In Memory...

 

November 2008


 


Jerry Washburn founded NetConsult in 1998 with a plan to build a profitable Web-development business. But he made a bold decision for a startup entrepreneur: to complete at least one major pro bono job every year for a nonprofit organization.


After a successful 26-year career in the fashion industry, Washburn launched his business to feed his growing interest in Internet technology. But he also wanted to donate his expertise to a range of nonprofits, especially art groups.


"There's never enough money to go around for art groups, and having a professionally designed Web site is an incredible asset for them," says Washburn. "A Web site is paramount for their fundraising and visibility, and it's something I can give them."

Washburn took FastTrac in late 1997 to write a business plan to launch an apparel business. But during the first few sessions of the course, he realized that he could accomplish more with Web site consulting.


"Midway through the FastTrac class, I shifted my focus from apparel to the Internet application business," says Washburn. "FastTrac totally changed my life."


Thanks to FastTrac, Washburn also realized that many nonprofit business startups lacked funds for Web site development. He figured that by donating his services, he could enable many worthwhile nonprofit agencies to establish a powerful Web presence.

At the same time, Washburn took to heart one of the most important lessons from FastTrac: that the purpose of a business is not only to make money, but also to contribute to a better community.


"The message of giving back was reinforced throughout FastTrac," he says. "It wasn't pounded into our heads, but it became a recurring theme as we learned more about the meaning of building a business."


Washburn's commitment to give back to the community strengthened when he heard a FastTrac guest speaker, John Haskell, deliver a stirring presentation on entrepreneurship. Haskell, a former senior marketing executive at Sara Lee Corp. and now a FastTrac facilitator, often cites Ewing Marion Kauffman's "Giving Back" philosophy as a cornerstone of business success.


"Haskell inspired me to become an entrepreneur, in the full sense of the word," says Washburn. "Here's this dynamic guy — Mr. Kauffman — who built something big and always talked about giving back. It has stayed with me."


In his first year of business, Washburn donated his services to Shakespeare Festival LA and helped develop its Web site. In recent years he has contributed his expertise to Cambodian Heart, a charity that provides a home for orphaned children in Cambodia, and Women of Essence, a support group for breast cancer survivors in the African-American community.

While Washburn chooses to serve a different nonprofit agency each year, he also remains committed to organizations he has helped in prior years. For example, he now sits on the board of directors of Shakespeare Festival LA.


"I tend to stay involved with nonprofits that I've worked with," Washburn says. "It can become very demanding, but like Mr. Kauffman, it's a big part of my business philosophy."