Marissa's lifelong passion for nonprofits led to the formation of Beespace--a New York City-based nonprofit incubator providing early-phase organizations with the office space, mentorship and operational support needed to get off the ground and succeed. She is a founding sponsor and activist for charity:water and serves on the Board of Directors for Invisible Children, Dia Art Foundation and the Mortimer D. Sackler Foundation. Marissa is also a published photographer and works on an array of social injustice issues.
How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
The leader I am today stems from the example of my parents. My father was an extraordinary entrepreneur and leader, and my mother was an inspiring teacher who later in her career joined my father in his work. Both of my parents emphasized the importance of giving back in every aspect of your life and how it makes us happier more fulfilled people to do so.
Their examples of the importance and value of education, entrepreneurism and giving back are core tenants of Beespace. My aim is to help new nonprofits grow in each of these areas and have the freedom to innovate and create new ways to profit the world. I believe that in doing so, Beespace is helping create a new generation of strong nonprofit leaders.
How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the founder of Beespace?
I've spent my career working with many early-stage nonprofits, helping them get off the ground and scale. I was one of the founding sponsors for charity: water, a nonprofit working to bring clean water to the developing world, and have traveled as a photographer with several organizations to capture their work. Through these experiences, I found that new nonprofits face many struggles in their operational structure and lack the resources necessary to turn ideas into action. There had to be a more comprehensive way to help these new organizations reach their true potential and grow. As I looked for a solution, I noticed how Silicon Alley and Valley were using the incubator model to help launch leading tech companies. I decided to apply the tech incubator model to create Beespace and provide early-stage organizations with access to a co-working office space, in-house operational support and mentorship.
I've received incredible guidance and support from the many organizations and nonprofit leaders I've had the pleasure to work with and have incorporated their feedback to launch Beespace.
How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Building a community and a creative culture is key to happiness and balance in the workplace. Every day is dynamic and different, which has helped me remain energized and maintain my work/life balance.
When I first started developing the idea for Beespace, it was important that I create a happy, imaginative and collaborative office culture. We have music playing throughout the office, idea paint for brainstorming and sharing ideas and a library of books on social entrepreneurism. We also host a bi-monthly speaker series where we bring top industry leaders to speak to our Incubees about issues facing both the nonprofit and for-profit spaces. These learning opportunities and smaller details are vital and help support work/life balance for our Incubees and the whole team.
In doing all of this, I am immersed in making Beespace an operational example to our Incubees. I work to put strong systems and a supportive culture in place with the hope that when our Incubees leave the Beespace hive, they continue to develop a nurturing and uplifting community of their own.
I also make sure to make time for other areas in my life--my love of art, music, and great conversation with friends and family. I find that all of these things help keep me happy and healthy but also feed back into my work in unexpected ways. For me, there is a constant conversation and flow between work and life.
What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure as a business owner?
The most amazing highlight has been seeing the impact Beespace has had on its Incubees in just a few short months. Before joining Beespace, several of our Incubees were coffee shop hopping or working out of apartments and borrowed office space. Having a home along with in-house operational support has allowed our Incubees to sustain their growth at rates never experienced before. A wonderful example was when our Incubee, The Adventure Project, launched its holiday fundraising initiative to provide stoves to families in Haiti. We were not only able to offer the physical space required to package and prepare the gifts, but also, the internal operational support to devise a PR strategy. The campaign was a huge success and The Adventure Project surpassed its fundraising goals.
In terms of challenges, getting a business off the ground has been a challenge in itself. Permits, deadlines and even phone lines do not always align with your plans so you have to learn to adapt and overcome. My goal is to implement an organization and system prepared to face any challenge. It's been an overall positive experience to start Beespace and I'm excited to grow and strengthen the Beespace model.
What advice can you offer those seeking to establish their own business?
Take the time to talk to as many people as possible and meet with people in a wide range of fields, even if you think their work does not directly correlate to your sector. Understanding a new perspective from outside of your bubble can help you see your business in a whole new light.
The idea for Beespace came from the conversations and meetings I had with friends and colleagues across many fields whose work I admire. I was tired of seeing new organizations struggle to get off the ground because of a lack of early support and programmatic structure. I was having a late night conversation with one of my now board members who also happened to have a tech incubator and shared my growing frustration with the nonprofit space. We started brainstorming and finally he said, "why don't you start an incubator but with nonprofits?" A light bulb went off in that moment. I then started talking to friends in the nonprofit, tech, arts and business worlds to see if this idea had legs and decided to make the leap.
I was ultimately able to dive in with Beespace because of support from my mentors. It is so important to have personal mentors in place who push and support you to take action. Taking the first step can be daunting, so having people in your corner who believe in you but who will also tell you exactly what they think is invaluable.
What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Beespace is issue and geography neutral and we've been thrilled to find passionate nonprofit leaders, both men and women. It's important that more organizations exist where barriers of entry are no longer an issue.
I'm inspired by the female leaders who power two of our Incubees everyday. Becky Straw of The Adventure Project, who I worked with early on at charity: water, has turned her amazing idea to bring jobs and resources to the developing world into an effective and sustainable model. The Malala Fund, inspired by Malala Yousafzai's bravery and commitment to fighting for girls' rights to education, is one of our other incredible Incubees. It's been amazing to watch the organization's co-Founder and CEO, Shiza Shahid, fight for this mission.
How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been instrumental in creating the Beespace model. Because my mentors have had such a deep impact on the leader and person that I am, I knew I wanted to make mentorship an integral part of Beespace.
Each Incubee is paired with both a nonprofit and for-profit mentor. The goal is to connect each Incubee with a team of people who will amplify and support their development. Karim Abouelnaga, CEO of Practice Makes Perfect, one of our Incubees, has developed an incredible relationship with his mentor Jacob Lief, CEO and Founder at Ubuntu Education Fund. They meet regularly to discuss the challenges of starting a new organization. Jacob has already connected Karim with key players in the education space and been an incredible support.
My mentors have helped me hone the skills that don't come as naturally while amplifying my strengths and helping me build a team to complement them. They also help me remember that to be at my best for Beespace I need to feed the aspects of my personal life that keep me happy, healthy, engaged and inspired. I want to insure that our Incubees find similar mentors and that Beespace provides much more than just office space.
Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire the women in my life who embody their values in their personal life and have built them into the DNA of their work life. Monique Pean, Rachel Gerrol Cohen and Melissa Kushner are all strong female mentors of mine and Beespace board members who have been an invaluable support network and sounding board as I've spent the last year working to launch Beespace.
Monique has built an extraordinary socially conscious luxury jewelry brand and a team of 14 to support her business. I have learned many lessons from her on how to build and lead a team.
Rachel Cohen Gerrol is the Co-Founder of the Nexus Global Youth Summit on Innovative Philanthropy & Social Entrepreneurship and serves as Executive Director of PVBLIC Foundation. She still finds the time to answer all my fundraising questions, connect me to invaluable contacts and brainstorm over cups of tea.
Melissa Kushner has started and runs two extraordinary nonprofits, goods for good and nonprofit-share, while also being an incredible mother to three little girls. Her knowledge of how to start, run and grow a nonprofit has helped to inspire many aspects of the Beespace program.
These women give so generously of their time, intelligence and experience and exemplify giving as a way of living.
What are your hopes for the future of Beespace?
While we're only a few months old, my aim is to scale the Beespace model and become the gold standard for how best to nurture nonprofits from kitchen table to fully fledged organisations.