By Colleen Buck
As we continue our Cookie Season here at Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania (GSHPA), we remain focused on bestowing entrepreneurship knowledge and skills upon girls to help them succeed in their cookie endeavors. As our young entrepreneurs are busy out in the field promoting and selling cookies, we got the chance to chat with former Girl Scout and entrepreneurship guru Lisa Hall Zielinski, Director of The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center (SBDC).
Zielinski kindly imparted valuable entrepreneurship advice for us to share with all of you future female business leaders, so read on to learn how to take your passion for entrepreneurship to the next level!
According to your online profile, you were raised in a family business. Can you describe what that experience was like and how it influenced your career path?
Growing up in my family’s automotive business, I learned a little bit about everything! I helped out with everything from finances to inventory to changing tires and rebuilding engines. I was voted Most Mechanical in my high school class – maybe not what every girl dreams of, but not every girl is the same. I learned to appreciate small businesses and how important they are to families and communities and, while I was not always clear about exactly what I wanted to do for a career, I knew small businesses would be an important part.
What are some of your responsibilities as director of The University of Scranton SBDC?
As Director of The University of Scranton Small Business Development Center (SBDC), I oversee the organization and lead an awesome team of staff and interns who provide educational programming and individual consulting to entrepreneurs in eight counties in Northeastern and Northern Tier Pennsylvania. Aside from leading the team, I manage our operation from start to finish. I make sure we are on task on every project, achieve goals and keep in compliance with all policies and grant guidelines. Collaboration is also a major part of my job, working with colleagues and partners across the region. I also teach some of our training classes, and I teach undergraduate classes in the Kania School of Management.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The people and the variety! My team, our university students, our partners and the clients we serve are what I love most about my job. I am an extrovert and get my energy from connecting with others. I also like the variety of my work. I get to do a little bit of everything and I use many of the skills and knowledge I learned through my education – leadership, marketing, psychology, accounting, math, and so on. Believe it or not, I even use algebra!
What challenges do you face in your job?
Running a nonprofit means lots of juggling. There is never enough time or funding to reach all of the people or do all of the projects. With so many people to serve, it can be really hard for me to prioritize and set boundaries and to help my team do so also.
Can you speak to the importance of mentorship within the field of entrepreneurship/business?
I think mentorship is positive in any field, but especially when it comes to entrepreneurship and business. Having someone else to talk to and learn from can be extremely helpful, especially when you are on your own trying to run a business. You don’t have to do everything exactly as a mentor would do, but hearing their experience and getting their input can be really helpful when it comes to overcoming challenges or pursuing opportunities.
Do you mentor any girls/women in the area of business and/or entrepreneurship?
I have worked with many women and young women over time, starting with my time at Keystone College where I ran a leadership center and continuing when I came to The University of Scranton through my work with the SBDC. I have closely mentored a handful of young women because I think it’s critically important that we help each other succeed. I think women of all ages can do amazing things when they put their minds to it, and we can achieve more by working together!
The Girl Scout Cookie Program is the largest girl-led entrepreneurial program in the world. What challenges do you think Girl Scouts face in the program that might mirror challenges adult entrepreneurs face?
No matter what your age, it’s hard work to market and sell products or services with all of the information and competition in our world today. Coming up with new and innovative ways to reach customers is something every entrepreneur should be thinking about these days and it’s not easy. The good thing is that Girl Scout Cookies are delicious! (I have two favorites, by the way, Caramel deLites and Lemonades!)
What benefits do you think entrepreneurship skills provide young girls?
I believe the skills young girls can learn through entrepreneurship are skills for life! Through entrepreneurship, girls can learn critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, innovation, self-discipline and much more. They can build skills in financial literacy and leadership and learn how to set and achieve goals. All of these things help build strengths that are important no matter what they choose to do in life. Also, we need more woman-owned businesses! Through entrepreneurship, women can create their own economic independence, create jobs for others and make a positive impact on our economy.
What advice would you give to girls interested in a career in business/entrepreneurship?
Try lots of things and don’t be afraid to fail! I keep quotes posted near my desk to create a motivating environment. This one is from Woody Allen: “If you’re not failing every now and again, it’s a sign you’re not doing anything very innovative.” While most of us strive for success and want to avoid the pain of failure at all costs, I think we often learn more from our ideas that don’t work and it often leads us to come up with even better ones!
Were you a Girl Scout? If yes, can you share your favorite memory from your time as a Girl Scout?
I was a Girl Scout and my mom was a leader. I have very clear memories of meetings, specific projects and outdoor adventures. I remember towers of cookies piled in our kitchen during cookie time! I also helped my mom when my younger sister was a Daisy. In fact, the day after I got my driver’s license, I drove a car full of Daisies to the airport for a tour!