Allison Aboud Holzer is Co-Founder and Chief Innovation Officer at InspireCorps, a Board member of Conscious Capitalism New Haven, and an aspiring author. She and her business partners are currently writing a book about leadership agility, which they hope to publish by the end of 2017.
The busy entrepreneur took some time to talk to Innovation Destination Hartford about how her company got started and what it means to focus on sustainable inspiration and leadership agility.
Identifying with Entrepreneurship
Holzer, who grew up in Kentucky, says she has always had a creative, entrepreneurial drive, noting that she started her first business at age 8 called Derby Soaps. Instead of selling lemonade like many kids that age, she carved soap into horses and sold them during the Kentucky Derby season. “For a first-time business, it was pretty successful,” she recalls, “I was even approached by the department store, Bittners, which began selling the soaps in their stores.”
When it comes to the term “entrepreneur,” Holzer says that, “it’s not how I personally identify, even though it is a part of my history and a part of who I am today.” She notes that what resonates for her more than the label “entrepreneur” is being someone who “creates novel solutions that positively impact individuals and society.”
Launching the Startup: Inspired To Inspire
The three founders of InspireCorps came together through happenstance. In 2007, Holzer met Jen Grace Baron while she was walking her dog, Stella, in New Haven. Around that same time, Holzer began working with the Health, Emotion, and Behavior Laboratory (now called the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence) designing and delivering emotional intelligence coaching and training. Grace Baron was doing project work in leadership development and coaching at Yale. The two quickly connected, realizing they had similar professional backgrounds and interests in coaching, applied positive psychology, and leadership development. “Our dogs, Stella and Cooper, brought us together, and then we found synchronicity in our professional interests,” Holzer recalls.
In 2011, Grace Baron—who had worked in leadership development in house for years at companies including eBay, Hewlett Packard, and Johnson & Johnson—was ready to launch an independent consulting firm. Around that time, she read Sandra Spataro’s book, Unstuck, co-authored with Keith Yamashita from SY Partners, a friend of Spataro’s from Stanford.
Grace Baron brought Spataro and Holzer together and they convened live for a weekend to explore how they might collaborate. That weekend, they were driving down Orange Street in New Haven and realized that Spataro used to own the house where Allison and her husband had lived in New Haven. They quickly discovered that all owners have ties to Yale University, New Haven, and Kentucky, where the company was incorporated. Read a blog about their Kentucky roots and company culture.
“It felt bigger than just coincidence from the beginning. Intellectual sparks started flying that weekend as we inspired each other,” Holzer remembers. “From the start, we knew that we wanted to do great work together. Although we come from different industries and backgrounds, we found our common purpose: supporting individuals, leaders, and teams in finding their spark of inspiration and sustaining it over time to perform at their best.” The three partners launched InspireCorps in 2012.
Sustainable Inspiration and Leadership Agility
At its core, InspireCorps’ aim is developing and inspiring people to be at their best as individuals, as leaders, and within teams, explains Holzer. “Today’s business environment is unpredictable and moves at a rapid pace. This challenge requires leaders and teams who are inspired, agile, and high performing. They have to be epic!”
She continues, “When people are inspired in their work every day, they are poised to have greater impact,” adding that, “sustained inspiration promotes great leaps in motivation and commitment to high performance.”
The company helps leaders and their teams know how to find their “spark of inspiration by connecting to their purpose, strengths, and commitments to each other and the organization,” explains Holzer. “We then train them on how to keep the spark alive on a day-to-day basis. We work with them to elevate their individual and team performance through more effective communication, greater leadership agility, and stronger commitment to their work and each other.”
The InspireCorps Approach
How does this innovative startup help organizations achieve sustainable inspiration? InspireCorps guides leaders and intact teams through a variety of live, learning experiences supported by ongoing executive coaching and leadership development plans. The innovative startup uses a proprietary, research-based curriculum and learning approach. The company also provides customized people strategy and culture consulting services to optimize systems and promote excellence. The partners share their ideas through thought leadership publications and keynote addresses on a variety of topics including leadership agility, emotional agility, strength-based leadership, and executive presence and confidence.
As Chief Innovation Officer, Holzer relies on her academic training in emotional intelligence, psychological brain sciences, applied positive psychology, and visual arts to innovate and customize their content and approach constantly. “We positively impact individuals, teams, and business results,” she says. “We work with our clients to measure the results they want to track, which may include leadership competencies and behaviors, communication skills, resilience, team coordination, use of strengths, and individual and team performance.”
Growth Near and Far
InspireCorps markets primarily through its professional network. Holzer notes that the company currently has a 100% repurchase rate and its growth rate has doubled every year since the startup launched.
“This year we are reaching out to build more of a local network,” Holzer says. “One of our goals for 2016–2017 is to work more with companies and organizations in Connecticut, especially in the Hartford area,” she adds.
Regarding advice for other entrepreneurs, Holzer says, “I’ve learned that the best decisions are ones that incorporate both reason and emotions. Listen to your gut; your emotions will offer important information about any situation.”
[Photo: The InspireCorps team (left to right) Sandra Spataro, Chief Excellence Officer; Gabi Joyce, Director of Customer Experience; Allison Holzer, Chief Innovation Officer; and Jen Grace Baron, Chief Inspiration Officer.]