Alumna Entrepreneur Returns to Volunteer and Give Back to the IEC

Written by Tessara Smith
August 14, 2020

Sarah Haggard is the founder and CEO of Tribute, a Seattle-based digital mentorship platform. She also graduated with her MBA in 2011 and is a proud alumna of Seattle University. You may have first heard of the app Tribute when we told you all about the student entrepreneurs who started Up&Up. We were able to steal a few moments of this former Redhawk's time and get her two cents on being a coach for the Harriett Stephenson Business Plan Competition.

Q: What inspired you to become a coach for the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (IEC)?

S: Obviously, I am a big fan of mentorship. When Amelia reached out to me, I jumped at the opportunity to become a coach. I believe that having female representation matters, and I wanted to help young women realize that they can be successful.

Q: Tell me about your experience as a coach during the Harriet Stephenson Business Plan Competition (HSPBC)?

S: This past year was my second time coaching, and I loved working with Up&Up. I have done hundreds of pitches in demos, and I was able to give my mentees the tools they needed to succeed. I introduced Derek and Sharon to my network of business connections. My former colleague happens to be the director of OfferUp. Up&Up is a secondary marketplace for OfferUp because they don’t have a way to unload dead inventory. I helped Sharon and Derek realize that their business has potential in the real world. Together we made sure that Up&Up checked all the boxes and solidified that their business was a good idea.

Q: Why is the business plan competition helpful to students looking to pursue entrepreneurship?

S: Competing is a great experience for aspiring entrepreneurs. It gives them insight into their thinking and forces them to level up. Students get to compete with ideas that are more mature than their own. They have a chance to demonstrate the value and marketability of their plan. In most cases, an idea is not ready or commercially viable. But students can take the prize money and build a minimal viable product. Also, participating in a public competition teaches them a lot of soft skills. Students can learn how to communicate their pitches effectively.

Sarah Haggard Photoshoot

Q: Where did you first get the inspiration for your app Tribute?

S: Other companies in our industry keep trying to reinvent the wheel. I think finding a mentor should be as easy as calling an Uber. I wanted to create an app where mentorship could be a shorter commitment. Workers can use Tribute to access a variety of mentors, have one to three meetings, and move on. Our mission is to redefine mentorship for the future of work.

Q: How were you able to finance Tribute?

S: We sell an annual subscription. Up until now, we have been a customer-funded enterprise, but Tribute just closed its first round of institutional capital.

Q: Before founding Tribute, what were your previous jobs?

S: I decided to get an MBA, not because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, but because I wanted to be a full-time job project manager at Microsoft. I spent my 20s making as much money and gaining as many corporate experiences as possible. My priority was winning money, influence, and power. Starting my own business was a bit of an accident. I woke up at 34 and realized that I wanted to make an impact in the world. I had done it all. It was time for me to pursue my passion. After one of my most successful 18 months stints at Microsoft, I was ready to leave the corporate world. Mentorship has always been an essential part of my life and my true passion. I set out to make mentorship more enjoyable and impactful. Over 2 ½ years, I launched my business and raised a million dollars.

Q: What has been your biggest lesson learned to start a business?

S: Don't fear failure. The pursuit of perfection is a trap, and it will not serve you well. Entrepreneurship is a different playbook. It is about personal development, humility, and doing things one step at a time. I realized that I don't have to have it all figured out, and I can pivot to get back up and keep growing. When you are the CEO, your ability to be resilient and have integrity in everything you do will make or break your career. The CEO role is taxing, and you have to be resilient because you will get knocked down so often. Even if Tribute ends up closing its doors, I will be proud that I gave it my all. But I had to get comfortable failing. You can't anticipate all things on this journey; you have to duck and roll with it.

Q: Do you think you will start more companies?

Definitely! Yes! I already have ideas for my next two businesses. I want to reimagine retirement for Millennials, Generation X, and Generation Z. I also want to start a company that sells non-alcoholic wine that doesn’t taste like crap. Looking to the future, I want to make enough money doing Tribute and my other side gigs, so I can continue to do the things I love to do.

Q: Tell me more about yourself?

S: I grew up in Chicago. I went to Augustana College for my undergraduate degree in anthropology. My first job out of college was working at Enterprise-Rent-A-Car. This experience ended up being valuable because I learned how to run all areas of operations. I moved to Seattle when I was 24 and started working for Microsoft because I was interested in project management. I started a part-time evening MBA program when I was 25 and graduated when I was 27. Surprisingly, my undergraduate degree in anthropology and my MBA have converged nicely together.

Q: What did you enjoy about earning your MBA degree at Seattle University?

S: I loved the Harvard curriculum that we studied. I loved the team leadership and the soft skill development classes. Being able to go to school and dedicate time to my personal life is something that I miss. Unfortunately, I didn’t participate in the business plan competitions as a student because I had no idea they existed.

Sarah believes that we are all more than our titles and credentials. We look forward to watching Tribute revolutionize mentorship. Students can reach out to the IEC any time to connect with Sarah Haggard and other coaches for the business plan competitions. The journey to becoming an entrepreneur is not always easy or straightforward, but the only way to find out if you are cut out for it is to try. We are proud to support students on their journey to unlocking their entrepreneurial potential.