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Charisse Bowen - Turning entrepreneurial failure into positive change at the Federal Government

Charisse Bowen is a self-proclaimed entrepreneur who now works for the Federal Government. "I always love a good challenge, which is, I think, part of…what led me here," working as a Program Manager for Guide House.

Her entrepreneurial journey began in 2006 when she founded Gen Green. Her vision was for Gen Green to be "a hub for people who wanted to live a more eco-friendly or environmentally sound life...we had the largest database of green businesses and organizations in North America in our system."

When she started Gen Green, Charisse knew nothing about building a tech business, but "was hell-bent on learning."

As a result of her commitment to learning and her go-getter attitude, Gen Green launched "one of the first 100 applications in iTunes Store...[and] we were the very first eco app."

While things at Gen Green didn't turn out the way she had hoped, the experience opened some unexpected doors for Charisse. She describes what she did next as "part of my therapy...when I sold Gen was a hard time...I was in a kind of a dark place....because the company didn't go exactly as planned I felt like I was a failure...and I didn't know how to reconcile with that."

Charisse reached out to other women business owners she knew and asked, "can we come together and have a discussion about what it's like to be a woman business owner in this world and the things that we struggle with?"

Dawn DeTienne, with the CSU College of Business, asked if the conversations could happen live and in front of her students, which is how the Women Entrepreneurs Leadership Summit came to be. As a result of that effort, she was hired to establish and run the Institute for Entrepreneurship at CSU.

This early experience of turning a failure into a new and unexpected opportunity was formative for Charisse. "I carry a lot less fear and anxiety towards taking chances and failing because it seems like...each thing that didn't turn out quite the way I had anticipated...turns out exactly as it was supposed to. And I just have to trust the process."

Charisse served in a number of other roles, cultivating the entrepreneurial ecosystems in Northern Colorado and the Caribbean before landing work with the Federal Government. She reflects, "that opportunity...came...out of...a mental manifestation of me begging the world to help show me how I can apply what I just experienced in those hurricanes [in the Caribbean]. And in a way that would help the greater good."

When she started working on tech projects with the Federal Government, Charisse acknowledged "a bit [of] naivety...[and a] lack of baggage can sometimes help." The project she successfully completed with FEMA had stalled two times before she took it over.

After its completion, "the program was actually named…The DHS Agile Program of the Year for all of [the] Department of Homeland Security."

Her ability to gain traction and lead positive change when others had failed is inspiring. Charisse acknowledges, "I can't just walk into a place and tell them what I'm going to do and expect them to just comply...I'm going to have to find a way of showing them this approach of doing things a little differently, in order to gain their trust...[to do] what we actually really need to do."

Charisse built trust by taking small steps. "Part of what we had to do...with FEMA and with the NFIP system make these small changes, and do it in a way...that the government wasn't afraid."

Regardless of whether you’re in private industry or working for the Federal Government, Charisse has observed "resistance to change isn't always because of…not liking change. Some of it....[is because] they've got their own ego wrapped up in whatever was there before."

With this awareness in mind, Charisse advises bringing the original innovator into the conversation from the beginning. “If you're lucky enough to have the inventor…still there, there's some really good lessons and some good insight and some good information. And…they shouldn't be discounted, just because what they did was out of date now…I think an advanced kind of conscientious innovator is somebody who can…spend some good quality time with the original inventor…understand…the evolution that it's taken over time, and kind of bring them along for the ride within their idea…and let them have some co-ownership of it. It will only enrich it"

Charisse’s years of experience driving innovation have taught her that "creators don't create in isolation…Some of the most enriching things that get made in the world are done in collaboration…all kinds of rich ideas [come] to life…when it has more than just one brain working on it."

Getting people in the same room (often proverbially speaking these days) early in the process sets innovative programs up for success. "Let's bring a group of us together, it doesn't have to be for a long time, we can have a 15 minute huddle. But…let's…try to get as many peoples’...heads into one room at one time. It not only generates…great camaraderie and…team building…it's how some of the best ideas come about.

Wondering who should be in on those early co-creating conversations? Charisse advises anyone involved in the project, be it ideation or execution. “Even if somebody is not…contributing to the story, but they're in the room, and they're part of the process, they will inevitably…accept it once it's coming to life and help…see it through…their role might not have been …[creating] the idea…[but maybe] they do play an important role…[in] carrying it out."

Charisse first experimented with co-creating in this way when she started Gen Green. She hosted a “meeting of the minds” soon after the inception of her business, "I put an ad in the paper... calling all great green thinkers…help be a part of this big idea that I have. And I had no idea who was going to show up in the room that day…there were like 50 people that came to that event…everybody that was in that room..took a piece of the idea baby, and…took ownership behind it and…helped bring it to fruition."

As she reflected on that moment over 15 years ago, Charisse acknowledged she continues to experience regenerative effects from that one event to this day.

The full episode of Co-Creators in Conversation has many more great pearls of wisdom. Watch it all on YouTube.

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