It’s admirable to support community through philanthropy and volunteering, but Laura Clise wants to show people another path to building stronger, more equitable local networks.
“Everyday decisions about where we eat, drink and shop can be another way to give back, in way, when you spend like it matters,” said Clise.
Through her 2-year-old startup, called Intentionalist, she’s making it easier for consumers to patronize businesses in a more thoughtful way than spending their money based solely on what’s cheapest and most convenient.
“It’s an opportunity to invest in and contribute to the kind of community that I want to be a part of,” Clise said.
Her Seattle-based company has a directory of businesses that are tagged to identify owners who are female, a person of color, LGBTQ, a military veteran, family-run, a disabled person, a social enterprise or some combination of traits. The platform also has blog posts calling out different segments of business owners, featuring, for example, members of the LGBTQ community during Pride Month and highlighting Latinx entrepreneurs during the Sept.15-Oct. 15 national celebration of Hispanic heritage.
Intentionalist is focused on Seattle-area businesses, but includes other cities such as parts of New York, Phoenix, Minneapolis, Detroit, San Francisco, Washington, D.C. and Portland. Some of the cities were added when diversity-oriented organizations had events in the area and wanted to promote local businesses.
Clise works with a team of part-time contractors and interns to build the site. She and her team have entered many of the companies to the platform, while some businesses added themselves.
The platform currently is free for businesses and consumers to use. Clise is exploring ideas for monetizing the site before scaling up geographically. She realizes that the small businesses that she’s trying to promote have limited budgets, but said they’ve shown an interest in paying for her platform. She’s also considering third parties, including Northwest organizations that support people who are often underrepresented in business — Female Founders Alliance, The Riveter, Impact Hub, WeWork Labs and others — as possible partners and revenue sources. Another idea is to offer gift cards through the site, redeemable at participating businesses.
Before launching Intentionalist, Clise’s previous roles included leadership positions in sustainability and corporate responsibility at the timber companies Weyerhaeuser and Plum Creek, and at Orano, an oil and energy company.
“A decade in corporate responsibility helped me to see this broader market shift and interest in responsible, sustainable, ethical consumption,” Clise said.
We caught up with Clise for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. She also participated last year in our Elevator Pitch, which just wrapped up its second season. Continue reading for her answers to our questionnaire.
What does your company do? At Intentionalist, we believe that where we spend our money matters. Our online platform connects consumers to small businesses and the diverse people behind them. Through our directory, guides and events, we make it easier to identify and support small businesses owned by women, people of color, veterans, families, members of the LGBTQ community and differently abled people. By helping consumers be more intentional about where they eat, drink and shop, we’re building more vibrant and inclusive communities.
Inspiration hit us when: Moving back to my hometown after nearly 20 years away, I was struck by the tension between rapid growth and change and people’s sense of belonging and community. I realized that making it easier for people to #SpendLikeItMatters offers part of the solution to realizing my vision of a world in which we recognize our shared humanity, feel a sense of belonging and invest in each other’s possibilities.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: My savings plus iFundWomen crowdfunding plus pre-seed impact investors (currently underway).
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: People first. At a time when convenient transaction is just a few clicks and swipes away, we offer the opportunity to connect the money we spend to supporting people and communities that matter. Yes, the labels “foodie” and “new” and “hip” have their allure, but so do stories about the people behind the local businesses that make our neighborhoods and cities the places where we’re proud to live, work and play.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Taking a systems approach to understanding who cares about and benefits from a thriving Main Street economy (hint: it’s more than the local businesses). Plus, taking the time to develop relationships with and learn about what’s important to small business owners.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Being overly reticent to make “asks.” Because it has been a priority for us to do right by small business owners, we didn’t engage them as early as we could have in helping drive additional momentum for the #SpendLikeItMatters movement.
Which leading entrepreneur or executive would you most want working in your corner? Freada Kapor Klein, founding partner at Kapor Capital, the venture capital investment arm of the Kapor Center for Social Impact. Kapor Capital invests in “historically underrepresented founders who are inspired by their lived experience to shape the future” and through their ventures strive to “close gaps of access, expand economic opportunity and make a positive impact in our society and the economy.”
This is who I am, an intersectional, underrepresented founder, inspired by my lived experience to build Intentionalist. I am deeply committed to human connection that bridges differences and builds community toward a world in which we recognize our shared humanity, feel a sense of belonging and invest in each other’s possibilities.
Our favorite team-building activity is: It shouldn’t shock you that our team-building activities always include a local business. From classes and workshops, to enjoying “intentional” food and drink, the common denominator is our shared passion for the role small businesses play in support of a more diverse and inclusive society.
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Technical or functional awesomeness coupled with the desire to serve the people and communities at the heart of our mission.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Know that entrepreneurship will put you to the test — not just in terms of hard work, but in bringing you face to face with your deepest fears and weaknesses. While this is something I definitely underestimated, I feel grateful to have the opportunity to work through my self doubts and I (and Intentionalist) am so much better for it.
And of course test, iterate and repeat. We’ve learned so much by trying different ideas — from guides, to collaborating with companies and nonprofits, to different mediums of communication — it’s important to figure out what works/resonates as quickly as possible.