Thursday, 12 July 2012

Career Buzz interview with Martina Ernst, President & CEO, Wo-Built Inc.: Part Four

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This is the last part of a transcript of Career Buzz interview with Martina Ernst, President & CEO, Wo-Built Inc. (Click here for part three.)

Martina Ernst interview on Career Buzz Canada with Mark Swartz

Part 4:
What were the biggest challenge you had to overcome when starting up your business?
How do you continue to integrate your social mission with your for profit objectives?
What triumphs have you experienced as an entrepreneur?
What advice would you give to a start-up entrepreneur?

Mark: Now, Martina, when you started up what would be the biggest challenge that you had to overcome? You have talked about two different messages that might be at odd - design/build and you have to bring women into the trades. What other challenge you have had to overcome because you have been in this business now for 5 years and most new businesses go belly up within a year or two, so did it past that critical stage?

Martina: Well, we are very lucky, in a sense that we were able to sustain it for that long. But we do have all the issues that any other start-up has, we have a cash flow issues, we have issues of how we get our message out there, how do we get clients, and because of what kind of projects we do. Our projects, the additions and extensions, start ranging from $100.000 and upwards, so it’s a big chunk of money you have to dedicate towards us and that is one of the challenges actually. You are a new start up and you are asking people pay all this money and there is a trust factor. Of course, with longevity, being in business for five years is helping a little bit. So, that all sorts of issues we had as a start-up company.

Mark: OK, today you are an ongoing and you are a thriving small business. How do you continue to integrate your social mission with your for profit objectives?

Martina: It has not changed – what we do as we grow our social mission grows with us. The idea is when we make a commitment to the social mission you don’t minimize it after you getting some traction on your business. You grow your social mission with you. You actually expend it, you make it bigger, and you change direction into another social mission which is possibly more in line with what you do as your profit sector.

Mark: Could you give us a quick example of how you have grown that social mission along with your for profit site?

Martina: Well, we are on a building site and on women in construction site, the more sites we have that can sustain women the more women we hire from the colleges.

Mark: Excellent. You do get your word out with the colleges as well? Do you liaise with them? Do you have some sort of arrangements at all or it just on informal basis?

Martina: Well, the colleges know about us, some of them do, and George Brown certainly does. We have a liaison with them on ongoing basis and when we do have the sites we contact to them. Yes, we are in contact with them.

Mark: OK, great. Now, in terms of being ongoing you must have been experienced a couple of triumphs in addition to your challenges. So, maybe you can share some of the good stories or good sites of what’s going on in terms of getting clients, bringing people in from to help mentor them. What can you think of?

Martina: For me, personally, because my background is architecture I just love to see things built. So, I always get a huge buzz when I actually see a product finished. But one of the most heartfelt things which happen was when somebody we mentored really expressed the gratitude to us and it was very heartwarming that we made of a little bit of difference in that woman’s live.

Mark: So, it is intrinsically rewarding as well as profitable for you.

Martina: Well, it has to be because being a social entrepreneur is the way of life. It is really comes from your heart off what you are doing. So you are sacrificing some profits towards that social mission. You are making choices.

Mark: Hopefully, not always so. I am sure that in some cases when the mission melt with the for profit site as you say it can grow in tandem in conjunction with each other and over time you get bigger slices of both.

Martina: Yes, that is true. All of this goes in conjunction with each other but you still make choices. You get bigger, you have bigger profit margin. How much of that do you dedicate towards your social mission? It is always a choice of what you do and you have to have a real commitment to that other site of your business.

Mark: OK, Martina, you are a veteran now of social entrepreneurship having lasted five difficult years. What advice would you give to a start-up entrepreneur; who want to be able to bring some sort of social goodness, some sort of cause into their business?

Martina: The most important thing is that your message, your social mission is in line with your business. Then you can push both things forward in the same way. One of hypothetical example of that would be, for example a panel manufacturer who wants to alleviate asthma in kids which might be cause through mould. This manufacturer can manufacture mould resistant panels. So, those two things are inline then. The mission of alleviating asthma though mould with what they manufacture. If anybody wants to start a company like this you have to really look into what are your messages, who is your target market, and are these things actually inline.

Mark: OK, that’s great information. You are listening a Career Buzz radio, Canada’s unique radio conversation which empowers lives and energizes organizations on CIUT 89.5 FM.

Career Buzz interview with Martina Ernst, President & CEO, Wo-Built Inc.
Part 1: What Wo-Built Is about?
Part 2: Challenges of Running a Business;
Part 3: What Peapod Life Is about?
Part 4: Social Entrepreneurship Is a Way of Life.

About Mark Swartz
Mark Swartz, MBA, M.Ed., is a leading Canadian speaker, National Career Coach and Columnist; author of best-seller Get Wired, You're Hired!, and CareerActivist. He may be reached by visiting

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