In 2009, just one year after earning her master’s degree from Louisiana State University, Sevetri M. Wilson founded Solid Ground Innovations (SGI), a strategic communications firm that helps corporations, government entities, nonprofits and private foundations grow their presence through advertising, branding and media.
She later recognized that her nonprofit clients were experiencing a unique set of challenges, so she set out to cater to their specific needs. Enter ExemptMeNow, Wilson’s tech start-up, which aids nonprofits in filing the paperwork necessary to obtain 501(c)(3) status. Here’s how she did it.
ESSENCE: Early on in your career, you decided to become an entrepreneur. What motivated you to go into business for yourself?
Sevetri M. Wilson: I was doing some independent consulting when I realized that there was never going to be a job that was a perfect fit for me, whether it was in corporate America or in the nonprofit sector. In many ways I was able to create and define my own path by establishing my own company. I’ve always been an entrepreneur at heart, and the right opportunities and right timing led me into the space.
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ESSENCE: You had already built a profitable business with SGI by the time you launched ExemptMeNow. What made you venture into a new territory?
Wilson: When I started SGI, we were assisting nonprofits and private foundations by providing services such as public relations, branding, Web development and program management. We would also help organizations get incorporated, obtain their TIN [taxpayer identification number] and begin the very long process of becoming tax exempt by filling out a 1023 form for the IRS. A lot of times nonprofits will fill out paperwork improperly, and we just saw the myriad problems. ExemptMeNow is an A through Z service in which we prep and file, and reduce the time it takes to set up a charitable organization from 101 hours to under 10. There’s also an educational portion of ExemptMeNow—we really want nonprofit leaders to understand what they’re doing and why it’s important.
ESSENCE: How has the company grown since its inception in 2016?
Wilson: We have been growing month to month, roughly about 25 percent, so we’re doing very well. Recently I was reading a report on Black women who were raising money for their businesses. Last year, of all the billions of dollars of seed money given, only 11 Black women had raised a million dollars or more. We’re currently on track to join that group, so we’ll be pushing the momentum here over the next few months. We’re trying to steadily up our numbers from a 25 percent revenue increase to a 30 and 40 and so on. We’re hiring, and building up our staff to handle that increase as well.
ESSENCE: How do you balance being the CEO of both SGI and ExemptMeNow?
Wilson: I recently brought on a managing partner for
SGI and that has allowed me to take a few steps back from that company and focus more on ExemptMeNow. At SGI, I am a visionary leader and I come to that role from mostly a business development standpoint. I often think back to something that Oprah says: “The way through the challenge is to get still and ask yourself, What is the next right move? and then make the next move, the next right move.” So I try to do better for me. That was being able to put more energy and more time into ExemptMeNow. I’ve always believed that you can do good and make money too.
This feature originally appeared in the August 2017 Issue of ESSENCE Magazine.