CHANGEMAKER: The Globetrotting Mentor Who Coaches Today’s Entrepreneurs. Q&A with Isabelle Bart…
Entrepreneurs are inherently risk takers. They need energy and drive to see their visions through the initial stages of ideation, execution and funding — all the while cognizant of the fact that it could all fall apart at any stage of the process. Some succeed, while those who fail have to pick up the pieces and start again. In any case, entrepreneurs in the early stage can benefit from mentorship and support.
Meet Isabelle Bart. She’s a professor, entrepreneur, mentor and speaker based in Irvine. She’s charted her own path, crossing oceans and industries alike. And, her motivation remains strong to help support the next generation of innovation.
Bart provided the following insight into her philosophies and approach in this Changemaker Q&A:
Your pre-MBA educational training took place at the illustrious Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. How did your academic training there prepare you for the business/ entrepreneur culture you would experience upon arriving in America to continue your education?
Bart: The French education system is very different from the one here. We study for five years right after high school to graduate with an MBA. The first two years consist of studying really hard to take a nationwide competitive exam to place in the best business schools. Those prep years taught me to absorb a lot of information in a short amount of time which is essential, as I have to multitask a lot in the work I do everyday.
The MBA program, along with my successive training at the ESSEC Business School — also in Paris — were very internationally-focused. The curriculum and activities were always adapted to be more like an American MBA program, with the understanding that it was critical to prepare students with a more diverse business education. so they could work abroad and experience various cultures
Were there concepts that you learned early on in Paris that continue to have a global application, in your mind?
Bart: A basic concept that may be more popular in France than here is that it’s OK to be in the “gray zone.” That means the ability to explore different avenues in a particular process or project. In my experience of working in the US, I find that many employees feel more comfortable when there is a clear process to follow, so they aren’t always pursuing ideas outside the box and challenging the status quo, which can result in a very binary way of thinking.
I find that many solutions to problems we are trying to solve come from exploring new areas, trying new things and being outside our comfort zone. A lot of successful entrepreneurs I have met are action-driven and navigate through successes and failures with an open mindset, leading them to iterate and incorporate feedback.
What would you say is the strongest attribute for a prospective entrepreneur to have in today’s world?
Bart: Curiosity is key in terms of having that open mindset, approaching problems with inquiry, seeking to understand before solving problems and not being too emotionally attached to your original ideas. Curiosity can also lead to exploring amazingly unexpected opportunities that could lead a startup on a promising new path.
On the same token, what do you find to be common roadblocks that many budding entrepreneurs tend to encounter? What sort of advice do you impart in those situations to encourage entrepreneurs to continue to pursue their visions?
Many entrepreneurs I have met think that raising capital will be easier than it actually is, sometimes because other startups in their fields have raised significant amounts. I also think founders may underestimate how difficult it is to change customer behavior, in terms of falling in love with their products. In these situations, I encourage entrepreneurs to be patient and to keep applying fundamental business principles, while refining their value proposition and understanding their audience’s pain points and goals.
The importance of mentorship is a recurring theme in many of your projects. Can you speak on how you approach your role as a mentor—especially when it comes to entrepreneurs from underrepresented groups?
Bart: As a mentor, I try to set realistic expectations and coach entrepreneurs holistically as they are people, first and foremost. The journey of an entrepreneur can be long and exhausting. So, I want to ensure that they can develop resilience and the leadership skills that will be needed when hiring team members, collaborating with partners, investors, etc. I like to use inquiry in my approach to drill down to what they truly want, and help them raise self-awareness so they can leverage their strengths.
I can appreciate underrepresented groups, as I didn’t have many resources when I moved to California. One of the most valuable assets I can bring to those I mentor are connections, which in many cases make a tremendous difference.
Have you had any important mentor or mentor relationships along the way that have helped you carve your path to this point?
Bart: One example of a mentor relationship I especially enjoyed is Oscar Garcia, an entrepreneur who, like me, immigrated from another country. I made myself available to him as a resource, staying in communication with him and providing guidance during the early stages of building his company. Today, he is the founder and CEO of Need2Say, a company that developed an app to facilitate communication on construction sites. It provides translation services, due to all the various languages spoken at these sites.
Personally, I have had many amazing mentors over the years, who were always helping me decide what was best for me, and believing in my talent even when I was in doubt. And as I had moved so far away from my home country, many of my mentors ended up becoming like relatives to me.
You also have an extensive background in marketing. Do you have any thoughts about the evolution of marketing?
Bart: Marketing is a great foundation to build businesses because we put the customer first and we think about the audience and the market, not the technology. Also in marketing we learned how to formulate value propositions and be concise and straight to the point, which can be a great asset when you present your company.
Is there a particular area in the tech landscape where you have seen, or would like to see, an increase in entrepreneurship?
Bart: My passion lies with impact entrepreneurship, where we can use innovation to build entities that will solve long-lasting challenges, including social, environmental, etc. I expect more tech startups will be impact-driven in the near future. And, I am a fan of seeing how technology can help solve these bigger challenges.
Speaking of bigger challenges, you are a member of the global Catalyst 2030 group, which promotes and works toward achieving the UN’s goals for a more sustainable world. Can you describe how the group’s initiatives regarding diversity and inclusivity play into the program’s quest for greater sustainability?
Bart: Inclusion and diversity will be the key to solving the Sustainable Development Goals. We need to bring stakeholders to the table who have different backgrounds, expertise and perspectives to solve issues that our society has not been able to solve in decades.
Diversity can be a huge catalyst for innovation. We need to make entrepreneurship more equitable by providing early-stage resources as many underrepresented founders may not have the financial support of family and friends to get them to a place where they can build a prototype, join an accelerator, etc.
In the early stage, many founders may not know how to access the best resources to save them time, hence money, and some end up giving up on potential breakthrough ideas and innovations because they didn’t receive the appropriate guidance.
Finally, what is on the horizon for you? What kind of goals do you like to set for yourself? And, where do you see yourself having the greatest impact going forward?
Bart: I want to strengthen my focus on impact entrepreneurship. I am launching my consulting company, Impact Innovator (www.impactinnovator.co), to help new startups and existing companies build an impact strategy to create effective and measurable impact aligned with the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
I think we need to educate the community and strengthen the voice for impact entrepreneurship. One of my goals is to obtain more public speaking opportunities so I can motivate more people, in a direct way, to rally around these ideas.
I also will continue to do personal and group coaching to empower individuals to find their true purpose and develop an entrepreneurial mindset in every area of their life.
To learn about other people who are leading the charge for change within the world of tech, make sure to visit the Changemakers section for other profiles in innovation.