After graduating from Goshen College in 2005, Kate Stoltzfus packed her Honda Accord and moved to Pittsburgh. A massage therapist by training, she participated in the PULSE (Pittsburgh Urban Leadership Experience) service program that pairs recent college graduates with nonprofits. She fell in love with the city – particularly the Garfield neighborhood where she now works and lives with her husband Nikolaus – and at 31 pays it forward by helping women achieve their goals. Through Propelle, Stoltzfus and her business partner Emily Levenson have inspired and counseled over 1,000 local entrepreneurial women, offering networking events, an online community and marketing classes that offer feedback and support.
Propelle will host its next “Happy Hour” event from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on March 31 at Harvard and Highland.
How many people did you expect at your first networking party? How many do you get now?
We wanted to throw an event – Carrie, Emily and I (Carrie Nardini was also a co-founder and, although still part of the community, is no longer a co-owner) – for women entrepreneurs because we were entrepreneurs ourselves, and we wanted more opportunities to connect. We thought “why don’t we just create something and bring more women entrepreneurs together in Pittsburgh?” We set up a panel of seven entrepreneurs and asked them four or five questions, reflecting on some of the exciting things and the challenges (they experienced). We had no idea how many people would come. Through planning this event we realized we had a brand. We put it out there and over 100 women showed up (to their event hosted at the Shadow Lounge, formerly of East Liberty). So we knew – this was before we had any kind of offerings, before we were a business really – that there was a need or interest in having these conversations. So over the years we’ve tried to listen to that and provide services that fill that need.
We host about four networking happy hours a year and we’ve consistently had 50 to 100 women at each. We have women who range from their early 20s to mid-60s. I’d say the majority of the women are between the ages of 25 and 40.
When women come to your workshops, what do you find is their biggest challenge with achieving their goals?
There are two women we serve. There’s the woman who really wants to start her business and hasn’t taken the leap yet. So for some women it’s how to quit their jobs. Or some women have a business and a job at the same time and it’s how to take that leap from having a full-time job to a business and a part-time job and to fully transfer into having a business full time. That’s one really big challenge.
The next is that they are just starting out and getting as many clients as they need or trying to make the income that they project or hope to make or getting more customers in the door consistently.
How do you train women to reach their potential? Why aren’t they able to do this on their own?
One of the things we are really good at is marketing and giving people creative ideas to bring more customers to their business. Also at Propelle we bring them in together, and they begin working with another so I think that’s a huge benefit. We have this community of women and they’ll say “Oh you have these websites I would love to work with you” or “You have this awesome yoga studio, I’m going to come check it out.” Through brainstorming and collaboration they end up working together, and it just makes their businesses so much stronger.
What do you say to women in your program who may be discouraged?
We just help them figure out to keep moving forward because I think one of the biggest road blocks is when people become paralyzed and they believe they are not capable of reaching their goals. So we break it down. We help them find small steps to help them start creating.
Helen Behn, the founder of Spand-Ice, came to us when she just barely had done her first prototype of her product – the Revive Tank (a tank top with a place for an ice pack that lets you ice your back as you move around). She had never brought a product to market before and had never created a Kickstarter before. She came to us to get some marketing ideas for Kickstarter, like who she should be in touch with when it came to her PR, who she should work with to make a video for Kickstarter, what are some interesting marketing ideas for the launch of the Kickstarter. We gave her a list of people to contact. We gave her lots of different scenarios in terms of the marketing for the video and the Kickstarter campaign in general and what to do after the campaign.
What is the most common area of help you offer? Finding loan programs? Writing a business plan? Access to capital and mentoring support?
A lot of those services like business plans, funding etc.–we direct women to the universities that can offer those services. What we really stress is to help women with marketing, helping them think big, helping them map out their goals to find the information they need in order to reach those goals.
What is different about your Mastermind class and your online Rock It! community from other career coaching programs?
We really encourage collaboration above everything. We encourage women to come to us and we want to help them with their goals, but also to work with each other. The collaborative community and the power of everyone putting their brains together and lifting one another up – that makes it so successful.
What have you learned in the last three years?
We’ve learned so much in the last three years. We’ve had a blast. The more you give and the more you help other women, the more comes back to you, and we’ve just been so blessed with the women that are part of our community and the different experiences we’ve been able to share with them. I’d say we’ve learned that business can be very fun. It can be very challenging. It’s very exciting to be a part of a business when we learn about the needs of our community.
What is your favorite Pittsburgh restaurant?
I have so many. I would have to say e2. The entrepreneur chef Kate Romane catered our wedding. We’ve had a lot of functions there and had some community dinners there, and the food is just out-of-control delicious.
Favorite vintage vinyl album?
Fleetwood Mac – Rumors