This Holiday season, the HQ Community and its partner, Leadership exCHANGE  only want one thing—$13,460.00. But the money isn’t for HQ Raleigh or Leadership exCHANGE.

iFundWomen campaign

The funds will provide sponsorships for four female Puerto Rican entrepreneurs—who are building tools specifically designed to rebuild Puerto Rico post-Irma—to participate in tailored Leadership exCHANGE program called PR 2 NC. The scholarships will provide travel to and from Raleigh from Puerto Rico, lodging, training, and stipends for five weeks for up to four women while they live and work on their projects that address pressing issues like food insecurity, safety for women in times of crisis, education and e-commerce.

The ability to quickly create the project is the result of a years-long partnership between Leadership exCHANGE, the social enterprise “dedicated to training the next generation of leaders, global citizens, and change agents” and HQ Community, the ever-expanding co-working and innovation hub. When asked why the duo chose to take on this project, Heather McDougall, Executive Director of Leadership ExCHANGE said, “we’re a very giving community and we wanted to be able to utilize our resources to help other innovators in need.”

Leadership ExCHANGE has educated undergraduate students from 80 countries around the world on social impact and entrepreneurship since 1999 in Prague and Raleigh. It counts three Forbes 30 Under 30 winners as it’s alumni, including local Tatiana Birgisson, Mati Energy founder.

 Leadership exCHANGE’s programs and the organization itself are embedded into HQ Raleigh’s DNA where the organization has been housed for four years. Cohorts of six or more undergraduate students come to Raleigh and take classes and workshops in HQ Raleigh and other neighboring spaces for two to four weeks each year. The students work for and learn from HQ members and are taught by instructors from around the world including HQ Raleigh’s Director, Liz Tracy. Before she worked at HQ Raleigh, she lived in Panama and was Leadership exCHANGE’s program coordinator. And HQ’s leaders and founders, Chris Gergen and Jason Widen also are invested in the organization. Gergen is a member of the advisory committee and Widen partners with the organization by giving guest lectures, and supporting McDougall, his wife, in her work.

PR 2 NC campaign

Last July, Christine Nieves, a Puerto Rican entrepreneur and an instructor for Leadership exCHANGE taught a cohort of exCHANGE students in Raleigh. She returned home to Puerto Rico but remains a professor for the group when she’s not supporting Puerto Rican entrepreneurs in and innovators.

During and after Hurricane Irma, the Raleigh team kept in touch with Nieves to check on her safety and learn what things were like on the ground. When they asked what they could do to help, she told them how several female social entrepreneurs were designing solutions to problems that arose after the hurricane, but were struggling to get them off the ground because the island’s lack of water, internet, and electricity hindered their ability to launch their solutions in a timely fashion.

In addition, weathering the hurricane and recovering from its destruction is stressful and draining. Nieves told McDougal what her community really needed was a place for the social entrepreneurs to go to have some “breathing room”, where they could build their solutions without the added stresses found in the post-hurricane Puerto Rico. And they also needed additional support, mentorship, training, resources and connections to quickly scale and deploy the solutions to achieve maximum impact. So, McDougal and Tracy set to work to provide just that.

Leveraging their networks, experience in running leadership training and programs for innovators, and the HQ Raleigh’s space the team quickly created the program, PR 2 NC. They decided to offer the program specifically for women as Leadership exCHANGE already gears much of it’s programming to supporting female leaders.

Leadership Exchange

In addition, a cohort of undergraduate students will participate in one of Leadership exCHANGE’s programs at the same time, and instead of interning with HQ Raleigh companies, they’ll intern with the PR 2 NC participants–offering them additional help in building their products. The PR 2 NC participants will participate in workshops and tours of the Triangle’s startup community. Tracy says the effort won’t be confined to HQ either. She and the team are committed to introducing them to anyone in the region who can help them “move their project forward faster” and have already reached out to others in the community to elicit support. She’s yet to be turned down.

Next Steps

To identify the innovators to bring to Raleigh, they partnered with a co-working and innovation hub in Puerto Rico called Parallel18. The startup hub is a booming co-working space and will also host a pre-accelerator competition in April 2018, at which the winner will win a $20,000 grant.

The PR 2 NC team hopes to raise enough funding to bring four women to Raleigh for the program. Parallel18 helped identify and encourage women to submit the required application for the program. McDougal says she hopes PR 2 NC assists the women in building a “solid action plan” so that when they return to Puerto Rico they can hit the ground running and be better prepared to compete in the Pre18 competition.

While interviews and selections will soon be made, the team won’t announce participants until they know how many participants they can afford to sponsor. As such, time is of the essence for their fundraising campaign. Donations can be made through February, but to make decisions soon, the team hopes to have raised the bulk of the funds by mid-December. As of publication, they’ve raised $1,602 of their $13,460 goal through the iFundwomen, the fundraising platform designed to support female innovators.

And while the funding is a big goal, it’s only an avenue to achieving their primary goal—to support fellow innovators in their endeavors to support their city and island recover and rebuild.