Emily Cole from CommUNITY Learning Network and the New Mexico TechWorks team had the opportunity to ask Melanie Lenci a few questions about her work and involvement in entrepreneurship in the community. Melanie launched Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs of Santa Fe (KAESF) to combine her love for storytelling and connecting people to highlight the amazing entrepreneur community in Santa Fe. Melanie shares how entrepreneurship and technology allows her to create the job she loves.How did your personal and professional background influence where you are today?
I grew up pretty poor in a blue-collar household. My home life was a little less than ideal growing up, which led to me spending months in treatment facilities and “celebrating” my 16th birthday while living in a residential home. Still, schoolwork was always a great escape for me and I had some of the most amazing teachers and a guidance counselor who gave me the encouragement I needed to rise above. Educator and activist, Nicholas Ferroni, nailed it when he said, “Students who are loved at home come to school to learn, and students who aren’t come to school to be loved.” I was insanely fortunate to have positive influences at school and that’s why I believe so strongly in the power of the people within school walls to really make a difference and that education is a powerful tool in changing lives for the better. It did mine.
What kind of work do you do?
Other than my property care-taking gig, I do a variety of marketing and event-related work, mostly involving the entrepreneur community here in Santa Fe – and I love it! I also launched the Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs of Santa Fe (KAESF). For KAESF I coordinate monthly-ish events at local venues to allow audiences of up to 30+ to connect with the stories of Santa Fe entrepreneurs.
Why did you decide to work in tech, or this kind of work?
After moving to Santa Fe 2+ years ago and deciding to dissolve the business I’d built over 12+ years, I become familiar with Santa Fe’s amazing entrepreneur community and resources while working with Sean O’Shea at the Santa Fe Business Incubator (SFBI) through their fabulous business vetting program, Runway. The more familiar I became with the entrepreneur community, the more I knew I wanted to shape my career around strengthening it and bringing people who support it together whenever I can.
Describe your perspective on technology and its capabilities for the future.
Funny enough, I have a Masters in Technology Management (MOTM) degree, but chose not to work directly in tech. Still, I believe that the possibilities for technology are endless. Technology provides opportunities for people to earn a living while living in remote locations – which I took advantage of for years and see as a huge advantage in a state like New Mexico.
What advice would you give to younger people that are interested in entrepreneurship and technology or living and working in Santa Fe?
I feel like I didn’t even know what an entrepreneur was until I took a few courses on entrepreneurism in grad school. Fun fact, I applied for full-time jobs at universities until I landed one so that I could take advantage of the benefit of free tuition and didn’t have to take out any grad school student loans. I also went to a State school and worked all through undergrad to keep my debt to a minimum, because to me minimum debt meant maximum freedom. So, even though I’d taken some courses on entrepreneurism, it wasn’t until I started dating an entrepreneur and was able to see him creating this business and life that he loved (rather than feeling beaten down by the corporate daily grind like I was already feeling at the ripe old age of 30), that I decided to take the leap. That year I quit my job and started my first business with pretty much nothing more than damn ass determination and faith that I wouldn’t let myself fail. My not being introduced to entrepreneurism until later in life is part of the reason I’m so passionate about trying to find partners to help me bring KAESF and entrepreneur story time to K-12 students here in Santa Fe – to help young people see entrepreneurism as another possible path to creating a future they might not even know is possible.
How has using technology helped you move forward?
Besides using technology to live the life I want – enabling me to earn a living while working remotely – having taught myself how to create and maintain my own websites over the years and to shoot and edit video, technology continues to help me market myself and others, save money, and open up additional income streams for me.
Interview by New Mexico TechWorks, Emily Cole
To learn more, visit Kick-Ass Entrepreneurs of Santa Fe (KAESF)
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CommUNITY Learning Network is a grassroots New Mexico-born and locally based 501(c)3 organization dedicated to building stronger communities through real-life learning.