RAISE Forum ‘Rise’ panel discusses ‘starting upward’: doing well by doing right

At a breakfast event ahead of the Spring RAISE Forum, a panel of successful entrepreneurs who strive to make a positive difference in the world shared their stories. The event, held on March 22 at Goizueta, was hosted by Charles Goetz, distinguished lecturer in entrepreneurship and senior lecturer in organization and management at Goizueta; Amelia Pane Schaffner, director of entrepreneurship at Goizueta and RAISE Forum co-founder Barry Etra.

The panel was comprised of Louise Wasilewski 13EMBA, founder and CEO of Acivilate; Shannon Pierce, founder of CareCam (now New Ocean Health Solutions); Jeff Cherry, founder and CEO of SHIFT Ventures and Conscious Venture Lab; and Brian Tolleson 94C, founder of digital content studio BARK BARK and partner at Lexicon Strategies. Steve Brett, executive coach and founder of Presentation TuneUps, moderated the panel.

Both Wasilewski and Pierce founded companies after personal experiences led them to discovering a need in the market that would also impact society positively.

Wasilewski, an aerospace engineer who helped invent digital television, signed up for Goizueta’s executive MBA thinking she would probably become Chief Technology Officer of a startup. However, it was her experience as a child with a father who had a criminal record that led to the idea for her business. She wanted to know how to create second chances for people like her father and for kids, like her, who were affected by a parent involved in the criminal justice system.

Wasilewski’s company Acivilate developed Pokket, a case management system that helps justice agencies and health and human services providers work together with returning citizens to reduce recidivism. “Once I saw that need, and that my technology background could solve it, and realized why nobody else was working on it, I really didn’t have a choice about doing this,” said Wasilewski.

While working as a critical care nurse, all three of Pierce’s brothers were diagnosed with, and eventually succumbed to, a rare genetic kidney disease. While at the bedside of her last surviving brother, Pierce said she had a “rock bottom” moment and said a prayer, “If I’m here and I have breath, then make me do something with this.”

After coming up with the idea for CareCam and a plan to develop it, Pierce said she didn’t realize she was starting a business. “I just knew I needed to do this to minimize suffering for others,” she said. New Ocean Health Solutions is now a software design and development company that offers enterprise health management platforms that save providers money while producing better health outcomes.

Jeff Cherry, Brian Tolleson, Louise Wasilewski and Shannon Pierce speak at the RAISE Forum ‘Rise’ panel

In both his roles, Cherry focuses on conscious capitalism. According to Cherry, conscious capitalism is a new way of thinking about the purpose and the practice of business, built on the foundational idea of managing a business for stakeholders rather than shareholders.

When choosing promising, purpose-driven entrepreneurs to support, Cherry looks to see if the business idea addresses an existing pain point. But more important than that, Cherry believes, is being able to answer the question, “Why you?”

“We would much rather have a great team with a horrible idea, than a horrible team with a great idea,” said Cherry.

Tolleson agreed that many businesses start with a great story. However, with so many businesses in the nonprofit space, Tolleson believes the ones that don’t have an impact should be weeded out. At Lexicon, Tolleson helps corporations bring business sense to how they fund and empower startups or nonprofits — and require a return on that investment.

“We’ve got to start being ruthless in our philanthropy,” Tolleson said.

When answering the question, “Can you do good and do well at the same time?” Cherry said he believes we are entering a phase of society where if you’re not doing good, you’re less likely to do well. “We’re trained to think about those two things separately. Even when we want to talk differently, we set up this dichotomy, this sort of tension between doing good and doing well. But we don’t believe that is really the way business is moving forward, nor the way businesses should exist.”

Schaffner said Rise was born as a series of panels around thought-provoking entrepreneurship topics. “The series is meant to bring together the community to explore and discuss the human sides of entrepreneurship in more depth.”

The next RAISE Forum is May 3 at Goizueta Business School. Learn more about the RAISE Forum at http://www.raiseforum.com.

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