The Power of Women, Featuring Liz Sara

Lisa Gable

April 5, 2022

This week for The Power of Women, Lisa Gable chats with Liz Sara, President of SCORE Foundation, former Chair of the National Women’s Business Council; former Chair, Board of Advisors, Dingman Center of Entrepreneurship at the University of MD, and serial Business Mentor, to talk about the innovation and business mindset and key components of a strong mentor-mentee relationship. Stay tuned throughout March for more inspiring stories in honor of Women’s History Month.

LG: Today’s interview is about the innovation mindset. Joining me today is a woman known for her leadership in business, someone who has an extraordinary gift for supporting and cheering on businesswomen and female entrepreneurs. President of the SCORE Foundation (the philanthropic arm of SCORE), serial business mentor, and personal inspiration and friend of mine. Liz, please introduce yourself.

LS: I’m delighted to have this conversation with you today. I have been involved in the entrepreneurial community for the entirety of my career. The common thread is my involvement with technology company startups. I myself am not a software developer or computer scientist – I understand the business side of it. For me and the companies I advised for many years, what mattered was having a vision on what benefits that technology will bring; then a plan and ability to execute that and make it happen.

LG: So our subject of conversation is innovation mindset, business ownership, and women. Only a miniscule 5% of technology companies are owned by women. Do you feel that an innovation mindset is critical for their success specifically?

LS: I think for any startup founder, innovation mindset is where it all begins. But there are two other key components of success in business (particularly for entrepreneurs) which I call the “Two H’s.” The first “H” is “heart.” You need tremendous passion for what you are doing; most founders have this. If you don’t, it won’t be successful. This brings me to the second “H” which is “hustle.” I’ve never met a founder of any startup that has not been able to navigate an obstacle.  There’s an entrepreneurial mindset towards success – not simply just towards the innovation. If the market never learns about your innovation in order to take advantage or it, what’s the point?  It’s really about understanding the place that your innovation fits in the marketplace, what problems you’re trying to correct, and why an audience should buy or care about the product or service. All that takes a business mindset. I would say that the mindset starts with the proposed innovation, but if the business acumen is not there, how will it be successful?

LG: I love your “Two H’s,” it’s so important. I know for my teams, heart and hustle have also defined the entrepreneurs who have worked with me throughout my career. Regarding women in the workplace, you have held a number of positions throughout your career that are less common for a woman to hold than her male counterparts. You’ve been afforded the opportunity to boost women-owned tech businesses. What do you see as the opportunities to improve these numbers of women in these fields?

LS: I feel that mentorship and advice can make a difference in helping more women-owned businesses succeed. The SCORE Foundation brings interested corporations and individuals to the table to help underwrite educational programs sponsored by SCORE as well as promote the 10,000- person mentor network around the country – completely free for business owners.  And I’m delighted to say that last year, 59% of the founders that utilized SCORE services were women. Most of the mentors are former or practicing business executives who wish to give back to the next generation. This is exceptional – and I encourage more women to take advantage of these free resources when there’s a business challenge that’s holding them back…and I invited experienced business women to get involved as a mentor!

LG: Absolutely! If you were to pinpoint two tips or tricks that you would recommend to young women pursuing their entrepreneurial endeavors, what would they be? 

LS: The first piece of advice I have for young women and female entrepreneurs is to think BIG, but start small. You want your company to be as all-encompassing and reach as many people as possible: but execute in incremental steps. Otherwise, it will become too overwhelming. So break it up into the development or building or manufacturing stage, the launch stage, the market adoption activity stage, and so on.

LG: You’ve had so much experience in mentorship and have left so much success in your path. Many people claim to be mentors, but you truly have taken it to a new level. What’s different about today than when you started off? What are two to three pieces of advice you would give the readers to be successful moving forward in their work?

LS: There’s a lot of changes that I see today compared to when I started mentoring a dozen years ago or so. Back then, most mentors were men. Today, I’m very pleased to report there’s almost a 50/50 breakdown in terms of the number of male and female mentors – as well as male and women-owned startups! The other difference that I see today is that there’s a lot of young entrepreneurs starting companies that have a social impact mission as part of its focus. There’s numerous incubators and programs dedicated to such startups that simply didn’t exist when I was starting out. Furthermore, there’s grant money and resources now available to underserved communities of entrepreneurs – from Black and Hispanic founders to Veteran founders to Asian founders, to name a few. This is changing the landscape of entrepreneurship and small business ownership in general.  It is wonderful to see. 

LG: Switching gears, what do you see as the best qualities and characteristics of mentees? What two or three things should mentees do to get the most out of their relationship with their mentors?

LS: Never be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions, but you’d be amazed how many people never speak-up about something they don’t understand because they’re afraid. A mentee should never feel as though they are inferior, as mentors are there to help. Secondly, act on the advice you are given. There are many instances where mentees may ask for advice and then ignore it, continuing down a wrong path. If your mentor has your best interests in-mind, and is a trusted advisor, listen to them!

LG: Liz, thank you so much for joining me for this discussion. I appreciate you coming on to join me for this segment of The Power of Women campaign. I’m sure our readers will leave better-informed on how to shift their own innovation and business mindsets, as well as which key takeaways to consider in their own mentor-mentee relationships.

What women inspire you the most? 

So many women inspire me, although those who have faced adversity in their professional pursuits are especially inspiring me. I love seeing strong, determined women succeed despite the odds they may face along the way. Today, I would pick Queen Elizabeth as a tremendously inspirational leader.  Seventy years as the reigning monarch, dealing with and overcoming trials and tribulations within the royal family, her country, the world – none of it has shaken her view of her responsibility and role.  

What are you doing to inspire the next generation of female leaders?

My work serving as a champion to female entrepreneurs and businesswomen has been especially fulfilling to me and I’m especially thrilled in my role as President of the SCORE Foundation to bring resources to the table to support all entrepreneurs. I hope to continue sharing what I’ve learned in my own experiences with the next generation of female thought leaders, tastemakers, and movers-and-shakers.

What advice do you have for a young woman reading who’s trying to break through or a woman who might be re-entering the workforce?

Never be afraid to ask questions. There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers! To summarize our discussion, I hope more women will be encouraged to seek-out and forge strong relationships with like minded women in their workplace. A good mentor or sounding board can make all the difference!