Welcome to the Founder Feature Series for 2019, where we chat with the founders of the 7th Cohort of The Mentor Network to learn more about them as individuals, as well as their entrepreneurial journeys. They have great wisdom and experience to share with the rest of the community and could likely use your help as well!
Today, we would like to introduce you to Lisa Watson, Founder of Citizenship Scholars. Citizenship Scholars is a virtual financial-aid office for K-12 Christian schools. The crowd-funding platform allows individuals and organizations to translate their charitable giving into micro-scholarships of as little as $50. Parents earn the micro-scholarships and the funds are applied as tuition credits at their child’s participating school.
Besides being accepted into Cohort 7 of The Mentor Network, Lisa is a graduate of UMKC with a double major in Political Science and Psychology, completed Project United Knowledge in 2018 and the Arthur Levitt Social Entrepreneur program in 2019. You may have also seen Lisa in the KC Star or speaking at the Education Freedom Conference, where she launched her school choice movement.
What did you do before you were the Founder of your startup?
I worked for 9 years in the telecom industry and about 10 years in mortgage financing, both contributed greatly to building my customer service centered mindset. I realized early on that social advocacy is in my blood. I was a union steward in the telecom industry for five years and served in various positions with the ACLU, including Affiliate Board member, Co-Chair of the Racial Justice Task Force, Affirmative Action Officer, KC Chapter President and National Board member in NYC.
Why this startup? A.k.a. what is your ‘why’?
In 7th grade, I received a letter from the Board of Education. That letter was invitation to transfer to the #1 school in the state of Kansas. That letter changed my life. My new school required academic excellence. I was required to take Latin and to read Shakespeare. In college, I was awarded back-to-back, “People-to-People” scholarships which allowed me to travel to France, Germany, Belgium, Holland, Sweden and Finland. I have since been blessed to travel to a total of 16 countries. The first person in my extended family to graduate college; I earned a B.A. with a double-major in Psychology and Political Science.
My personal experiences have given me a passion to disrupt failing schools and work to expand education opportunities for K-12 students who are trapped in failing schools.
What was your first milestone/win that let you know you were on the right track to building this business?
After developing the idea on paper I spoke with an attorney about the possibility of patenting the platform. Several attorneys thought the program was unique enough to qualify for a patent.
Why did The Mentor Network stand out to you as a positive program to be involved with?
Entrepreneurs can get tunnel vision. Over time it becomes hard to see your start-up with objectivity, so I liked the idea of having to explain it to a complete stranger and hearing feedback on my specific next steps.
What have your big wins been so far within The Mentor Network?
I launched my school-choice movement on Sat, Nov 2nd with an education freedom conference called, “Can School Choice Defeat Poverty?”. I was approved for a pro-bono attorney who helped me apply for a patent.
How do you maintain sanity in this crazy, insane startup world?
To avoid becoming totally absorbed in building my start-up, I allocate some time each week to attend church and hang out with my friends and 13 nieces and nephews.
KC has so many resources and people to help entrepreneurs. What are we still missing? What gaps do you think we need to fill?
More people need to know about the USPTO Pro-Bono Patent Program.
Regarding the KC startup ecosystem, what has been your favorite service/resource that you would like to share with other founders to take advantage of?
I am amazed at the level of FREE resources that are available to anyone interested in becoming an entrepreneur in Kansas City. I would advise anyone with a start-up idea attend Global Entrepreneurship Week (GEW) to get a broad understanding of what is available and use GEW as a launchpad to begin building their personal start-up eco-system.
If you could go back to the day you started this journey and give yourself one piece of advice what would it be?
Spend more time, not money, trying to understand the technology of building a web-platform.
Stay connected with Citizenship Scholar by texting SCHOOLCHOICE to 855-909-1570.