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Tinia Pina Headshot

The Non-Profit That Didn't Know It

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I founded a startup almost two years ago while working in New York City full-time for a small asset management firm. At the time I was spending most hours volunteering and leveraging roughly 80 percent of my talents and strengths outside the workplace for non-profit organizations. The fact that I was underemployed never quite bothered me because it only allowed me to channel my energy into a project I was working on the side, a for-profit social enterprise called Re-Nuble, which at the time was repurposing food waste create on-site by food service establishments into energy and fertilizer.

I've realized over time though that by even saying the word, "energy," during pitch events and to any available captive audience I immediately created sex appeal for Re-Nuble. The sexiness of energy still remains with the idea that Re-Nuble once was. It still remains with me today but due to the sheer capital requirements of the technology that created this 'goodness,' the exact thing that attracted virgin ears to our pitch had made our business model expensive and difficult to scale. The bottlenecks associated with the inefficiency with scaling influenced us to change our business model, or what they call, "pivot" in the startup world. Thankfully, we are able to strategically leverage our relationships and industry knowledge to propel Re-Nuble's new strategy today.

Throughout the entire development of Re-Nuble, from ideation to Steve Blank's popular "customer discovery process" we have always thought of ourselves as a for-profit, operated as a for-profit, and communicated our messaging as a for-profit would. However, till this day I am still encountering individuals that immediately think we were and continue to be a non-profit. It is to the point where I almost believe it myself. What could be the reasoning for this? Instinctively, I think it must be because I'm a female. In 2009 The Chronicle of Philanthropy reported that seventy-five (or 18.8 percent) of the leaderships slots at the 400 charities surveyed were held by women. By contrast, 15 (or 3 percent) of Fortune 500 leaders were female. Then I think it's because Re-Nuble is designed to use capitalism to create good and meaningful long-term impact but there are too many great articles published on business models that do exactly this, such as this one, and this one. After hitting my head against the wall trying to think of reasons to disprove my assumptions I can't think of any. I think it's because I'm a female and honestly, it's because I'm pursuing something not in the traditional marketing, fashion, or home consumer product space that women are most commonly assumed to be working in. Heck, my curiosity for activities outside of my office at my previous employer always alluded to these three areas. Am I wrong though? I hope I am because I hope this does not further support the reason that it's difficult for women to fundraise or why women are consistently underpaid compared to their male counterparts.

What are your thoughts? I am interested in your opinion for my own sanity.