We first met Pava LaPere when we volunteered to take on a mentoring role at Innov8MD, the nonprofit Pava co-founded that supports student entrepreneurs around Maryland. Pava also attended our 2019 OutGrowth Student Showcase, where we featured OutGrowth participants who had made a huge impact over the past year.
Ever since we met Pava, we have truly admired her commitment to supporting early-stage businesses and early-stage entrepreneurs. That is why we knew she'd be perfect for our month dedicated to mentorship.
In this rapid-fire Q+A, Pava tells us more about her mentor (and mentee) journey, and gives us meaningful insight on the value of a solid mentoring relationship. Prepare to be inspired!
Tell us about your professional journey to date. What inspired you to become a mentor?
I was thrust into the role of being a mentor at a pretty early stage in my career. My first nonprofit, TCO Labs, was all about building a stronger entrepreneurial ecosystem at Johns Hopkins University. I realized one of the big pieces missing from the ecosystem was an incubator or accelerator to help students build startups, nonprofits, and small businesses. The university wasn't yet ready to take the leap and launch a program, so I started it myself. At The Hatchery Incubator, my job was suddenly to help these students start ventures, even though I was only on my first one and hardly knew what I was doing. At first, I focused on connecting the students to adults who knew more than me, but over time I realized I had something important to offer them as well: I could be the person they could ask anything to. I was a peer, so no question seemed stupid or insignificant. I think having a mentor they could be fully transparent with really helped the students feel more comfortable with being entrepreneurs. Once I caught the mentorship bug, I could never shake it. Since then, all three of my ventures have been dedicated to helping other people become entrepreneurs.
At OutGrowth, we are committed to giving access. Tell us about how your approach to mentorship provides access to those you serve.
Both of my current ventures, EcoMap Technologies and Innov8MD, are focused on increasing access to the knowledge and resources that are needed to build successful ventures. At Innov8MD, we help support student entrepreneurs from any MD college or university, or even youth that are not currently enrolled. One of our spring events is the Mentor Dinner Series, where we connect student entrepreneurs with industry-area experts over a catered dinner. We invite students from all different backgrounds, and match them with professionals they otherwise may never have met. It's one of my favorite events by far. At EcoMap, we're all about ensuring that every person - regardless of their background or circumstances - has access to information about the resources needed to build startups, small businesses, and nonprofits. We use AI to construct free databases that have information about every single local resource available for entrepreneurs. On EcoMap Baltimore, our Mentorship Navigator has nearly 50 programs focused on connecting people to mentors, and once our new platform goes live in mid-January, people will be able to connect with other entrepreneurs directly for mentorship. I focus on giving access by democratizing access to resources, and that includes mentorship. Everyone should have the opportunity to match with a good mentor, and I try to align my work to make that happen.
Tell us about a pinnacle point or moment in your personal or professional life when you were impacted as a mentee.
This moment actually happened pretty recently. I went to talk to one of my former professors at Hopkins, who has been one of my good mentors for years. I was talking to him how I was worried about raising for-profit funding for the first time, and whenever he would offer up a solution, I kept firing back some response explaining why it wouldn't work. At some point, he just stopped me, and asked "Why must you always have an answer for everything?" Sometimes mentors give you answers, and other times they just call you on your BS. He was right - I have a tendency to box myself into a scenario and discredit other solutions, and he called me out on it. This isn't the first time he's delivered to me a hard truth, and it made me realize that the power of a good mentor is honesty. When I look back on my most impactful mentorship experiences, it has always been when a mentor calls me out. That's when you know the relationship is strong, because you know they are more focused on helping you out than telling you what you want to hear.
How did this experience change the course of your life, your career or your outlook?
Since then, I've tried to provide much more honest feedback to the student entrepreneurs with whom I work. When working with students, you hear a lot of ideas that are unrefined and unlikely to work without iteration. I used to gently nudge the students towards thinking about different solutions, but now I'm honest with them about my concerns. I'm also more honest with students when I think they are jeopardizing themselves, or not being honest about how they feel.
If you could go back in time and give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
I like to think that all of the mistakes I have made have taught me something valuable, so I don't really want to warn myself against anything. However, I would go back and tell myself to be better at email. My inbox is quite literally the thing that stresses me out the most, more so than running two ventures. I would go back and develop a healthy, productive relationship with my inbox, rather than this toxic one that has caused me to dedicate an entire New Year's resolution to getting better at sending emails.
What is your favorite quote?
Call me cliché, but it's The Crazy Ones quote by Apple. Literally, we named our first nonprofit after it (TCO Labs). Whenever I feel weird for like, spending 72 hours in front of my computer, I think of this quote and it reminds me why we do what we do.
“Here's to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They're not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can't do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.”
Based on your professional experience, what are the top three career competencies that you believe can be gained/developed as a result of a mentor/mentee relationship?
1. Understanding different perspectives, and how people's opinions are shaped by their backgrounds
2. Becoming more humble, which happens when someone you respect tells you a hard truth that you don't want to believe
3. Learning to value other people, and especially learning to respect their time, which is their most precious asset that they are giving to you
What's next? What are your next steps toward growth in 2020?
Personally, this year is all about learning how to work better. I've always been known for getting a lot done, but I haven't always done work in the healthiest of way (such as going on 72-hour work binges). This year, I'm focusing on staying focused on the task at hand, not worrying about unimportant details, and taking better care of my physical and mental health. I'm about to enter what I think will be the hardest six months of my life as an entrepreneur so far, and the only way to face that is with healthy habits and a positive attitude (and of course, good mentors).
Pava LaPere is the Founder of EcoMap Technologies and the Co-Founder of Innov8MD. She is dedicated to helping people become entrepreneurs and creating more equitable and accessible entrepreneurial ecosystems. She loves Baltimore, and in her free time she reads, lifts weights, and plays the piano.