5 Questions with Grace Belangia, Cofounder of Make Startups & Founding Member of theClubhou.se

December 14th, 2020

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Grace Belangia is cofounder of Make Startups, providing community development services for societies across the country to support ecosystems for entrepreneurs and startups. She is also the Executive Director and Founding Member of theClubhou.se, a collaborative workspace that connects leaders and learners, founders and funders in technology, business and design.

Previously, Grace was a serial entrepreneur, having founded a consulting firm in marketing, event planning, cofounded a digital and print magazine, early stage employee for digital mobile marketing company, business partner for innovation architecture firm and early stage angel investor in two technology startups, including Sumo Robot League, an educational robotics platform. 

01. What is the mission of your organization?

Here at theClubhou.se we believe our core mission is to help achieve economic independence in order for individuals to become self-sustaining. Entrepreneurship is a pathway to that opportunity and therefore theClubhou.se inspires ideas, creates companies, and builds community by connecting leaders and learners, funders and founders through education and enrichment. Founded in 2012, theClubhou.se is a division of Hack Augusta, inc., a non-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to growing a culture of innovation and collaboration. We have 200 members and have helped grow 59 companies that create hundreds of jobs. Our events and programs serve over 25,000 people and have helped thousands learn new skills in technology, business, and design. Our code school graduates young adults to become junior software developers. 90% of our programs are free or available at no cost. We provide equipment for entry-level community members to learn website design, 3D printing, laser cutting, and soft skills. 

02. Why have you chosen to dedicate your career to this work?

"It is not the critic who counts; not the (wo)man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat." — from Theodore Roosevelt’s speech, “Citizenship in a Republic.”  

I have been the (wo)man in the arena, and if I can be the funnel, the safe place to fail, the patient ear, the hand up and improve the world (not boil an ocean) for others in the arena as well, then that is what I do and this is why I do it. Providing a community for startups to have peer-to-peer, smart, kind experiences with access to capital, mentors, education, technology, office space, and events is the most humbling awe-inspiring work I know to do. 

03. What is the proudest moment of your work?

Collectively producing TEDxAugusta over four years for more than 50 speakers and over 2500 attendees with 200 volunteers. Providing the platform for people to speak about things that matter to them for a community that loves the TEDx experience is my proudest moment professionally. To give a voice to those that are voiceless, literally a stage to provide the resources and then get out of the way. Giving a TEDx Talk is life changing for the audience and the speakers and I am proud to bring it to my city and give it to those who need it the most. 

04. What advice do you have for organizations that want to support the entrepreneurs you serve?

Half the battle is showing up. Make sure your organization shows up for the community and represents the community. Bring people on your board, invite mentors that look like your startups. Network with capital partners, academic partners, local investors and successful older business owners to establish a collective multi-year relationship. Connect your entrepreneurs with those that want to pay-it-forward. Apply for funding that is intentional, relevant, and valuable. Give your team a fair wage with multiple revenue streams and recurring revenue so your business is self sustaining. Be proactive in media relations and provide storytelling opportunities often for local media placement, and document the connections for your supporters to see the good work!

05. What gives you hope? 

Post-COVID that there will be a more intentional proactive community of those in power and influence to fund deep relevant work for Entrepreneur Support Organizations (ESOs) that support the pipeline for underrepresented entrepreneurs regardless of race, age, income, education, geography, or gender across the country for fair and equitable generational wealth creation and innovation for investors, capital partners, and startups. 

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