Scholar to Graduate: My 10KSB Experience

By Kristen Harris

Apparently people in Boston like to hide valuables under a mattress. Earlier this year I found a treasure in Boston too, although it wasn’t $20M in cash (and thankfully doesn’t require federal investigation).

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For the past twelve weeks I was a scholar in National Cohort 7 of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program (10KSB). Funded by Goldman Sachs, with curriculum developed by Babson College, 10KSB is a program with the goal of helping 10,000 small business owners grow their business. I participated in the blended learning program, a combination of online classes and face-to-face sessions at Babson College, outside of Boston.

The 10KSB curriculum focuses on assessing where your business is today, identifying opportunities for growth, and putting together a solid plan for pursuing those growth opportunities. Throughout this program I spent a lot of time thinking about and working on (not in) our business.

It was one of the most challenging and rewarding things I’ve done. I’m not sure I’ve worked as hard on anything, or maybe ever, in my professional life. And it was totally worth the effort. I learned so much about our business, and even more about myself. Looking under the mattress and in all of the dusty corners, while I didn’t find $20M, what I did find was amazing.

A few takeaways from my experience with the 10KSB program:

You can always learn more.

I applied for the program because a trusted friend recommended it, and the curriculum sounded interesting. Like many situations, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was committing myself to, but figured I can always learn something new. And did I ever! Never stop learning, there is always something new to discover.

Don’t underestimate.

I discovered value in myself and our business that I never realized. Re-discovered beliefs and ideals that I’d lost sight of. And saw the needs of our clients, talent and internal team from new perspectives. I also noticed when my fellow scholars played down their expertise, value, or the larger contribution they make to their communities and the world. Don’t underestimate the value you bring or the impact you make.

Peer learning is powerful.

Our lead faculty was wonderful, the section instructors were great, and the curriculum was excellent. But the real power was in how much we all learned from each other. We came from different locations and all walks of life, but all shared similar challenges. Every single scholar in the program was fantastic and impressive in their own right. In just twelve short weeks I learned so much from these people, and plan to continue learning from them in the months and years to come.

Passion trumps strategy.

I love the quote “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. Each scholar’s business was completely different, but everyone in the program was truly passionate about what they do and who they work with. At the end of the day they’ll be successful because they truly care. Passion wins.

You have time.

Think you don’t have time to commit to something like this (or whatever would be the equivalent in your career)? When it’s important, you find the time. Say no to unimportant things for now...or maybe forever. What are you doing that matters more than growing your business, advancing your career, or pursuing your dreams? Take the time, or make the time.

Have bigger dreams.

Speaking of dreams…each scholar had to select one growth opportunity to focus on for this program. They were all smart ideas, good opportunities, and I imagine most people will go home and pursue what they presented. But, when I chatted with people at lunch, after dinner or on the bus, nearly every person said “that’s the idea I presented, and I’m totally going to do it, but what I really want to do is…” We all have bigger dreams below the surface. Perhaps their current business needs to grow to support the dream, or the new concept isn’t even clear enough to pursue (yet). But it struck me how important it is to pursue ideas and keep dreaming big.

I feel privileged to be able to participate in this program, and to connect with such an amazing group of people. It’s amazing what can be learned, discovered, and created by focusing your time and energy. I plan to keep it up, and challenge you to do the same. Who knows what treasure you’ll find under the mattress?

Find out more about the 10KSB program or apply for a future cohort.