Last night Rebecca Kousky spoke at Centre College about her non-profit business, NEST. NEST makes microloans to women in poor countries to make traditional crafts. They pay back the loans with products, which NEST sells online and through craft stores. Kousky started this project at 24, fresh out of social work school - in other words, with no formal preparation for what she was getting in to.
What was most interesting to me was her description of her "business plan." She said that all of her male advisors insisted she write up a business plan, write up a financial model, then go to investors. She found herself unable to do that. Instead, she took all kinds of people to her favorite coffee house and told them her whole plan, including the whole process of how the idea grew out of her life. From these conversations she got ideas, business contacts, investors, and lots of relationships that form the real foundation of NEST today. It was only when she was applying for a grant months after she had gotten the business under way that she was able to write down what her plan was - in retrospect.
Kousky is conscious of being young and a woman. She has noticed how this makes a difference in how she can connect with the women they give loans to, to the in-country intermediaries that they work through, and with the many women on her staff and board. She sees her naturally developing "circular flow" business model as a more female alternative to the linear business model that she was counseled to use.
NEST is a case study, not a proof. It is still young, only in its third year, and is only one case. Still, Kousky's account of building a business based on relationships that flow into opportunities does match what I have read elsewhere about how women tend to think of their "careers" in general.