When someone close to you gets married, you support them. If they have a registry, you look through it and buy things they need.
Emily Wazlak had a brainstorm a few years ago while considering just that: She had a friend getting married, and another who was starting a business. If engaged couples can put out wish lists, what if it was that easy to ask for what you want when starting a business?
“We didn’t have any traditions to fall back on to support our friend who was starting the company,” says Wazlak. “That disconnect felt very uncomfortable for me. A lot of building Shine Registry is a reaction to that, with the underlying mission to be a better friend.”
Shine Registry lets women entrepreneurs ask for anything they need to start a business, the same easy way the engaged person asks for wine glasses or mixing bowls.
Women receive less than two percent of venture capital funding and just five percent of Small Business Administration-backed loans, Wazlak says, even though women now start businesses at a greater rate than the national average.
“When you look at disparities in funding for female founders,” she says, “anything that can close that gap becomes exciting.”
Wazlak points out that people often spend hundreds of dollars on travel, gifts and new clothing each time they attend a wedding. Why not offer the same generosity to a friend who is launching a business?
“We want to change the way that people show up for folks that they care about in their professional lives,” she says. “More specifically, we want to be able to say we have a tangible impact on the experience of women starting companies.”
Wazlak comes from a political organizing background, moving from Washington, D.C. for grad school at Carnegie Mellon. Shine Registry was part of CMU’s Project Olympus startup incubator.
“A lot of the things I did in my political organizing work relate heavily to what we’re building with Shine Registry,” she notes. Her work on the project involved discovering “how to activate communities to take part in a cause.”
While Shine Registry is based at the Ascender coworking space in East Liberty, one of the earliest users was Caroline Caselli of Haven Connect, from Oakland, California.
“She has a really interesting story,” says Wazlak. “She was a social worker who assisted people in finding affordable housing. She realized that a lot could be improved by moving that onto a digital platform. I think they’re the first affordable housing application platform. Through our site, someone who hadn’t heard of her work before but was interested in the idea behind Shine Registry ended up offering her pro bono developer support, which is kind of a big deal.”
Other fledgling companies have asked for and received things ranging from equipment like button-makers to audio recorders to pep talks. In fact, the pep talk aspect has really taken off.
“That’s a really quick and easy way to send support and words of encouragement,” says Wazlak. “It falls into our philosophy that you need a lot of different types of support when starting something new. One is emotional support — that your community cares and is proud of you. That’s been a really popular feature, and a really heartwarming one.”
There are currently 20 founders from the Pittsburgh area using the site, in addition to many more from outside the region.
“People from Pittsburgh are using it to make network connections, to increase their social media engagement, to advertise equipment needs and showcase other avenues of support,” says Wazlak.
“I think that a lot of the programs designed for female entrepreneurs can be intimidating,” says Mary Jayne McCullough of Global Wordsmiths, a Pittsburgh-based social enterprise that provides language translation and interpretation services.
“I asked for LinkedIn endorsements, social media follows, recommendations and referrals,” she says. “I also asked for a nap, but nobody has helped facilitate that one yet!”
So far, more than 75 founders worldwide have received over 580 fulfillments from 130 supporters. And Shine Registry has a few big things in the works for 2019.
“We’re also going to be rolling out a ‘pay it forward’ program this year,” says Wazlak. “To start, we have five service-based packages we’ll be distributing to folks with Shine Registry profiles from a collaboration with Jess Hershey LLC, a company that offers virtual assistant and entrepreneurship coaching services.”
All packages were sponsored by companies looking to ‘pay it forward’ and support female founders starting new businesses. The list of sponsors and more information can be found here.
“We’re excited that in early 2019, we’re introducing crowdfunding tools — which will open a revenue stream,” Wazlak says. “We’re also partnering with other companies and organizations that support early-stage companies. We’ll have announcements about that in early 2019.”