model?

The high point was that, despite the obstacles that founders and entrepreneurs of color face, there’s a community out there that genuinely wants to see them succeed and it’s okay to be completely vulnerable with that community.

Despite the obstacles that founders and entrepreneurs of color face, there’s a community out there that genuinely wants to see them succeed.

Structurally perfect, the program is a game changer for Black business owners and entrepreneurs. I’ve already started laying a strong foundation for my logistics company and I’m confident that, when I’m ready to launch my business, I’ll do so with ease. This isn’t just because of what I learned on the program, but also because of the resources I now have to help me along the way.

What practical advice would you give to Black founders and entrepreneurs in order to maximize their effectiveness in a mentorship program?

CH: Be completely honest.

The program is a judgment-free zone where you can be open and honest about your knowledge, your feelings and the mentors’ comments. Constantly remember that mentors are there to help you, not to hurt you – even when they give you feedback that you don’t want to hear.

Constantly remember that mentors are there to help you, not to hurt you.

Don’t miss a single session and take note of what someone says, what you need to learn, any questions you may have, etc.

Like this group, the next one should definitely start a WhatsApp group chat in order to field those questions that mentees may not necessarily want to ask in front of a broader audience. It can even be something that comes to mind in the middle of the night that they just want to put out there. Either way, the group chat also serves to build the cohesiveness and camaraderie of the cohort.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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Kieron Johnson

Kieron Johnson is a content/communications consultant to emerging and established brands.

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