BRITE Energy Innovators

From Marathons to Mental Health: Why Community Matters with Courtney Gras

From Marathons to mental health: Why Community matters with Courtney Gras

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Keywords: clean energy revolution, community, shared values, diverse perspectives, cleantech, startup communities

On this episode of BRITElights, we’re delving into the essence of community. Join us as we uncover what truly shapes and defines a community, from shared values to diverse perspectives. Together, we’ll explore the forces that unite us and drive the cleantech transition forward. Joining us is Courtney Gras, Startup Community Lead and AWS and BRITE board member.

Courtney has been a part of the cleantech startup community for over 8 years, whether as a founder herself or in her current leadership role. Courtney’s message takes us back to our roots, reminding us that it’s not just about innovation but also about the people who journey alongside us, for innovation isn’t a lone pursuit. It’s about empowering each other to make our shared vision for clean, sustainable energy a reality.

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Transcript:

Rick Stockburger
Hello and welcome to BRITElights, where we’re exploring the clean energy revolution together.


Autumn Hankinson
I’m autumn, BRITE’s community manager.


Rick Stockburger
And I’m Rick, the president and CEO of BRITE.


Autumn Hankinson
This week, we’re delving into the essence of community. Join us as we uncover what truly shapes and defines a community, from shared values to diverse perspectives. We’ll explore the forces that unite us and drive the clean tech transition forward. Get set to discover the incredible power of community.


Rick Stockburger
Joining us today is Courtney Gras, startup community lead at Amazon Web Services and vice chair of BRITE’s board of directors. Courtney is a former founder and has dedicated her career to helping startups. Welcome, Courtney.


Courtney Gras
Thanks for having me. I’m excited to be here.


Rick Stockburger
Well, we’re super excited to have, you know, one of my favorite first questions to start with, know what excites you about community? What’s your favorite part about community? Why have you dedicated your life to community and the work that you do?


Courtney Gras
What a great question. I mean, I just love the people that I meet, right? I think a lot of us have spent a lot of time working remotely in the past few years. And the one thing that was noticeable, I think, to everybody, regardless of what industry, what they do for a living is just everybody missed community, right? They missed hanging out with other people in person. And I think that’s what’s so wonderful about community. Regardless of if we’re talking about a startup community or not, it’s just wonderful to be able to interact with people and to build new relationships, to make connections. There’s just something about that I think makes you feel alive, and it motivates you. So that’s the number one reason I love communities. It’s all about the people.


Autumn Hankinson
One of my favorite things about communities, and I think it’s really here in the midwest because coming from Austin, Texas, lived there six years. Austin was like, cool and a vibe and everything, but it’s not very community driven in the sense. As soon as I moved to Columbus, I knew all of my, like, it took Covid hitting for me to know the neighbors that lived in front of me for like a year and a half. And as soon as I moved here, it’s like Herschel’s next door, like Carissa and Tyler, my neighbor. I’m just like the Midwest and Ohio in general is just very friendly, and it’s been so easy to even just immerse myself in that.


Courtney Gras
I mean, and I think there’s a difference between community and culture, right? So I think culture is different, maybe in different geographies and Midwest has a really great culture. We have a very friendly culture. And I think you’ll run into different communities with different cultures all across the globe. Right. And I think that’s one of the great advantages that we have in Ohio is we have really great community culture here.


Rick Stockburger
So in your role at like, you get to work all over the globe, right, as far as startup communities and how’s that go? So can you pick favorites? Where’s your favorite startup community, Courtney?


Courtney Gras
Oh, my know, with AWS. You’re right. I work with startup founders that are all across the globe and I love seeing the different dynamics in different communities.


Autumn Hankinson
Right.


Courtney Gras
Like, we have a really vibrant community in that they’re, again, culturally, they do a lot of in person events. They’re big into getting together, having parties and networking events. So I love to just observe that and to see how different communities function and what the community members like to do in different geographies. I wouldn’t say that there’s a favorite, but it’s just, it works for wherever you’re located. Right? Wherever you’re based, you’re going to kind of just merge into this community culture that works for you. And I just love seeing the differences between that. But I think the common thread, that being said, is that everybody, no matter where you are in the world, loves community. People want to feel connected. So that’s something that you can’t argue with no matter where you’re based.


Autumn Hankinson
That’s fair. Very true. What is your favorite personal community? We’re all a part of professional communities. We’re all a part of networking, but something that’s just for you that you’ve joined personally because you just love.


Courtney Gras
Well, okay, I have two favorite communities right now. First and foremost, I have to give my hometown of Akron, Ohio a shout out. Northeast Ohio, really, in general, that was a startup community. That was really my first exposure to community, I would say, in my professional life. And it helped me so much. I felt so supported being able to connect to other know they were just having a shared experience. I think that’s one of the most important things about community, is that if you’re not tied into one, you feel alone a lot of the time.


Rick Stockburger
Right.


Courtney Gras
And I was just able to connect and learn from other startup founders that were having the same experience in the same geography. Right. They were able to share connections within the ecosystem to fundraising and to mentorship. Right. So I got to give a shout out to my northeast Ohio community, first and foremost, but probably my second favorite community that I’m kind of loosely still connected to is the Techstars community. Now, Techstars is, for those who don’t know, a global precede investor and accelerator program. Right. They run programs for startup founders all across the globe. Again, a global community. But I think what’s really great about the Techstars community is that, again, their culture there is absolutely 100% putting founders first. They’re very warm and welcoming. There’s not too much on competition or people worrying about other people stealing their ideas.


Courtney Gras
It’s just a very safe and warm feeling community of founders. And so I love that. I love those components of the community where as soon as you enter, you feel welcome and people are very warm and welcoming to you. And I think the Techstars has done a great job of building a really vibrant community in that way. So Techstars and then my local community in Ohio, for sure, that’s awesome.


Rick Stockburger
And I think I was able to be there. In some of your first experiences in community with launch league way back in the day.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, I had to give a shout out. Now, the only reason I didn’t mention launch league is because launch league unfortunately isn’t around anymore. We’ll say it evolved into a different, yeah, you know, really it was Rick that brought me into the start of community in Akron, and I have to give him a shout out for that because I didn’t know that a community existed prior to, you know, I think community has been involved just kind of in the dna of, you know, since its early days. And that’s something that I think is really wonderful about this organization is the focus on community.


Autumn Hankinson
What’s some advice? Sorry, Rick, it just led me to a question about what is some advice you would give to someone who’s looking to engage in a new community? Maybe they’re scared. Maybe they don’t even know where to start, but they’re looking for a community. Like, where do they.


Courtney Gras
I mean, and that’s tough. Again, especially in some ways it’s tough. Sometimes it’s easier in today’s day and age, I’d say in the ways that it’s easier, it’s because now you could find meetup groups online. You could connect to communities online on discord or slack or on x. I almost said Twitter, what have you. I’m part of a lot of great, the other part of my life is I’m an ultra runner, and so I’m part of a lot of great running community online that are very easy to access just from a simple Google search.


Rick Stockburger
Right.


Courtney Gras
But I think that some of those online communities lack the depth and the level of connection that you have with an in person. You know, everybody has imposter syndrome. When trying to connect with a new group of people, you feel like you’re an outsider. And I know that it’s scary, and this sounds very cliche, but the best thing you could do is show up at an event, right? That’s how I got connected to the Akron startup community is I showed up at angel pitch event. That’s how I met Rick, and Rick was talking about this community, so I showed up.


Rick Stockburger
Right.


Courtney Gras
So that’s the advice that I would give folks, know, just get out there, show up at a networking, know, show up at a local pitch event, whatever it may be in whatever field you’re in, and things will snowball from there. But it does kind of take, you take a deep breath, take that big first step and get out there and start talking to people. And then as soon as you get going, you start to get more comfortable and you start to make those connections.


Rick Stockburger
It’s funny that you say, you know, as I was giving that talk at that community, I was really inspired by the book startup communities by Brad Feld. And can you tell us a little bit about how startup communities and then the startup community way, which Ian Hathaway had a huge role in, and know what’s that evolution as? That’s what inspired me, which is what got you connected to the community. And then you ended, know, being friends and working with and alongside the people that wrote the book. And so it’s really fun. Don’t, I don’t want to say slingshot, that’s not quite right, but just that relationship of being involved.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, right. This is a great testament to the power of community.


Autumn Hankinson
Right.


Courtney Gras
I meet one person, Rick, you gave me this book that’s called Startup Communities. Everybody can look it up. It’s written by Brad Feld, who is one of the co founders of Techstars, is a big investor now, but he wrote this book because they saw this evolution of community and growth of community in Boulder, Colorado. Boulder, if you look at it from the outside, you think, well, it’s kind of like, I don’t know, a ski town. You don’t think about big tech when you think about Boulder. But there was this critical mass of a group of founders that were really committed to building community. They understood the value of community and helping to foster new startup growth in that area. And they started very small.


Rick Stockburger
Right.


Courtney Gras
And so this whole book focuses on kind of theory behind what can you do to help to grow community in your geography, no matter where you’re based. Right. I think we see a lot of communities sometimes that strive to be Silicon Valley in the startup world.


Autumn Hankinson
Right.


Courtney Gras
But Silicon Valley has a different ecosystem. They have different pieces and components and players in the community. So the book isn’t about how to become Silicon Valley or even how to become bolder. They’re just saying, this is how we made it work here. And the second rendition of that book goes into some theory around how do you measure success in your community? Why is it so difficult to do that? Also because communities are, it talks about how communities are complex systems, and I won’t go into the details of that, but I was fascinated when I read these books. And so Rick and I were working in the startup community in Akron, and I was so inspired by reading these books. I said, well, I would love to make a career out of that.


Courtney Gras
So that’s how I ended up going and working for techstars and working alongside, essentially the authors who wrote these books and got to learn kind of from the experts, if you will. How do you build startup communities effectively? And so there’s a lot of great lessons learned which I could dive into, but I got to say, it was just an amazing story and such a great experience. And the biggest takeaway is that there is no playbook for community, per se. Here’s the ten steps that you need to take to have a successful community, because it is kind of a living, breathing thing. You had to foster it in your own ecosystem based on what you have there. So it’s complicated.


Rick Stockburger
Well, I’ll let autumn have the next question, but I wanted to hit on that because something you said actually right at the beginning really plays into what you just said. And culture is so important, and different geographies have such different cultures. And so you were just kind of talking about, like, not everybody should be Silicon Valley, right? Everybody has their own, you didn’t use the word but culture and what it means to be a community in the Mahoning Valley here in Warren, Ohio, or Cleveland or Cincinnati or Boston or Silicon Valley or, you know, I think that’s really interesting that America has such diverse cultures across such an expansive country, and it’s really interesting that there’s ingredients to all of that we’re all aligned and united by.


Rick Stockburger
But those different cultures make for different places that can create really great, amazing things no matter where they.


Courtney Gras
Yeah. Yeah, absolutely.


Autumn Hankinson
Let’s build off kind of the culture aspect of building communities here, where we all are, which is Ohio. What about our culture? About the culture in Ohio helps us build stronger communities. I’m just going to say, why are the communities in Ohio better? What makes us so special?


Courtney Gras
One thing that I’m going to observe, and I think we all might have a different opinion about this, but Ohio in its history, we have a lot of hardworking people in Ohio, right? We have folks that will go through some of the hardest times and they will persevere. And so we have that. I hate to use the buzzword, but grit in Ohio, and that sort of binds us together. The one thing that really makes the community successful is that you do have some kind of a common thread, right amongst the members, something that everybody’s really passionate about. And I think that in know, we’re very passionate about our history here. And that, again, the perseverance that we have is something that’s very unique to Ohio and the Midwest in particular.


Courtney Gras
So I think that’s something that can make an extremely strong community where you have a lot of folks that are going to be very hard workers. They’re going to be very dedicated once they get involved in the community. So then it’s just a matter of finding those people, right. And bringing them together. And that’s, I think one of the great things that BRITE is doing is trying to find those folks and bring them together and to build a strong community.


Rick Stockburger
Yeah, absolutely. And one of the things I like to tie things that you said back together, all three of us are runners. I am the least accomplished of the runners, but it’s very.


Autumn Hankinson
The most accomplished. Like, she dropped Ultra in there. I’ve never ultra in my life.


Courtney Gras
Ultra you could set up for crazy, but that’s okay.


Rick Stockburger
I’ve probably had a Michelob Ultra, certainly not that. But when I think about community in many ways, and I think the running community is a really interesting space, because as somebody that’s relatively new to that community, it’s just been extremely welcoming. But one of the things that I think that kind of ties humans together that’s interesting, right. Is I do think we’re all better when we struggle a little bit, like when we have adversity. But what makes community really strong is having a struggle or having adversity and then being able to come together with other humans to be able to overcome that, or just to listen and understand where you are and that you’re in the struggle, and that there’s somebody that’s either been in that before or is currently in that.


Rick Stockburger
So can you tell me, maybe, I don’t know, a specific time, whether it’s startup community, when you had your own clean tech startup that was going through BRITE’s programs, or in the running community where you’ve had somebody you’ve met through the community and how they helped mentor and support you and what does good community look?


Courtney Gras
Yeah, and I love what you just hit on when you talk about struggles. I will say in my day job now with Amazon Web Services, I work with a community of ctos. So technical founders, and the number one most requested type of content session that they ask for in the community is founder stories, like Fireside chats. And they want to hear the war stories, they want to hear the quote unquote failure stories and how founders overcame them. So I think that’s one of the most important things we could do. And storytelling is a whole other topic, but I think it’s one of the core foundations of community, is being able to tell your stories effectively because it’s inspirational.


Courtney Gras
I think the community, when you’re effective at telling stories, it could almost be therapeutic in a way, right where you could go and kind of air your grievances and say, well, I’ve been struggling with this. When I think about my experiences in the startup community, there was definitely a time I was struggling with my startup and I had a few mentors in the community and other founders that just were empathetic and just having that empathy and people saying, wow, what you’re going through with your company, that’s so difficult. And just to say some words of encouragement, even just that was helpful to help me spin a negative situation into a positive one, to just know that I felt supported. I had members of the community that were on my side. So that kind of therapeutic component to community, I think, is so important.


Courtney Gras
And just one of the best things that we could be doing for founders is making them feel like they’re supported and they’re not.


Rick Stockburger
Well. And autumn, I know you from our community oftentimes get requests like, is there mental health support in this space? And there’s a talk out there on YouTube of me talking about the importance of help and talk about my struggles with post traumatic stress disorder. And I just think it’s unbelievably important that we share that this is a long path. We’ve done a lot of hero worshipping, I think, in the startup community, but realizing, hey, this is hard and it’s not for everybody, and there’s just so much to come up against. But maybe autumn just on that, tell us a little bit about mental health and how that can be helpful in a community.


Autumn Hankinson
Yeah, for sure. I’ll just say that I’m a big advocate when I’m in my communities or running my communities, or building a community. Big advocate for mental health and taking your space and knowing you’re not alone. So founder stories are one of my favorite things. And I think you see that a lot in the running community when it comes to running is such a solo sport in itself, where it can feel so alone because it’s you versus you. But when you’re out and you’re in a race, and it comes back to my first marathon, one and only marathon so far, but we’re looking to do another. I got shin splints. Mile three, I didn’t get new shoes. I’m dying. I think I’m going to die.


Autumn Hankinson
I looked at my partner, Alex was on mile 16, and I looked at him and I go, I’m not going to make it. This is where I go. This is how I die. And he’s like, you got it. But it was like literally every single person who I passed who saw that struggle on my face on that race course yelled for me to keep going, gave me, they got me across that finish line. And I think in running and in startups, as a founder, you can feel so alone because you only see your mission, you only see where you’re at. But once you take those blinders off and you see there’s a community supporting you see that there’s someone right here next to you cheering you on or offering you support, it’s just like so inspiring.


Autumn Hankinson
So startup communities are so inspiring to me in that way, and huge advocate for mental health. But what are some things, some advice you would give in that kind of spectrum on mental health and in communities and maybe asking for help within your community or how to go about that?


Courtney Gras
Yeah, I think it’s incredibly important. And I love, just another example of this, is we’re planning content for the new year for the community that I run now. We had a founder reach out and ask if we could do a session just on mental health. So I think the first thing, and me as a community leader, of course I’m going to be responsive to that. Of course we want to support our founders in that way. So first is speaking up and asking and making sure that for the leaders of the community, that you’re building a culture that doesn’t make mental health or those topics or therapy or what have you, a taboo subject. You want to be very open and welcoming to those topics and encouraging people to be transparent.


Courtney Gras
And I think the other important piece of that is to make your community feel like a safe space so people know that whatever they share in the context of the community is not going to be shared on some blog post or that their information is confidential and that you respect everybody’s privacy. But at the same time, we want people to be comfortable to share their struggles because there could be one person in the room listening to somebody else’s story and it just resonates with them in the right way. And we want to make sure that we’re creating those moments, those opportunities in the community.


Autumn Hankinson
What are some events? Not events, but what are like. Yeah, maybe events, some ways to make sure you kind of get that message across, to make sure that they know it’s safe. Of course you want the vibes to always be safe, but to make sure that message is very clear and that kind of like nobody gets left behind.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, a couple tactical things. I mean, outside of holding a dedicated, maybe fireside chat with a founder that have been through some struggles, maybe they lost their company, that’s certainly one thing. But even smaller things you could do. For instance, the community I run now operates in the slack workspace, right? So we have a way to communicate with community members. And you could pick a day, say maybe like one Friday a month, and just call it founder mental health day, and start a little thread where founders can share a struggle that they had and how they overcame it within the past few weeks. And I think there are intentional ways that you could schedule mental health check ins, if you will, into both your content and the ongoing chatter in the community.


Courtney Gras
And it’s just something that I would absolutely look up to the community leaders to be leaders in that, if you will, and make sure that it’s part of your strategy and what you’re talking about. Because of course, with startups you’re going to talk about all sorts of things, fundraising, and we could talk about sales and marketing until the cows come home. But sometimes we forget about the mental health component, where if you’re not in tip top shape in that way, then nothing else really matters. Mentorship is everywhere, in startup communities in particular, but it would be interesting to have, whether it is life coaches or therapists come in and actually mentor startup founders in the same way that a VC would. Because I think that type of mentorship is also really important.


Courtney Gras
So maybe a founder can’t afford to be going to therapy regularly, or they say they don’t have time, but if a community can help facilitate those kind of interactions, it’s just another way that a community could be really supportive of our founders in that way that’s creative. I’m not sure that I’ve seen that before, but I think it’s a great idea. Somebody should do it.


Autumn Hankinson
I love that idea because I definitely think that founders and the people least likely to ask for help. One, because I feel like because of Silicon Valley and because of kind of what’s booming in Austin and things like this, there’s this kind of grind culture to being an entrepreneur and to being a founder. And that’s some level of it where it’s like if you’re not grinding, you’re not trying, you don’t care as much as anyone else. But I think it also comes down to like, this literally is your, it comes on a personal level. Your startup is a personal thing to you. It’s on some levels, your child, your baby, it’s like this is a thought baby that you are trying to get funded and put into existence. So you give everything you have to it.


Autumn Hankinson
And I don’t think we as a community, in a way, put enough emphasis on entrepreneurs to be like, take a pause. Not everything’s a fire. It’s not going to burn down, but you’re burning out. And I think talking about getting someone of a professional caliber in to come in and just have a fireside chat about that is really important. And I think really something a lot of startup communities can really focus on.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, absolutely.


Rick Stockburger
So Courtney, switching gears a little bit, not all the way out of community, but your first company that you started was in the clean tech space. You’re a former NASA engineer. What drew you to the clean energy space and why was that the place that you wanted to try to start a.


Courtney Gras
Well, I love that question. I think I was in college at the time in studying electrical engineering. And at that, it was just before, right around when I was entering college. So I’m dating myself here. But the Tesla roadster had just come out. And so from a technology standpoint, it looked like this is absolutely the future. And kind of the big ideas that were being discussed around electric vehicles at the time. And solar power was also just huge in the early two thousand s. And I thought, well, I was just extremely passionate about that. I wanted to learn about it, understand the technology. Solar power at that time was kind of foreign to me. So I was excited to learn and also to have an impact at the exact same time.


Courtney Gras
So I had this opportunity to work on a research project in college, and that turned into a patent, which turned into a startup company and yeah. Had the pleasure to work with BRITE very early on in my startup days and have that. I just, I think Ohio, a lot of people maybe don’t think of Ohio as a leader in clean tech, but once you get into the ecosystem and know the portfolio companies and the companies that BRITE’s working mean, it was obvious to me that this could be a wonderful place to be starting a clean tech company. And so it was a wonderful journey. I worked with my startup for eight years total and learned a lot. And we have so many great resources for clean tech companies here in Ohio, like NASA Glenn Research center. Right.


Courtney Gras
We have a lot of great test and research facilities that maybe people don’t know about that were able to leverage as a clean tech company and it was a wonderful experience.


Autumn Hankinson
I love that. I honestly didn’t know a lot about your company before this call, so I love that. Just explaining that in eight years, I knew you were a startup founder, of course, but just telling us eight years of your life dedicated to that and it kind of leads me into a question about what makes the clean energy and clean tech community so special.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, I think, again, there’s a word that I’m going to throw out there called homophily. It’s basically what I was mentioning before that. The binding force. Yeah. We all learned a new word today. It’s a binding force that holds a community together. And I think the more focused a community is, the stronger it will be. So having a community, you think about northeast Ohio or the Midwest with their startup community. There’s kind of this micro community that’s just focused on clean tech and energy. And to get a bunch of people in the same room, if you will, that are all working in the same space, that’s just an know you think about. Sparks in a box is what we talk about with communities a lot.


Courtney Gras
You have all these people working in and around with the same ideas and same technologies, and they’re going to bump into each other and probably create something really great together. So I think that’s why it’s wonderful that BRITE’s building this community, because you have a lot of folks that otherwise might not know that this other company that they could partner with exists right in the same region. So I think that’s what’s so special about it, is you’re just creating a great opportunity for connections and for opportunity.


Autumn Hankinson
I love learning new vocabulary. Like, I’ve learned three new words today, and it’s something I tell Rick and them all the time, is I’m new to clean tech. So when I come into a conversation, I’m just like, you’re going to have to explain it to me like I’m a five year old, because I kind of am. But I love coming in and just the clean tech community is just so passionate and you guys have been so accepting of me in the sense of, as I like to say, I know the players or I know the game, I don’t know the players. And whenever I tell one of our startups that, or whenever I tell someone I’m meeting in the clean tech ecosystem that they are so welcoming to just explain things to me on just the layman’s level.


Autumn Hankinson
And I think that’s been my favorite part of the clean tech ecosystem and community is just how understanding everyone is, that we’re not all engineers and that’s okay because we kind of want to make energy accessible for everyone. And BRITE has been incredible. And the community and ecosystem we’re building here, it just is that. So that makes me really proud to be a part of BRITE and this community. And that’s all I was going to say.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, well, and to that I would say homophobia. That new word does not imply exclusivity. Right. I think that’s very important in a community that you’re not exclusive in keeping your door shut to folks that maybe don’t fit what you would consider the bill of a clean tech founder. Because I think for communities to be successful, we need fresh ideas. We need folks with different types of skill sets and experiences. And so I get asked a lot of times for startup communities is only for startup founders. And I say absolutely not. We want the creatives, we want other folks in the room, small business owners as well, because we could always find ways to collaborate and support each other. And if you have everybody that’s just thinking the same way and has the same experiences, you’re not going to have diversity and growth ultimately.


Courtney Gras
So I think that’s an important point.


Autumn Hankinson
Yeah, I think that’s such a good thing to say. If you have all the same people in the same room, you’re never growing. And it’s also like you’re not helping each other because you’re all doing the same things. But if you have a creative individual in the room, it’s like, I think you should look at marketing in this way. That’s a whole new connection. That’s a whole new combustion. I’ll use a big word there.


Courtney Gras
There you go. We’re on the fire theme. I love it.


Rick Stockburger
There’s going to be something along those lines it’s going to be the title of just today’s podcast for sure. Courtney. So building on what autumn said, one of the things that I think about a lot is how blessed BRITE is to have just amazing board members. And you’re the vice chair of BRITE’s board. So what drew you, other than a friendship with me or a relationship with me, what drew you to want to give back to an organization like BRITE and spend? You’re very valuable. Like, you’re an internationally renowned speaker, you’re a two time author, you’re running startup communities for one of the largest organizations in the world, and then you’re spending time with this clean tech accelerator in the midwest.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, no, it’s a great question. I mean, first and foremost, I think I really believe in this concept of give first. This is something that I learned at techstars in. The concept is just that if you give to startup founders or to anybody without necessarily expecting anything in return, that the greater good will ultimately be served. And I think I was a beneficiary of that and I was able to receive mentorship services and a lot of help from this ecosystem and from BRITE. And so it’s very meaningful for me to be able give of my time and give back and help other founders. It’s something that honestly just gives me a lot of fulfillment in my career.


Courtney Gras
It’s one thing to go out and do your nine to five job, but it’s another thing to be able to carve out a little piece of your time and feel like you’re really doing good to help others. And so it’s really an honor for me to be able to serve on the board and to be vice chair now and continue to just contribute ideas and bring ideas from elsewhere into BRITE and see how I could keep supporting the ecosystem. Like I said, it’s just very fulfilling for me.


Autumn Hankinson
I love that. I guess what I kind of want to ask kind of like, well, we’re kind of windling down on time a little bit, but what would you say to people who, well, one, listen to this podcast, but also what would you say to individuals who maybe don’t know a lot about clean tech, but they really want to get involved in clean tech? They really want to learn more, but they feel overwhelmed by kind of what we talked about. Just like all the smart people already in the room, like you guys who are engineers and things, what kind of advice would you give them and where should they start? Kind of trying to learn about clean tech and this movement.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, I mean, I would tell them. BRITE runs wonderful events and I think you two could probably share more details on what’s the next big event that you’re running. But I would say come and join us at an event, right? See what it’s like. Start to talk to people in the room and you’ll probably discover that you’ll meet somebody pretty similar to yourself, right? We’re not all engineers, not necessarily. We’re also very friendly. I promise we don’t bite. We’ll be very welcoming. And so I think showing up to an event would be the great way. Of course, tuning into the podcast is excellent, but I think it’s even better if you could start to get to know people in the community and get to know the folks at BRITE and just start to get connected.


Courtney Gras
And you’ll learn through Oz, most of us in some ways, by just showing up at events. And you’ll start to be dropping terms like thermal runaway, and here we are, and you’ll start to feel like you’re an expert and you’re part of the community yourself. So I think that’s the best way. I always just tell people, show up. That’s the first step.


Autumn Hankinson
I love that if anyone ever sees me out at an event, I have pink hair most of the time, so I’m easily accessible. Come up and talk to me, because I’m also an introverted extrovert. So I might not come talk to you, but I want to. It’s just like Courtney says, you got to put yourself out there. And sometimes my personality doesn’t let me put myself out there all the time. So just approach me.


Rick Stockburger
Yeah, that’s awesome. And on that, Courtney, you were a part of BRITE’s ecosystem when you were starting your first company, but it was actually the entire midwest from that perspective because evergreen climate solutions, which was clean energy trust at the time, was one of your investors. I really see the midwest as a really interesting place that has some really great assets. That I think is an opportunity really for a lot of those coastal companies to set up shop here in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, west Virginia, Kentucky, Indiana, even the state up north in Michigan. There’s so much great stuff and research being done here and more importantly corporate headquarters of your customers. That’s what I think is really interesting too, is just like you see if you’re an automotive, Michigan and Ohio and Indiana are the place to be from that perspective.


Rick Stockburger
And so I think it’s really a testament to not just your micro ecosystem, but actually something from running that was taught to me like if you’re doing a zone three run, it’s like you pick up that thing and your four and five also go up from that standpoint. And so I think that’s the cool part about ecosystem from a geographic or that aspect. So any other running tips that you can give us that has to do with startup communities?


Courtney Gras
It’s so funny. I loved when autumn was talking about. I think it’s a perfect analogy, honestly. That experience where when you’re running a race, and in my experience, in my world, altar running, you’re oftentimes out on the trail by yourself for many miles and you don’t see anybody else. But that moment when another runner passes you, in my case, I’m usually being passed, another runner passes you and just gives you some words of encouragement like, hey, you’re looking good. And man, does that give you a little dopamine rush. And you’re just like, you know what, thank you. And when you come into the aid stations and you have people clapping for you, it’s just that boost.


Courtney Gras
And I think that’s just such a great analogy for showing up at like a startup community event, for instance, where you could be out there grinding by yourself for weeks or months on end, but then you come to a community event and all of a sudden you feel like everybody around you is cheering you on. Right. I think that’s ultimately the goal with the community culture that we want to be building here in Ohio is so that everybody feels that while there might be moments when you are grinding on your own and things are getting hard, you’re about to run up a really big Hill, yet to stop and walk, but you’re going to come into the aid station and the community is going to be there to support you.


Courtney Gras
They’re going to give you water and electrolytes and you’re going to be fine and maybe a cookie. I think it’s a perfect analogy. I think the sport running analogy and startup communities is really just perfect. And if anybody wants to talk about ultra running, just let me know and we can talk offline about that.


Autumn Hankinson
Talk about Ultra running. You reach out to Courtney. If anyone just wants to talk about some mid level tier running, give me a call. I’m not the fastest. And then if anyone just wants to talk about beginner running, you can hit Rick. We got them all. It’s perfect.


Courtney Gras
I got to say, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that you see a lot of endurance athletes that have also been startup founders. There’s a similar mentality.


Autumn Hankinson
Yes, for sure. Maybe that’s why I got into working with startups. I was like kindred spirits right there. Well, awesome. Courtney, I want to thank you. I want to give you an opportunity right now to maybe say anything you’re working on, anything you want the people to know or anything you just want to say before we end it here.


Courtney Gras
Yeah, well, first, I mean, just thank you both for having me on. I love talking. You know, if anybody on the call is interested in community more, I mean, of course, talk to the folks at know. Autumn and Rick here are leaders in our space. But I’m always happy to have a conversation about community and just to give some words of encouragement or mentorship to anybody that’s looking to get involved. But again, it’s just such an honor to be able to give back to this organization that’s been so impactful to, you know, just happy to continue to keep serving.


Autumn Hankinson
I love it. Courtney, we love having you here. I say it all the time. I want to be you when I grow up. Maybe I’ll be an ultramarathoner, too. Who knows? But thank you again, Courtney, for being on the show. If anyone is interested in connecting with Courtney, be sure to check out the show notes, which you’ll find in the description.


Rick Stockburger
And thank you so much for tuning into this episode of BRITElights. Do your part to support clean tech innovation by liking or subscribing to this podcast, and we will catch you on the BRITE side.

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