Twenty-somethings Marisa Lee and Liana Guzman are the founders of Saving Second Base, a New York City-based nonprofit committed to raising money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure affiliated organizations. They hope that by spreading awareness about breast cancer among young professionals, women and men will know where to go for support and recourses if they or someone they know is ever faced with a diagnosis. Here, the two entrepreneurs share some of the challenges and rewards they've experienced while starting their, well, start-up.

What inspired you to establish this enterprise?

In May 2005, Marisa's mom was diagnosed with incurable stage four metastatic breast cancer. Faced with the reality of this diagnosis, Marisa decided to spend a year after college working at home in upstate New York and helping to care for her family. Once things were a bit calmer at home and everyone was more comfortable dealing with her mother's illness, Marisa settled in New York City and began to pursue a career in international finance.

Saving Second Base was born almost accidentally. We decided to have a small gathering with friends to raise money for Komen for the Cure, and a few weeks later, after a few too many cocktails and a particularly dramatic episode of Grey's Anatomy, we decided we wanted to do something on a larger scale. We ended up having a hugely successful 250-person fundraising event last May, and the growth of this organization thereafter has been truly organic and the result of an incredible group of talented, committed board members who have taken on their responsibilities as if Saving Second Base were a second job. We hope that our efforts will expedite the eventual discovery of a cure for this terrible disease...and that we can have fun along the way!

What are some of the challenges you've faced that you weren't expecting?

When we decided to start a fundraising organization, we assumed our biggest challenge would be competing for funds in New York City where so many philanthropic and nonprofit organizations are based. While raising funds and forming meaningful relationships with individual and corporate donors has certainly presented its own set of difficulties, finding people who share a passion for our mission, and whom we can trust to represent and effectively run our organization has been our greatest challenge. As long as breast cancer continues to kill individuals and destroy families, we will continue to take our mission statement, goals, and objectives seriously, and it's important to us that we only bring people on board who share our same enthusiasm.

Saving Second Base is more than just an extracurricular activity for us. We've created something that has become integral to who we are, and handing pieces of it over to others to manage is incredibly difficult. We've been extremely lucky that so many people have expressed an interest in working with us, but we've made a concerted effort to only work with dynamic, driven, and hard working people whom we admire, and who believe in Saving Second Base as much as we do. Of course, as is the case with all major challenges, this has also become one of our greatest rewards. There are over a dozen young professionals who, despite having full-time jobs, have fully dedicated themselves to Saving Second Base, and we're continually astounded by their overwhelming talent and commitment (and, best of all, they couldn't be more fun!).

What are some of the rewards that you weren't expecting?

Marisa Lee: The biggest reward for me personally is the coping mechanism that running this organization has provided me with while I've been dealing with my own mother's disease. Her cancer has continued to advance and there is little that anyone can do (especially her daughter, the banker!) to stop its progression.

Spending time with my mom is certainly the most important thing I can do right now, but it gives me a great deal of peace knowing that because of Saving Second Base, I am able to provide resources to individuals facing similar situations, and that I am disseminating information on breast cancer prevention and the importance of early detection. Plus, I am playing a real part in raising the funds that will lead to the eradication of this disease.

Another big reward has been that by pulling together a group of passionate people who are committed to this specific cause--one that means so much to many of us on a very personal level--we have surrounded ourselves with some fantastic new friends and an amazing network of support.

What is one of the biggest lessons you've learned along the way?

That starting a nonprofit is a lot of work, but cocktails certainly help. Kidding...sort of. Truthfully, the biggest lesson we've learned is that the generosity of others is incredible, but only if you're willing to ask for things.

Liana Guzman: This was a particularly huge lesson for me. I've always been afraid to "inconvenience" people or put them in the difficult position of saying no. However, we were recently at an event and met an incredibly inspiring woman whose job it is to fund socially conscious entrepreneurial endeavors. We were telling her about Saving Second Base, and as the conversation was coming to a close, Marisa told her to expect an invitation to our May event. Her response? That our asking for her support proved to her that we really are entrepreneurs and, had we not asked her to get involved, she might have questioned our potential for success. I was astounded--not only did she not mind that we reached out to her, she actually was happy that we did.

Marisa Lee: I have literally been shocked and overwhelmed by the degree of people's generosity when we have asked them to help us out with various things. From monetary donations to in-kind gifts--even getting people to run errands for us at the last minute before an event!

What's up next for your venture?

Currently Saving Second Base is in the midst of wrapping up our official 501c3 tax exemption and trademark applications. Once all of the various technical and legal issues that arise during the nascent stages of organization building are behind us, we will begin to do a lot more in the way of fundraising, "friend-raising," and awareness-raising from coast to coast!

Our plans for 2008 include events in New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, and Boston. We have teams on the ground in all of those cities ready to raise money for our organization and spread the word about breast cancer prevention to a demographic that has traditionally been under-engaged in these efforts. In fact, we've just finalized the initial details for our May Gala in New York City, which is taking place on Thursday, May 15, at 24 Fifth Avenue (the old Fifth Avenue Ballroom). Check out our Web site for details and tickets!

Additionally, we will launch a quarterly e-newsletter in May to keep our database in the loop about our organization's progress, and updated on breast cancer issues.

What advice do you have for those starting similar organizations?

Good luck competing with us for funds, sucker.

Just joking! Seriously, our advice to others: Do your research and always ask questions. Why are you starting this venture? Who are you trying to serve? Do you believe that you have something to provide that no one else does? What makes you so different? What can you do better than anyone else, and how are you going to sustain and grow your organization?

It truly is an incredibly competitive marketplace, and whether you're talking about starting a for-profit or a not-for-profit organization, people are only going to be interested in your venture if you actually have something new and unique to offer. If you've found something that you are truly passionate about and committed to, and are willing to work hard and maintain a certain focus, you can be shockingly successful.

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