Name: Monisha Kapila
Name of your product/ company: ProInspire
What does your company do/ produce?
ProInspire is a nonprofit that is building the next generation of leaders for the nonprofit sector by recruiting and training business professionals to work for nonprofits.
Describe your background/ experience before starting your company.
Prior to launching ProInspire, I spent 10 years in the business and nonprofit sectors. Most recently I managed the launch of financial products targeting unbanked customers for Capital One. Prior to Capital One, I was a Harvard Business School Leadership Fellow with ACCION International, a pioneer in the commercial approach to microfinance. I have worked with a number of leading nonprofit organizations throughout my career, including CARE, the Initiative for a Competitive Inner City, and the Clinton Foundation. I began my career as a consultant with Arthur Andersen.
I have an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BBA from the University of Michigan.
Where did your business concept come from?
Because I had moved back and forth between businesses and nonprofits throughout my career, I was very familiar with transitioning sectors. Colleagues and friends were always asking me “How can I find an opportunity in the nonprofit sector?” Nonprofits where I worked always asked “Where can we find more people who have similar skills to you?” I knew there was a need for someone to connect supply and demand. The turning point came when I was at a conference where the speaker talked about the “nonprofit leadership deficit”. I realized this was an industry-wide issue and I had to do something about it.
What were some of the steps you took to turn your idea into reality?
While I was working at Capital One, I started to research the challenges nonprofits face in recruiting talent for “business” roles in their organizations. I started by talking to people I knew, then asking who they thought I should talk to. I ended up speaking with over 100 people who helped me understand the needs, challenges and opportunities. I also did the Ladies Who Launch incubator which connected me with other women entrepreneurs and helped me go through a process of crystallizing my idea.
What are some of the challenges you’ve encountered along the way?
I decided to leave Capital One and launch ProInspire in January 2009. This was the bottom of the recession so it presented some unique challenges. It was very difficult to find nonprofits who could afford to hire someone new, much less hire someone from the business world through our program. The silver lining was that the talent pool was fantastic as there were a large number of business professionals looking to make a transition. We ended up partnering with 5 nonprofits in our first class and the results were great. After the first year, we doubled the number of nonprofit partners and continue to grow each year.
The other big challenge we have faced is in getting foundation funding. We charge nonprofits a fee for our work, but it does not cover all the costs so we need to fundraise. This has been much more difficult than I realized and is pushing me to think creatively about our organization’s business model.
What is the best thing about owning your own business?
Because ProInspire is a nonprofit, I don’t own it. The “owners” are the Board of Directors who ensure that our work serves the organization’s mission.
The best thing about running my own organization is doing something I am passionate about, determining the direction I want to pursue, and flexibility around what I do and when I do it.
What do you think is the biggest obstacle for women to overcome in starting their own businesses?
I think the biggest obstacle anyone has to overcome in starting their own business is having the resources in place to get you through the startup phase and periods where you may have irregular income. It took me over one year before I could pay myself a real salary. Some entrepreneurs get things off the ground much faster, but I think it helps to have a cushion in case it takes longer than you expect.
What advice would you give to another woman starting her own venture?
Find something you are passionate about because that will be get you through the long hours, mundane tasks and cash strapped days. Starting my own venture related to something I care deeply about is the best career experience I have had.