News

CaraGreen president Stacy Glass shares challenges, successes with entrepreneurship minor women's network

Feb. 17, 2010

Chapel Hill, N.C. — From high school dropout to MBA to company president, startup consultant Stacy Glass shared the story of her entrepreneurial journey Feb. 16 at a gathering of the UNC Women's Entrepreneurship Network.

“When I dropped out of high school at 16, I quickly realized what kind of life would be in store for me and knew I had to get back into school,” Glass told the gathering of women enrolled in the undergraduate minor in entrepreneurship. The network, created by former Turner Broadcasting System Inc. executive Julia Sprunt Grumbles, who teaches a course in the minor, provides a setting for students to share knowledge and experiences and connect to successful female entrepreneurs and business executives.

Glass, now president of alternative building materials distributor CaraGreen (www.caragreen.com) in Chapel Hill, did go back to school, earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and an MBA degree from Duke University. She has worked for 17 years developing and executing growth strategies for businesses and social enterprises in nonprofit, private industry and government sectors.

Becoming indispensable

Immediately after college, Glass worked for Personnel Decisions International (PDI), a small management consulting company in Minnesota. Starting in a low-end, part-time position, Glass says she put in extra hours, volunteered for every project, and did everything she could to make herself indispensable to the company. “When a position opened up, I was offered the job,” says Glass of her initial foray into the job market.

As PDI grew, Glass successfully shaped one of the company’s consulting processes into a product that could be scaled. It became an important revenue stream for the company. She took on more responsibilities, relocating to open new offices and accepting international assignments. It was in Beijing that Glass experienced a life-changing moment.

Finding new perspective

“A light went off,” said Glass, “and I was inspired to bring a social perspective to the job I was doing. I wanted to do something more than increase shareholder profit.” So Glass quit her job, came home and redefined her agenda.

Glass’s new perspective was that what mattered most was feeding people, educating people, building infrastructure and creating jobs. She began a consulting practice and looked for people with ideas that fit these goals. She eventually took part in more than 100 “mini-projects,” in which she facilitated various aspects of launching a startup, from acquiring funding to marketing to staffing, but always exiting after hiring a CEO or executive director.

“Discovering when to hand off a project was a critical skill I had to develop. I had to always ask myself if I was the right person to continue to carry the project forward,” said Glass.

Glass handed off every project until her involvement with CaraGreen. “CaraGreen was the first time I decided to stay with a company,” said Glass. “I really loved this company and the people involved in it, so I decided to stay on as president when I was offered that position,” she said.

Facing new challenges

CaraGreen is a distributor of innovative, high-quality alternatives to conventional building materials and furnishings designed to increase building sustainability, reduce building energy consumption and operating costs, and create healthier buildings. The company was founded in 2008. In 2009, it was accepted into the Business Accelerator for Sustainable Entrepreneurship (BASE), run by the Center for Sustainable Enterprise at UNC Kenan-Flagler.

Glass shared the challenges of steering a startup company in the construction industry during the economic downturn. “It has not been easy. I feel a strong commitment to the company’s investors and to the employees. But CaraGreen is nimble and flexible, and we’ve been able to adjust our model to accommodate the changing market,” she said.

Women helping women

Women need to collaborate, not compete, with each other, Glass said. She emphasized the importance of women entrepreneurs connecting and networking with each other.

Kimberly Jenkins, a strong supporter of the UNC Women’s Entrepreneurship Network and the evening’s host, agreed.

“The stereotype of an entrepreneur is that it is a 24/7 job. For more young women to consider entrepreneurship, they need to see people who look like them who are successful entrepreneurs, and who also have other things going on in their lives,” said Jenkins.

This is the main purpose of the network, said Jenkins. It is designed to bring women students and entrepreneurs together to share experiences, stories and insights. “I want to encourage more women to become entrepreneurs,” said Jenkins, “and maybe they can find a spark here and run with it.”

Jenkins has 25 years of experience as a senior executive in information technology companies, including Microsoft when it was a privately held, 300-person company. She is the founder and president of two technology think tanks in Washington, D.C. — the Internet Policy Institute, which examines global internet policy issues, and Highway 1, a nonpartisan resource on information technologies for Congress and government leaders. She speaks regularly on increasing the number and effectiveness of women and minorities in entrepreneurial career, teaches leadership classes at Kenan-Flagler and Duke, and served as an instructor and judge for the Chancellor’s Boot Camp in May 2009, a pilot entrepreneurship program for faculty. She is also a member of the Chancellor’s Innovation Circle, the task force charged with helping to develop a roadmap for creating a culture of systematic innovation and entrepreneurship at UNC.

For more information on the network, contact Elizabeth Basnight, internship director for the minor in entrepreneurship,elizabeth.basnight@unc.edu.