Plenty of potential entrepreneurs have great business ideas but are held back in their pursuit of their goals by barriers: knowledge and resources kept out of reach of all but a few, as well as assumptions about who might be an entrepreneur and where they might come from. And while it’s understood that starting your own business is a tough road — particularly in the age of COVID, where many small businesses are struggling to stay afloat — it’s to the betterment of all that more people should have the tools available to them to try their hand at a startup.
Enter Nicole Loftus, the founder of The Resource Hub, a national directory for small businesses, as well as SkinX, a funding platform for entrepreneurs, both New York based. She’s working to help entrepreneurs succeed, including over 3,500 resources on the Resource Hub and adding new ones regularly.
Nicole has an impressive resume as an author, speaker and guest faculty member at multiple institutions, including Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management. She has also served on numerous boards such as The American Red Cross, and The Chicago Workforce Investment Council (CWIC) and has mentored entrepreneurs through The Clinton Foundation and The Network for Teaching Entrepreneurship (NFTE). Given that background, it was fascinating to hear her answers on what she’s learned from her own experience as she tries to help other founders on their journeys.
Mary Juetten: When did you start your companies?
Nicole Loftus: In 2013 I walked out of my own company that was bringing in $40M per year and was Inc. 500 #8, to take on a mission to build a better model for funding entrepreneurs, creating jobs and equalizing opportunities in America.
The model was built by 2015, the tech build started in 2017 — including The Resource Hub — and now we’re ready to launch to the public in 2021.
Juetten: What problem are you solving?
Loftus: Three prongs:
- Entrepreneurs need support now more than ever.
- The country has thousands of free resources for entrepreneurs to get help launching, building and funding their businesses. Entrepreneurs have no way to find them.
- The system for supporting entrepreneurs is built and run by white guys in three states shutting out the other 47 states and entrepreneurs who aren’t white guys.
We built the first ever national directory of local resources for entrepreneurs.
These organizations are funded by taxpayers and they are the job creators of the country.
The Resource Hub supports organizations that support entrepreneurs that are women, minorities, veterans, disabled, LGBTQ and able-bodied white guys.
Juetten: Who are your customers and how do you find them?
Loftus: Our potential customers are every entrepreneur and wannabe entrepreneur in the U.S.
Juetten: How did past projects and/or experience help with this new project?
Loftus: I was raised in a blue-collar Italian family where women are still taught to make babies and spaghetti, not multi-million-dollar businesses that disrupt multi-billion-dollar industries. I took a different path. It was the free resources in Chicago that made me an entrepreneur (The Women’s Business Development Center and The Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce).
I built my business to $40 million a year with 50+ employees and disrupted a $20 billion-dollar industry all with angel investors and bank loans. When the time came to raise venture capital I had no idea how predatory the system was, especially in Illinois, one of the 47 states shut out of venture capital. The vulture capitalists took control of my company, prevented any new money from coming in and forced me out. When I realized this happens every day to millions of entrepreneurs and that this broken system is the greatest driver of inequality in America, I decided to change the game.
Juetten: Who is on your team?
Loftus: Brilliant, proven leaders like Dr. Jasmin Sethi, who has a PhD in Economics and a law degree from Harvard; Anna Belyaev, an amazing technologist that started at the National Center for Supercomputing; and Anna Rode, Susan Dumont and my mentor Christie Hefner, former CEO of Playboy Enterprises.
Juetten: Did you raise money?
Loftus: I raised $2 Million – only debt and only from friends and family. I will not take money from venture capitalists again. After we’re done launching Skin, no entrepreneur will ever have to again.
Juetten: How do you measure success and what is your favorite success story?
Loftus: The only measure for success is freedom, especially for women and minorities: Freedom to choose a life you want, to live where you want, to be unmarried, to have children or not don’t have children.
Juetten: Any tips to add for early-stage founders?
- Engage your free local resources.
- Spend more time choosing an investor than you do choosing your spouse; there’s no divorcing a bad VC once they’re in your business.
- Research your VC’s, meet their other portfolio companies; make sure they’re a fit for your company.
- Become a legal expert in all the language VC’s love to use – learn about block rights, liquidation preferences, pari passu, drag along, etc.
Juetten: And of course, any IP horror stories to share?
Loftus: Before I knew to not take on partners and that co-founders never work, I took on a partner. It didn’t work. She didn’t work as hard, wasn’t as committed and was a general nightmare. I let her take the whole company, all our IP, our brand, the url, the company name…EVERYTHING.
I went and started over again. She never did anything with it.
IP isn’t worth anything without the blood, sweat, tears to make the ideas into reality.
Juetten: What’s the long-term vision for your company?
Loftus: SkinX is a long-term economic initiative intended to build a sustainable infrastructure for the way businesses are funded for centuries to come. It is full-participation capitalism. It is the renewed American Dream.
Thanks to Nicole for her insight; I hope her dream of a more inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem comes true. #onwards.