Via Inc. : Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the US Department of Commerce, Julie Lenzer Kirk shares how to turn your entrepreneurial know-how into your next big thing.
Gone are the days when career paths are one-size-fits-all. As with many enterprising women, Julie Lenzer Kirk is no stranger to taking the path less travelled. Like many mid-career women, Lenzer Kirk started to feel restless. “I knew at a high level that I was getting ready to step it up a notch. I was getting bored and looking for a challenge,” says Lenzer Kirk.
While she knew she wanted to do something on a larger scale, Lenzer Kirk wasn’t exactly sure what to do next. As she looked around at how she could make the kind of impact she wanted to, she realized that she couldn’t stay doing what she was doing. She had to change industries and move way from being a start-up CEO. The problem was that Lenzer Kirk had spent years building up the network and skills needed to succeed as a start-up CEO in the technology industry. Moving to something completely new meant starting from scratch. Or so she thought.
Fast-forward to today, as Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the US Department of Commerce, Lenzer Kirk is helping to build entrepreneurship into the fabric of U.S. economic growth. By paying attention to the signs that it was time for a really big new challenge, following her passion to grow entrepreneurship as way to impact national economic impact, building out relationships, and defining the role she wanted, Lenzer Kirk was able be the entrepreneur of her next big thing:
1. Know when it’s time to take your show on the road. “I was getting bored and looking for a challenge that would force me to step it up a notch” says Lenzer Kirk. If you are feeling restless or unmotivated, it may be time to consider a new challenge that will take you out of your comfort zone. A few questions to ask yourself if you think you may be ready for your next big thing: Do you have anything new to learn in your current business or role? Are there any burning issues that are left for you to resolve, that require you to stretch beyond your current competency and capacity?
2. Align passion with profession. Lenzer Kirk forged a successful career as an award-winning serial entrepreneur in the technology industry by aligning what she loved with how she made a living. “I quickly realized there was an impact I could have running my own company, but that was just blown off the charts and multiplied when I could help other people start their own companies,” say Lenzer Kirk. There is no replacement for following your gut and listening to your intuition. Ask yourself how your current career is fueling the impact you want to have on the world? While your current gig might look great on paper, be honest with yourself on the answer by trusting what your instincts tell you.
3. Help others help you. As an entrepreneur, Lenzer Kirk knew that her relationships would make or break her success. “My current role came through a conversation with a person I was on a panel with over a decade ago,” says Lenzer Kirk. Over the years, Lenzer Kirk kept in touch with her fellow panelist. When the role with U.S. Department of Commerce came across her acquaintance’s desk, Lenzer Kirk was the first person she recommended. Even if you are not actively seeking a new role, engage in conversations and build relationships over time. Keep the conversation going and take action where you can. There is a lot opportunity to help each other with achieving common goals.
4. Be committed to learning, not to perfection. You will make mistakes as you navigate from your comfort zone to your next big thing. After successfully exiting her business, Lenzer Kirk tried her hand at teaching entrepreneurship at the university level and then ran the Activate entrepreneur program for mid-career women. “I was looking for a multiplier of inspiration, energy and impact,” says Lenzer Kirk. “That didn’t end up working out. We had to fold last year,” says Lenzer Kirk. You get used to trial-and-error as an entrepreneur. Lenzer Kirk has used that entrepreneurial mindset throughout her career. Everything you do is new when you are an entrepreneur. As you take on your next big thing, instead of striving to do your new role perfectly, view each day as an opportunity to learn new skills and hone your leadership acumen and domain expertise.
5. Create the world you want to live in. When the opportunity for the Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship came to her, Lenzer Kirk wasn’t quite sure that the role was the right fit for her next big thing. As it was initially described, the programs for innovation and entrepreneur programs took on a workforce perspective. Lenzer Kirk didn’t agree. As a life-long entrepreneur, she knew that economic impact through innovation and entrepreneurship meant solving the entrepreneur-problem, not a workforce problem. She didn’t give up. “I thought, how do I make this my job?” says Lenzer Kirk. “I called back and pitched my idea to address the work from the viewpoint of an entrepreneur.” It worked. Lenzer Kirk and her team are creating programs that offer what founding teams need most to make economic impact: Access to capital.