Five lucky Westchester-area entrepreneurs got the chance last week to be part of an intensive six-hour coaching and business development session featuring finance, retail, and other experts from MasterCard, Taproot Foundation, the Business Council of Westchester, and the Women’s Enterprise Development Center. It was all part of Purchase-based MasterCard’s fourth annual Pro Bono Challenge, a day-long event that paired small business, human resources, and marketing executives from MasterCard with local entrepreneurs eager to refine their business plans or prepare for a broad product launch.
The five local firms—selected by Marsha Gordon, President and CEO of the Business Council of Westchester, from an original pool of 25 businesses—represented fields from outsourced accounting, to a local brewery and restaurant. As different as their businesses were from each other, so were the problems they sought to resolve during the challenge. Melinda Huff, local owner of Mirame, an online women’s swimwear company, aimed to enhance her digital media strategy; Undercare, a personal care company also based online, needed assistance with budget and cost analysis; and Digital Arts Experience, an afterschool educational program based in White Plains focused on STEM fields, needed help differentiating and dividing employee roles.
Participating businesses paired up with MasterCard teams and together they strategized on solving the businesses’ specific problem area. The Challenge was marked by plenty of back-and-forth negotiations over what was exactly right for the business, but by day’s end both business owners and MasterCard employees seemed pleased.
So how did a company like MasterCard get involved with a foundation like Taproot, which seeks to drive social change through pro bono service? MasterCard’s Chief Talent Officer David Deacon sits on the board of directors for Taproot, and his passion for their mission transpired through his discussion of the Pro Bono Challenge. The sole root of the program, he explained, is “taking people with people and business skills and matching them up with typically nonprofit businesses.”
The Challenge also provides a great learning experience for the MasterCard employees who participate, Deacon notes. As much as the team leaders solve other businesses’ problems, they learn something themselves, he notes, such as leadership and problem solving in a close-knit, fast-paced atmosphere. “Employees love doing it,” Deacon said. “It gives them a chance to improve and refine their skills as well as give back to small local businesses and organizations.”
This idea of mutual benefit was evident to MasterCard employees as each team leader stood up to discuss the turnout of the day, while also attesting to how much they enjoyed helping the business they worked with. John Rubbo, co-owner of Yonkers Brewing Co., one of the local participants, expressed gratitude from the other side of the partnership by acknowledging that the engagement with the MasterCard team of seven was his favorite part of the day. The brewing company’s co-founder, Nicholas Califano (above, with mic) was also at the event.
Ed Glassman, MasterCard’s executive vice president of commercial products, echoed the theme of a symbiotic relationship by saying, “Just listening to the energy and the enthusiasm—and frankly the substantial stuff that you got done today—I hope you walk out of here today feeling really good about it if you’re one of our guests, and if you’re one of our folks from the MasterCard team, I hope that you carry that same energy and enthusiasm back to your day job.”
From the words spoken by both the MasterCard team leaders and the small business owners themselves, it seems that mission was accomplished.