California small business owner shares her journey from academia to entrepreneurship
With a master’s degree in computer science, another master’s degree in information systems and an interdisciplinary PhD, Lisa Kaczmarczyk never planned on becoming an entrepreneur. After working in the tech industry as a developer, she transitioned into academia as a university faculty member teaching computer science where she also gained experience obtaining grants from the National Science Foundation. Lisa thought she would be doing this type of work forever.
However, after over 15 years in academics, in 2011, she founded Lisa Kaczmarczyk PhD Consulting, LLC, which became an official LLC in 2016. Her business specializes in providing program evaluation for university faculty and staff who are pursuing grants from the National Science Foundation or from the Department of Education. Those grants often require an external evaluator who is not part of the university to provide input. Even if an external evaluator isn’t required, in order for the faculty to be more competitive and receive the grant, they need a strong evaluation plan as part of the proposal they send in for funding. Lisa utilizes her experience to help fill this gap for her clients as they seek competitive grant funding.
If her clients secure funding, Lisa then executes their evaluation plan, saying “The way I approach it is that I’m functioning as a partner and helping them figure out if their project is having the impact they wanted to achieve. I help them see what’s working well, what’s not working well and find information that they probably couldn’t find out themselves.”
The transition from the corporate world and academia wasn’t an easy one. Lisa reflects, “I didn’t know what I didn’t know, but I found myself wanting to work for myself. But I had no idea what it meant to own a business.” She turned to Small Business Development Centers (SBDCs) run by the Small Business Administration (SBA) for coaching. Lisa was advised to start “thinking like a business,” and shares that then “something just clicked in my head. There was a mindset change.”
To grow her business, Lisa drew on her large professional network to find clients. She told her former colleagues that she was working as an evaluator and utilized word of mouth. Her goal is to be the go-to external evaluator for faculty working in STEM fields. Additionally, Lisa is now in the process of hiring her first employee so she can continue to grow her business and no longer have to run a “one woman show.”
Furthermore, Lisa believes it’s essential to be connected to other entrepreneurs in the small business community in both the same and completely different fields. She meets with other external evaluators so they can provide each other with ideas, suggestions and support. Lisa also meets with business owners in completely different sectors to have other conversations about their businesses.
Through both her work advising experts in academia and experience running a small business, Lisa knows the importance of seeking help from others first-hand. She advises other entrepreneurs starting their small business journeys to “ask for help sooner rather than later and recognize that there’s a lot of good free help. There’s resources through the SBA, local SBDCs and SCORE that can do a lot.”