Are you ready for the Camelback Fellowship?


“Impossible is not a fact. It’s an opinion.”

- Muhammad Ali


I’ve had the privilege of coaching Camelback Fellows this year, and if you’re interested in being a part of this organization, there are some things you need to know because I can say with certainty this accelerator (yes, accelerator, more on that later) is not for the faint of heart.

Are You Ready For It?

Here’s the deal: first, you have to be willing to look in the mirror to face your known limitations (and unknown ones that will for sure be surfaced during this process). If you are a visionary, if you are someone who wants to bring light where there is darkness (because that’s really the work we’re doing when we talk about creating spaces of equity) can’t do that without first addressing your own underlying belief systems that could be the very thing keeping you from seeing the full vision of your venture come to fruition. And that’s real, and that’s painful. This isn’t just about a business or a nonprofit; the work you’re doing is an extension of who you are.

See, this work - this real gritty, get-into-the-ugly-parts-of-society-to-change-it-kind-of-work - takes every bit of who you are. It requires a human being so solid in who she is that she can’t be moved by anything or anyone outside of herself. As I’m sure you know from the political climate we’re living in, systems of oppression that still exist in everyday business will push you to your limits, and if you’re not fluid enough to ride the wave and change as is needed for yourself, your business and ultimately, all the people you seek to serve, will suffer.

So yeah, to answer that leading question, it’s going to take all you have. And why shouldn’t it require that? If you’re asking someone to invest their energy, time away from their family, hard-earned money, years of expertise, and genuine support into you, why wouldn’t you give the best of who you are back, especially if you’re here to build something beyond yourself anyway? Only you can know if you’re ready, and you only get what you give.

What You’ll Get

Oh, it’s about to be a ride for real. If you’re accepted as a Camelback Fellow, you’ll get the dopest resources, incredible introductions, access to unrestricted capital, and you’ll have ample opportunities to level up your knowledge with experts who have years of experience in building startups.

But let’s take it one step further -- the realest and rarest gift is this: every person will challenge you. And it will bring the best out of you. You will go through the fire. You may find that you have to let go of some old habits and learn some new things that are beyond your comfort zone. You might realize how you are unexpectedly problematic, and it doesn’t feel good -- you can either respond by being defensive and getting worse, or admitting and getting better. You may even find yourself fighting against yourself at some point because you feel like things are moving too fast or not fast enough. But the new perspectives will change you. And the support you get will surprise and humble you. Everyone that is here wants the same thing: to build community, build momentum toward change, build for the next generation, build a legacy beyond themselves.

What You’ll Be Required to Give

All of yourself. Period. Either you’re ready for that next level or you’re not. And it’s ok if you’re not. Just be honest with yourself. Don’t waste your time or anyone else’s until you’re for real ready to put in the work. It will only be a disservice to your vision. Don’t show up unless you’re ready to show up.


Lisa, right, mid-coaching session with 2018 Fellow Sophie Shrand

Indicators of Success

Now, let’s get into the real business speak. If you want to be successful as a founder, you have to first know how you’re measuring success!

  1. What is the best case scenario outcome for your business as whole?

  2. What’s the best case scenario outcome for your time in any program, Camelback or otherwise? Set real goals, and tell people - your coach, your boo, your team - what they are so you’re accountable and it lives outside of you.

  3. Next, ask yourself why. Am I in it for the big exit? I am building this because I see how many people’s lives it can permanently change? Know your motivations. You’re not going to succeed until you have a bigger ‘why’ behind your work. The getting up at 5am and going to bed at midnight to work is going to require something much bigger than yourself. If you really know yourself, you can play to your motivations. That’s how you win. Persistence in the face of adversity.

How do I know if my company has the potential to go really big?

This goes right back to where we started - with self. How much do you believe in what you’re doing? How much are you willing to allow the vision of what you’re building to become what it needs to be and not how you want it to look? Will you be ready to let go of the little things you like to do - and hire someone to handle those - for the things you have to do as a CEO? You must be flexible in the how. Have the big vision of your why and what you want it to accomplish. Then be open to it looking totally different than how you imagined; all strong organizations go through that iteration process!

Founding Team

Your team needs grit, determination, synergy, and division of talent. These must qualities must be present. The first three are meant to show that no matter what comes up against you, you’re focused and yet flexible enough to change as necessary. The fourth aspect is where most teams get tripped up. Each person needs to have their own lane, their own expertise, and all the other founders need to trust in that person’s capabilities implicitly. If it’s just you, find an advisory board where you can bounce ideas off of and get access to knowledge and networks, because you’ve probably risked everything to be here in the first place.

See, you don’t become an entrepreneur on accident. It happens on purpose, and often with a lot of heartache around some tough decisions. You’ve probably put every last penny into this venture, so the people you have around you will make or break you. Make sure you have the right people around you and if you have to, be willing to have to let them go too. It happens more often than you think.  

Whatever the outcome that may look like for a business, will be borne out of the energy and heart that a founder puts into it. Even in business, you have to be equally yoked. If you’re a nonprofit, intentionality is often even more critical.

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Market Fit Is Only a Part of the Equation

If you can clearly communicate the need in the market and show that not only have you done your research but you’ve gotten user feedback to design your business, you’re on the right path. That’s only one aspect of it though. Have you tested it? Have you seen use cases of it actually fulfilling that need? You don’t have to be very far in your progress, but are you progressing in a meaningful way? That’s what it’s about. Are you taking all the information available at your fingertips and really investing your energy to taking it as far as you possibly can? Do that first. Show what you’ve accomplished. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

What’s the Hardest Part of this Accelerator?

Camelback calls their program a Fellowship on purpose, and what you need to know is that it’s not just that -- it’s also a startup accelerator, and that means GROWTH. That being said, it’s by no means what you think of as a traditional accelerator. It’s so much more dope and real and raw and meaningful. All Camelback Fellows I’ve ever met seek to make real change on a very large scale. But just because they all want to do something big doesn’t mean that everyone is ready in the beginning to face the challenges that come with that type of hustle and honesty, especially with ourselves. Especially when you’re being challenged at every turn.

But here’s my advice on how to shift that perspective: it’s no coincidence that the work you do  moves the needle of change. Be the best version of you, especially because everyday you step outside your door, you’re fighting a war. So yes, it’s going to be hard, but it’s also going to be worth it. Camelback provides that space for you to build something great. It’s up to you to take advantage of everything that’s possible -- obstinance and ego have no place here. Though your business starts with you, it doesn’t end with you. It’s not just about the one. It’s about the many coming together as one. Your business is the conduit for something greater than you. And that’s how as a people we move in unity, to make real change happen on a wide scale.

That’s what you - as an applicant and perhaps some day as a Fellow - will be a part of building. Building beyond what your eyes can see, beyond what you’ve been told is possible. With the right resources, you’re armed with knowledge. With a tight knit group of people working toward same thing, you move in power. Together. Faith without works is dead.

Lisa with other 2018 Camelback Startup Coaches and team at the Showcase where she led as the evening’s MC

Lisa Atia was a 2018 Camelback Startup Coach, and has worked with Blavity, Backstage Capital, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, and and the Propeller Incubator in New Orleans.