Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Porta.
Hi Jess, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
I am the Executive Director of Raleigh Founded, an entrepreneurial coworking community in downtown Raleigh. We help entrepreneurs connect with the tools and resources they need to grow and be successful. When I tell people that my background is in Human Rights and Anti-Human Trafficking, the typical reaction, is “really?!” because most people do not see the connection. But it is actually a clear path to me.
I’ve always cared about people and wanted to help people, so naturally, I studied human rights and wanted to get into a field where I was really making a difference. I went to grad school at NC State and did my capstone thesis on Genocide. From there, I found work with The Salvation Army’s Project FIGHT program (an Anti-Human Trafficking Program) where I helped victims of trafficking connect with the resources they needed to survive and thrive.
After a few years of direct victim services, I leaned more into grant writing and project management, and pretty soon, I started my own consulting company where I helped small businesses and non-profits with development and project management. I helped some incredible organizations such as NCCIT. And eventually, I needed a space to get work done and make connections, so I joined as a member of Raleigh Founded and operated my company out of there. I quickly fell in love with the entrepreneurial community, and so I jumped at the opportunity to work for Raleigh Founded, and six years later I am the Executive Director.
My favorite part of my job is that I get to help people and impact systemic change. Not only do we support entrepreneurs and small business owners to grow their companies, but we are doing it as a B-Corporation, and able to have the social and environmental impact I’ve always dreamed of having. We are also working on programs that specifically support women and people of color, and this past year we have carried out projects that connect those in rural communities with more resources.
Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
I feel incredibly privileged to be where I am. I’ve had supportive family, friends, and mentors in addition to my innate privilege. But of course, that doesn’t mean I have not had challenges along the way. I think my greatest personal challenge has been navigation and getting in my own way. Getting into the entrepreneurial mindset has been a gamechanger for me because I am thoughtful about my moves but not afraid to take risks. The same is true for business challenges that we regularly endure at Raleigh Founded. We are a startup ourselves and we have failed a number of times. The pandemic was particularly challenging for me, for our business, and for Raleigh as a whole, and it was inspiring to see the innovation and sheer resiliency that came from that difficult time period. That is part of what makes Raleigh so special and makes this small business community so special. We rally and support each other and I am proud to be a part of this community of leaders and change makers.
I think my greatest challenge ahead of me is that I am a new mom and the Director of an organization, and I feel like as a society, as working parents, we spend the majority of our time pretending that we are not parents, just to keep up. It’s exhausting and unsustainable. And I feel like in the position I am in, it is my job to help change the way we view working parents and how we allocate resources.
As you know, we’re big fans of Raleigh Founded. For our readers who might not be as familiar what can you tell them about the brand?
Raleigh Founded is an entrepreneurial coworking community that is so much more than space. Raleigh Founded is a community of over 1100 innovators from 400 companies. We connect entrepreneurs with the resources they need to grow and succeed. We have a robust network of attorneys, accountants, VCs, marketing professionals, universities, mentors, and community leaders who can support the entrepreneurs in our space.
We are proud to see large, growing tech companies, such as Pendo, come out of our space, but we are also starting programs for smaller food and beverage entrepreneurs, so really it’s a space for everyone in between.
I am particularly proud of some of the economic development work we have done over the past few years or in the years ahead to include: a Main Street Program to support women and people of color, an Affiliate program to connect rural communities, an International Landing Spot to provide a home to companies moving to Raleigh, a start-up jobs board and so much more.
I am looking forward to more Social and Economic Impact projects over the next few years. Raleigh Founded will continue to provide physical space and programming, but my passion is around helping others and we are going to do that in a much bigger way in the future. Stay tuned for updates!
- Coworking – $150 – $200
- Suites – Starting at $500
- Website: www.raleighfounded.com