Natasha Main

Exponential Impact
Executive Director

the full report

Greg Olson (00:00):

Hi, Natasha. This is Greg, from GROWL Agency and you’re on the GROWL Connex show. Thank you very much for coming on today!

Natasha Main (00:10):

Thank you so much for having me. I’m looking forward to the conversation!

Greg Olson (00:13):

Yeah, well, so GROWL Connex is a podcast that we do in a biweekly format we have very different business leaders come in from across the country. And today I’m really excited. The time that I have gotten to know you we met at Colorado Springs Startup Week already last fall, I believe. And now we have the chance to talk even more. So again, I’m excited to have you on, but, but why don’t we turn it over to you? And let’s do a little introduction who is Natasha Main?

Natasha Main (00:49):

What a question, right? Well, thank you so much again for having me and for putting these sessions on! I think that’s absolutely fantastic. And so once again, my name is Natasha Main. I’m the Executive Director of Exponential Impact. We are a startup accelerator and incubator and based in Colorado Springs and really focused on driving economic development by supporting entrepreneurs. I’ve really fallen in love throughout my career at this intersection between placemaking, economic development, and community building. So how do we all come together, feel a sense of inclusion and then drive for, you know, positive progress.

Greg Olson (01:30):

Yeah, we’ll be talking about all of that too. I’ve been learning more and more about placemaking over the past few years and as we work with different economic development agencies and different committees across the country, and I really enjoyed the conversations and hearing all the things that you’re seeing out there and what’s happening. So why don’t we jump in, you know, we have a few questions we’ll kind of get moving on in none of us know what the future is gonna look like, and I’m sure with your organization, the companies that you work with, you’re seeing companies have gapped, we’ve said adapt to the new economy. We’ve seen pivot, is that word? I mean, we never really understood it before this happened, and now we’re trying to really figure it out as companies are redoing their business plans or pivoting to something new. So we’ll kind of like, what are you starting to see out there within that, within that when certain companies, what does that mean? Are you seeing companies starting to adapt to this? It’s really been a crazy 90 days.

Natasha Main (02:28):

It really has been, it really has been, and every company is getting affected differently in our space with technology startups we’re really seeing their ability. They’re small and they’re nimble, which really allows them to make those pivots and respond based on the needs and the demands of their users and customers. And so I think those companies that are really connected to their user base and to their customers have grown leanly throughout the process. We’re really able to kind of continue to have a passion for solving a problem not just their one solution, right? And so solving a problem can look like many different ways, right? You can have different avenues and ways of solving that problem. Rather than just, “this is the one thing I want to build and I’m going to do it no matter what.” That’s a slightly different approach. And so what we’re seeing is those people who are able to respond to the changing needs, pinpoints and really what technology has to offer. So one of our startups spark mindset, it does, you know, in-person kind of camps around cybersecurity for middle and high schoolers. That’s not possible right now, so what they’ve done instead is to pivot onto an online platform, which actually is going to help them in their scalability longer term. So in a, in a way it’s a pivot, that’s going to make the business much stronger, I think kind of across the board as well. It’s kind of understanding how do you make a pivot, but staying keeping the integrity of your mission and your business. And I think that’s having that really clear understanding of who you are, what your core values are. And again, back to what is that problem you’re trying to solve?

Greg Olson (04:08):

Yeah. I think entrepreneurs and startups. A lot of ones that I’ve talked to, I’ve been set up for like solving problems, right? They’re always in like trying new funding mechanisms and changing their business plan. You know, and a lot of them have worked remote, you know, already, but I think it was overnight that teams had to figure that out. I think it was, it seems like a lot of companies that are smaller entrepreneurial, if they can make it through the funding mechanisms. And then they could come out the other side, I think you’re right. We will, everybody will be stronger as they go through. So let’s jump into placemaking. First, what is “placemaking” and how would you describe it to non-placemaker people?

Natasha Main (04:52):

Right. Well, I think anyone in kind of the placemaking world, we’ll admit it’s, it’s a made up word. It there’s no translation into other languages, things like that. But weirdly what I think of it is, is how do you identify with a sense of place? How do you curate that space to inspire, to provide a sense of inclusion and, and really, how do you take that kind of connection with place in the lived environment and enhance it for livability?

Greg Olson (05:21):

All right. So a place could be a downtown, right? Or it could be a main street, or it could be as simple as a block.

Natasha Main (05:33):

Right. Or can even be an alley within that. Right? That’s been a abandoned and then you throw up a really cool architectural sculpture that transforms it into a forgotten unlooked place to one that you want to be in.

Greg Olson (05:45):

Yeah. So in Grand Junction, I know they’re in downtown, they’re activating these alleyways. They’re taking parking lots and they’re going to turn them into meeting places where you can have bands and food trucks and, you know, all those kinds of things, which is probably perfect for social distancing. So tell me a little bit, what are you seeing in placemaking is in Colorado Springs and what excites you around this? I think it’s a huge way for economic development. And also I think placemaking ties well into storytelling, right? Because people want to come and then see that place. I think it draws people in, you know?

Natasha Main (06:23):

It gives you a sense, a sense of identity too, right? And how humans put on clothes and fashion and really express their own identity that way I feel that’s the same way around placemaking. Who are you, how do you present yourselves and how do you invite people in? I think it also allows like sparks of creativity and playfulness. We like to be pleasantly surprised by something we didn’t expect, whether that’s a sculpture or a place to sit down. I had the pleasure of going to a conference put on our project for public spaces around placemaking as a place that week in Chattanooga. And it was a global conference. So getting to hear people from Brazil, talking about how they’re activating their parking lots to what Chattanooga did to turn their identity around from you know, really dirty air to now, it’s kind of an outdoor beacon of a community as well. And so it was kind of intentional planning and I think when it comes down to economic development as well we’re looking at how do we build on, on top of what exists, right? And, and take what’s good. And it’s really an asset kind of approach to development. What do you already have in your community and how do you enhance it and celebrate it in different ways? And I think art is a great way to do that.

Greg Olson (07:46):

It is, and I’m involved in the creative district for Grand Junction, and that’s been a fascinating process and I’ve gone to a couple of conferences and surrounded by people about placemaking and you know, how it can really change communities and areas within that community kind of overnight, right? Take certain blinded sections and create art walks or creative walks and it’s help it’s educational for kids and music and tech. It wasn’t, I always thought maybe it was really focused on people that were like sculptures, but it’s also tech solutions or bike paths, or it really can be many different things. So, that’s fascinating.

Natasha Main (08:27):

It’s really about kind of that connection to place. And that starts, and then you build community through that connection, that shared connection. And then everything else kind of spurs from there.

Greg Olson (08:38):

Yeah. And we’re proud about the place that we work and live in. So I totally agree with that. Okay. So let’s dive into one of the things, because you mentioned, and I think placemaking follows that about funding and mentoring. I really want to talk about mentoring, because I know that it’s a big thing you’re doing in your organization. You know, as I gotten older, I’ve been mentor to other people, but I also look for mentors. You know, we created a founders group that we meet actually every Friday virtually with different people to kind of hold each other accountable, to run our problems across from each other things like on our world, we’re looking at like finances, cashflow analysis. We’re also looking at employee handbooks and, you know, so I mean, but it’s, again, we’re sharing those ideas, but so tell me what you’re seeing in the world of mentoring. And I know you had a call out to people to say, Hey, we’re looking for mentors or so what’s going on. I mean, you know, so, you know, it’s a big word, right? A lot of people think like I have a senior person and I’m a young person, you know, it’s not really like that anymore.

Natasha Main (09:43):

No, it really isn’t. And we’ve really adapted this term a friend of ours, a yummy mobile ID with the city uses, which is “friendtor.” It’s really this kind of peer to peer relationship. And, and to your point, Greg, it’s about kind of that shared accountability, and how you talk. And it’s, and it’s I think through relationship, we find an additional sense of belonging and purpose, right? And so building those relationships either across difference or across kind of, you know, different points of interest as well are really powerful when you’re taking a holistic approach to your life and to us at exponential impact to development of companies and their founders. And so it’s a holistic approach to, yes, we absolutely want to talk about those business tools that you need, but also the best way we can learn is through experience and sharing those experiences with others really enhances our ability to kind of understand our landscape and context and build relationship and understand all of these components, right? Like how do I take care of my family while building a startup that’s those are kind of intention. And so mentorship addresses that, but then also what’s the best kind of sales technique to go through that. And I think you’re absolutely right when we hear mentorship, it feels very formal. And how do you kind of engage if you don’t have a mentor right now, how do you even start to kind of engage in that sense, but really, I think it is about that kind of, how do you have a friend, someone in your connection and your network that you can connect with and start to learn with one another and hold each other accountable. And I think it’s really those conversations at the idea level that really make a mentorship relationship.

Greg Olson (11:28):

Yeah. And I think what I’ve looked at over the years is things that when you start a business there’s so many things you don’t know. I didn’t go to business school or finance, you know, which I had more that knowledge, but really, I had that grind and hustle mentality. I went to school for engineering, but I could get out and meet people and find that they had a need, I would have a service or product. And then you get you grow and you get larger and then it gets more complicated. So one of the things we looked at was having like instead of like a one-on-one mentor or coach, which I’ve done though is we have an advisory board now. And I think that kind of helped guide us. And in that way we can bring that to that team and say, “Hey, we’re struggling with this” or “here’s our quarterly”, “we’re down” or “here’s our mix of clients”, and also it’s kind of helped us have like a brainstorming right. Of session. Cause I think it kind of goes on our next topic, which is talking about health and wellness. And I think that because if you don’t have that, someone to talk to you as a Business Owner or Business Leader, Startup Manager, it’s really a struggle, because a lot of times you don’t have anybody. Man, or woman, you know as a man, I know I’ll just be like, everything’s fine. Everything’s great. And then I don’t sleep very well. You know what I mean? And that, so your organization started this Monday events. And I don’t want to give it away. I just want to make sure. So tell me about it. What are you doing and how do you see it helping people?

Natasha Main (13:10):

Absolutely. So kind of for when exponential impact started, one of our co-founders Betsy Brown is a positive psychologist as well. And we really, it was all founded on this premise, how do we provide that holistic training, character development, leadership development, but then taking care of individuals too and understanding as well. Entrepreneurship is very lonely, right? Just to your points as well, you’re doing things maybe no one else has or in a totally different way. And then it’s a small team at the beginning for sure. You know, how do you start to have those relationships to really kind of buoy yourself throughout it, right. It’s definitely a roller coaster and things like that. So part of the, that kind of I guess programming that we do is to really just take time and hold space for people to also learn the tools around mindfulness and how to navigate their emotions as well. Because that’s just as important to going out and networking and things like that. So we do Mindful Mondays during the accelerator program which is typically in the summer. Right now what we’ve done is we’ve postponed. And we can go into this a little bit later, postponed our accelerator to kind of support our local community through a program right now called “Survive and Thrive”, which is to support small businesses. And so part of that program is to do this kind of wellness session as well. And so we do series of webinars around best practices around wellness, how to take care of yourself, how to have hard conversations with your teams, even breathing techniques, to just calm down on these zoom calls. You know, it kind of goes fuzzy for a few minutes to take that time, to have a breath.

Greg Olson (14:48):

Yeah. I’m going to share this here, your website, just so we go through it. Before this, I think it was obvious I was kind of fuzzy, but I have been meditating for a long time using apps like Headspace or Calm or things like that. And I think that actually has helped me where I can before this call, I can breathe and take, you know, 30 seconds and I can relax. But I think you need the tools, right? You need other people to know what’s okay. And so the Mindfulness Mondays I think it’s fascinating. So I think it’s great. I mean, have you seen some success with it?

Natasha Main (15:35):

I think it’s always, you know, you get out what you put in. So, and what we’ve seen is that our entrepreneurs are very receptive to that programming want to go deeper on their own. So whether that’s reading a book and reflecting on that, taking those practices to their teams and starting, you know their weekly staff meetings with a breathing exercise or something like that, it’s really, how do you kind of allow, especially in startups and entrepreneurship, you’re building so quickly, everything is coming at you, it’s all new. How do you take a moment just to pause and stay healthy yourself and make sure that are well so that you can build a good company that’s sustainable.

Greg Olson (16:16):

Good. Yeah, it is very important. Okay. So we set up Survive and Thrive. Love the name by the way, because I think these things could continue on, and this is really what this topic is around is like, how do we grow our business in a crisis, right? Or in a downturn. I mean, we were always kind of planning that there might be a downturn coming and of this year, next year, you know, you read the news too much, you know, no one really knows. So, and I think it allows us to keep adapting. And I think we’re going to be stronger than companies. I feel like our company is much stronger today than it was three months ago. I mean, I think we had those some processes in place for it. So let’s talk, what is Survive and Thrive and how are companies using it and where do you see it going?

Natasha Main (17:01):

Absolutely. So I guess it kind of starts back to Exponential Impact, really existing to drive economic development in our community. And it really in Southern Colorado. So then we realized that, you know, the COVID-19 situation is having a really negative impact on our local economy. And it’s lasting longer than originally anticipated and that we knew that there was going to be federal resources coming down the way, but that month, maybe between where we were when we started having these conversations and when you know that the PPP came out and all of those that month was really critical and people were hurting kind of immediately on that. So then we pushed our summer accelerator and with that program, managing a fund and pairing, you know, financial resources with mentorship that holistic programming is really kind our core competency. And so we stood up a in kind of, in a community and collaborative fashion with the lean foundation and the Pikes Peak Community foundation stood up $2.3 million fund to offer low to no interest loans to our small business community with that. Every loan recipient is paired with an individual mentor or a “friendtor” to use the term. And so they’re paired with that. And then we have, you know, a series of webinars and kind of resources as well that we put on every, every week to the whole community. So regardless of your application status, you’re invited to those. But really how do we in, and to your point with the name that we’re at Vance Brown, my Board Chair, he was really thinking , yes, the financial resources are to survive this moment, but then the relationships that are built through the mentoring program are how we’re going to thrive as a community afterwards. And I think always going into, you know, as you’re thinking about addressing a crisis and what that relief effort looks like going into it with, how is our community going to look better at the end of this? I think really sets you up for, for achieving greater things.

Greg Olson (19:06):

Yeah. I really like this friendtor piece you’re talking about, because I think that’s really hard. And again, I’ve talked to so many business leaders and startups and it’s a scary time and running a business is a scary time. So I think having that friendtor and then understanding like what finances are available, what type of funding, how do we get through it? And I think people, you know, we had the payroll protection, I’m sure you spent a lot of time on, like all of us. And so now there’s funding available to your community because the worst thing that can happen is these companies don’t come back, right? We lose that higher rate. How many jobs and things like that. So I really like this. I think it’s a great model for other communities to think about. I’m seeing it even in Western Colorado, Grand Junction has one. I think city of Fruita has it, like if you’re a business in that community, they have low interest loans or making available business incubators. So I think this is great. So I have it on here, so people can take a look at it. And we’ll post this link as well. How quickly did this come up again, that you got up and running?

Natasha Main (20:23):

It was two weeks from when a Bands called me and said, “I think we need to do something for our local community. Let’s see what we can do to partnering up with the community foundation.” And so within two weeks we had the infrastructure ready to go. And really, I mean, it was an outpouring of art. Startup Community Formstack is at one of our kind of prominent startups in our community. And they said to take our technology for the applications we’re going to, you know, whatever you need, we’ll help you make this happen. Same with, you know, accounting, like SKR. They, they, it was amazing. This kind of wave of community support immediately because everyone I think wants to do something to support each other. And that’s what we’re seeing too, in the business community of the groups of loan recipients, as well as like, how do we help each other now, how do we kind of give back to the community? And that’s been really inspiring as a part of this program.

Greg Olson (21:10):

Great. Well, congrats on that. And it’s been, I know I’m sure to, so many people are thankful that there’s resources help people to talk to. So as we start to think of, we’ll start looking at closing off the time, but I think one thing that’s interesting is, and I want to have another talk about this, but we talk about rural Renaissance, right? And these are words, again, these are things that they’re not really made up words, but we weren’t really talking about maybe as much before. And especially now we’re starting to see people in companies leaving these bigger cities, but we’re starting to see it to come to the Western Slope. And I talked to other communities across the country, you know, I think of like, you know, around the Salt Lake area they’re expanding out in these other key more, let’s say, rural communities, what are you seeing around that? I’m calling it the rural Renaissance. And I think maybe you coined it I’ve, might’ve heard or read about it with you, but what are your thoughts around that?

Natasha Main (22:04):

Rural Colorado in particular is beautiful, but what we’re also seeing is that that’s a really amazing, unique way of life that people want to keep on to. It’s not all about all the resources being in big cities and urban areas, but then how do, how do those kinds of connections, how are those made? But I think there’s also something to be said about this particular crisis. And, and having us all go virtual and remote. And what we’ve realized too, is that, one remote work is possible and that kind of virtual collaboration does not detract from productivity for the most part. And so that makes more like a rural destination, a lot more appealing and possible for some who maybe didn’t think of it because of this kind of you know, digital environment that we’re in right now. But yeah, absolutely. I think we’re seeing your track pick over there. I think we’re seeing resources, we’re seeing amazing innovation and community spirit, and that’s what, you know, I think everyone wants, for sure.

Greg Olson (23:10):

Yeah. And I think that real Renaissance I’ve had on a previous guest, James Eklund, he’s from Squire Patton and Bogs law firm, but they’re really passionate about what’s happening in the rural areas of Colorado but also about what’s happening in broadband. So I look forward to having another discussion with them about things that they’re doing around policy and what we’re really seeing about moving infrastructure forward into these rural areas, right. That I think now more than ever education, and we need that higher speed internet to really function as a community and things like that where maybe it’ll pass, we could get by with what we had, but now it’s even more critical, I think. So we’ll have a kind of a rule of Renaissance. I’ll connect your coming up in the future and I’ll let you know about that one. And we might have, I’ll have you back on as a guest to kind of help guide that conversation. So I think in closing out we always asked her some tips. So any kind of tips of on top of your brain that you’d want to get out and maybe people in your community or outside of that, I always look for things around the business leaders, startups, entrepreneurs might take away.

Natasha Main (24:25):

Absolutely. Well, I mean, maybe it’s even kind of recapping the subjects we touched on today about really reach out. And when you, when you need some support access the resources available around mindfulness to try something new you know, you can kind of build on those, right? You know, maybe it’s just like a 32nd meditation you do one day and then, you know, you have a cup of tea or, you know, those little things you can build but kind of take that take that to heart and build that into your practice on your structure of your day. And then I would say, you know, find your friendtor or be one for someone else and just reach out and set up a 30 minute call every week and see what happens there. And then I would say, kind of going back to the very beginning, if you’re lost on how to pivot, go back to the problem that you set out to solve, whether that was a resource gap that existed, or that you knew you could be best in this one area, because you know that your customer is, you know, there’s a pinpoint there, go back to that main problem and just look at where your customer or your user is right now and, and see how to evolve your solution based on that.

Greg Olson (25:35):

I like that one, because I think we all start a business based on solving maybe a niche need or something. And then it kind of expanded from there. Something I always learned was, is your expertise, a mile wide and an inch deep or a mile deep and an inch wide. And we, over time, it kind of spreads out. Right. And we bring in different services and things like that. And then when crisis happens you know, we’re not as much an expert in that one area that we start our business. And so I think that’s pretty interesting. So closing out what, anything that you need from the GROWL Connex to connect to the community, is there an ask or around AI or what, what kind of things are happening that maybe, you know, you’re looking for support or help, or you want people to know about we can send them there. We can ask for something. What is that?

Natasha Main (26:27):

Well, I would say we all always are looking for additional mentors, whether you’re on the tech side and want to support with the accelerator, or if you’re interested in participating as a virtual mentor at, through the survive and thrive, we would love to have you and if any of this resonates, please reach out and then in turn, we’d love to offer, you know, the webinars that we’ve been putting on just, you’re welcome to sign up and join them too. So thank you so much for kind of connecting the community right now as well,Greg. This is great.

Greg Olson (26:55):

Yeah. And we’ll put that information out to everybody and making sure they get connected to your webinars. And so people can be a friendtor, even if they’re not located in Colorado Springs, if they’re within in a business and stuff like that.

Natasha Main (27:10):

Absolutely. Yep! And what we’re looking again is how do we build connections and relationships? And if you can be there for someone, or if you want to be a subject matter expert and host a webinar, then that’s an opportunity as well. That’s less of a time commitment too, but we have people from all over the country now, which is great to see.

Greg Olson (27:28):

Good! Well, we’re at the end of our time, and I don’t want to keep you any longer either. I do appreciate everything in the time that you took with us today and all the tips that you had. I look forward to our next conversation. Thank you again for being on GROWL Connex!

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