How Prosper Mastermind is Growing STL’s Female Entrepreneur Community

Audra Harrold was an entrepreneur who was struggling as she navigated the startup space. Founder and CEO of SassyBull, an equestrian line of sport clothing dedicated to athletes ages 5-25, she made some early—and costly—mistakes.

Entrepreneurs at a Mastermind meeting. Photo by Jennifer Korman
Entrepreneurs at a Mastermind meeting. Photo by Jennifer Korman

Just as her frustration was at an all time high, a friend told her about Prosper Women Entrepreneurs. Harrold attended office hours with Aimee Dunne, Prosper Institute Sr. Director, and by the time she left, she says she was giddy with excitement.

“I felt like it was created just for me,” she says. “And it was, and all the women entrepreneurs in St. Louis who are just like me. For the first time, I realized I was not supposed to travel this crazy startup road alone.”

After that meeting, Harrold went to every PWE event she could attend. When the applications opened for their Mastermind Program, she knew she wanted to participate.

Prosper Mastermind is a two-year program where groups of 5-7 women meet monthly to participate in the process they have been trained in with access to a Prosper Mastermind Committee advisor as well as a seasoned mentor. It’s a process built on evidence-based methodology developed to allow the groups to self-facilitate and encourages goal setting, support and accountability.

Photo by Jennifer Korman
Photo by Jennifer Korman

“We believe in the process that we’ve built,” says Aimee Dunne. “In that it alleviates a lot of the problems that can occur when you get a group together—the book club gone bad idea—And It’s all kinds of businesses. It’s diversity of business industry, diversity in age and of course diversity in terms of race and ethnicity is always something we’re striving for. So it’s a good mix and that’s important to us.”

Cathy Dunkin, Founder of Standing Partnership, a communications consulting firm, serves as a mentor within the program, bringing more than 24 years of experience to help entrepreneurs.

“I had known about the program and was excited about the effort’s growth when Jennifer Ehlen and Aimee Dunne called me about becoming a mentor,” says Dunkin. “I believe the most valuable part of the program is the chance to meet regularly with peers who are experiencing the same things you are in building an entrepreneurial business. They know what you’re going through, and they honestly share relevant experience the group participants couldn’t find anywhere else. When you run a young company, sometimes you can feel very much alone!”

Harrold agrees.

“I was not expecting to bond so quickly with a group of women I now call friends, she says. “The five of us, all with different businesses with different challenges, have really connected—even beyond a business level. I look forward to our monthly meetings and can’t wait to hear how everyone handled their last challenge.”

Photo by Jennifer Korman
Photo by Jennifer Korman

To date, 73 women have been trained through Prosper Mastermind. And because of the two-year commitment, the process to make it in the program happens in three stages: The application, a mandatory orientation, and then if accepted, signing a commitment letter.

“One thing I have loved from the very beginning is the level of dedication required by all participants, says Harrold. “From the application process, to the “are you sure? here’s what’s involved” required orientation, to the monthly meetings, attendance is mandatory. I love this because I know everyone has an equal level of dedication to our group.”

Once the participants are selected, careful attention is paid to forming the groups.

“We won’t put competitors together and we won’t put someone who has been doing their business for 15 years and is pivoting with someone who is just starting out,” says Dunne. “We really do try to get to know the women through the applications and the orientation sessions so we can say ‘this looks like a good group”. It’s important to us to be very thoughtful about it.”

Just as selecting the groups is done with consideration, participants are asked to approach each session with a certain level of mindfulness.

“Group members must be prepared to be candid and open,” says Dunkin. “It’s critical to get past your own experience, biases and pre-conceived solutions so that you really hear and benefit from the others’ experience and advice.  Anyone who already thinks she or he knows everything won’t benefit from this type of sharing environment. “

And many entrepreneurs have found the environment is rewarding. Harrold’s Sassybull line of clothing is set to launch January 23rd, 2016. Harrold counts the Mastermind program as one of the best things she’s done since starting her business. And her dedication seeps into the messaging of Sassybull.

“It’s more than a cool new brand of sport clothing for young riders. It makes the statement that riding is a serious sport, not a hobby,” she says. “It’s drive and determination that are characteristics of being a SassyBull.”

Interested in applying for Prosper Mastermind? Applications will open in in February 2016 for the next cohort.

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