Lou Cysewski, EO Seattle, is co-founder and CEO of Coolperx, the world’s first net carbon neutral merchandising company. As a minority female entrepreneur, Lou shared her observations on the Olympics and how they reflected and exposed the struggles of female entrepreneurs striving to build sustainable businesses. With the 2022 Winter Olympics upon us, we’re reposting this article that originally appeared on EO’s Inc.com channel.
The 2020 Summer Olympic games (which took place in Tokyo in 2021), were my 10-year-old daughter’s first real exposure to competitive sports. She’d watch and ask, in her sweet innocence, “Why are the Americans teasing the other team with the ball? Why don’t they throw it? I don’t like that!”
Her observations alerted me to ways in which we see and experience competition throughout our lives. I noticed many similarities between the athletes’ experiences prior to and during competition and my own journey over the past four years as a minority, female entrepreneur.
Here are three observations I made about how the Olympics are similar to entrepreneurship:
Courage is required.
I care deeply about the environmental impact of my industry, which led me to gather carbon emissions data on all consumer goods. I knew I couldn’t hold this data for just my clients. This was important information to share with the world, as we slowly but surely shift to more sustainable ways of working and living. But I was uncertain about presenting it publicly. The little voice inside my head, the one that questioned whether people would work for me, buy from me, and follow my lead at the beginning of my entrepreneurial journey gave me pause about my company’s important contribution to stopping and reversing climate change.
During the Olympics, I watched athletes crouching on the starting lines and waiting for the starting gun so they could get out there and defend their gifts, strengths and talents. They were laser-focused and completely in the moment, ready to give their all. I realized that in order to succeed and push for a different future, I also had to get out there. My husband and I were surprised at how much slower some Olympic records of the past are compared with those that athletes are setting now. It only takes one exceptional athlete, with a mountain of courage, to completely raise the bar and change history. Like the Olympians, I need to get out of my head and raise the bar for environmental sustainability in my industry by revealing the attributes my company, Coolperx, was built to bring to the world.
There is still a lot of bias to be dealt with.
When I heard about the refusal to allow black athletes to wear swim caps that are comfortable for their hair, I thought of all the ways in which prevailing bias can keep us from evolving. Similarly, Sha’Carri Richardson joins Colin Kaepernick and many others who were ousted from sports simply because of their beliefs. They are now recognizable household names because of their efforts to draw attention to systemic racism and injustice.
In my experience, female entrepreneurs are not taken as seriously as our male counterparts, despite the fact that 42 percent of all businesses are owned by women. Yet women own only 2 percent of business revenue. Any woman entrepreneur will tell you that the primary way systemic sexism pops up is the issue of securing adequate funding to start a business. When I’m invited to participate in a round of pitching to potential investors, it’s more often than not part of a company’s marketing strategy around proving to the world that they care about equity for women. For example, I’ve had to post a 30-second pitch video on my social media and direct my followers to visit the company’s website to vote for me. My husband has never once been asked to pitch this way, but he has gotten into the room with some very large investors to pitch his inventions. Most of those rooms had no women on either side of the pitching table, further evidence of the many ways that insidious biases exist everywhere.
You have to look out for your own mental health.
Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are proving that, in a world where self-care is not culturally accepted or guaranteed, you must occasionally be willing to put down some important work and take care of yourself. One of my cherished self-care actions, around which I place strict boundaries, are my therapy sessions. During my weekly appointments I can move out of my overly active thinking brain and into a more clear and present state, where I can look at myself and examine the impact I’m having on people and the world around me.
Meditation and other forms of self-care are good tools, but I need more in order to do this important work. Clearing my own belief systems and biases is a crucial part of my mental health care. My job is challenging and often exhausting. Taking care of my own mental health enables me to reset, regroup and refresh my resolve. I see it as key to my company’s long-term success.
Any woman who wishes to start a business, and any athlete who wishes to become an Olympian, must know how to stand strong in the face of many challenges. The road is not always clear, and we also need to keep renewing our own energy to continue on the path. This is, I believe, the winning formula for success.