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Banking on KC – Aviva Ajmera

 

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Aviva Ajmera of SoLVE KC: Growing Businesses, Growing Community

Banking on KC

Presented by Country Club Bank

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host, Kelly Scanlon. With us on this episode is Aviva Ajmera, the founder and CEO of SoLVE KC, a company that inspires new thinking in growing businesses. Welcome, Aviva.

Aviva Ajmera:

Thank You so much, Kelly. I'm so excited to chat with you today.

Kelly Scanlon:

When I think about what you do, Aviva, one of the things that really resonates with me is the ways in which I see you working throughout the community, empowering other women business owners. I mean, you're a successful woman business owner in your own right. And yet you take the time as your business is really growing, as I know it is, to help other women business owners attain success. Talk with us about some of the work that you're doing on behalf of women entrepreneurs in Kansas City.

Aviva Ajmera:

I don't know that I deliberately went about doing that. I think it was just a path that I found that really resonated with me. I would say the first time I really felt like I was able to use my experiences and skills and kind of built-up knowledge was when I joined the Women's Capital Connection. And I've been a member now eight or nine years. It's an all-women angel investing group, one of the first ones in the country. And it's been around 13 years. And what really appealed to me was it was successful women investing in women entrepreneurs. And there's so much you can unpack about women entrepreneurs that are looking for capital, but it was a very validating stage in life to say, "Wow, I'm successful enough that I can invest in other women entrepreneurs to help them be more successful."

Kelly Scanlon:

Yes. And I know you've done a number of deals. You've also been the board chair.

Aviva Ajmera:

I have. And really, it was just very organic and a very natural fit. So one of the aspects that SoLVE KC specializes in is strategic planning, and I helped create their first-ever strategic plan when I was on the executive committee. And it was just a very natural path to become board chair. It's normally a one-year term. And I actually did it for three years, mostly because we were creating a lot of new ways to do things like due diligence for companies that were pitching to us and just getting structure around how we as a group wanted to be more impactful, and the opportunity to build a plan and then implement it, and see how it was going, and then adjust it, it's just something that's in my DNA. I like seeing things to fruition. And it was just a really fun experience for me.

Kelly Scanlon:

Why is it so important for women to have other successful women as role models?

Aviva Ajmera:

Yeah. It's interesting. When I was growing up... So I'm the daughter of two immigrant parents. They migrated from India in the early '60s and they didn't have role models for what they were doing. They came here. My dad came here to get his master's, and they always thought they would go back to India and join the family business. And instead, they were the first two in both of their families to decide to build a life here in the United States. And I found as I was growing up an Indian girl in a non-traditional Indian environment, I didn't really have role models, and it was something I was always seeking. And as I see now, my daughter, who's 20 years old, her life is totally different. She has so many tremendous women role models for all aspects of her life. And I feel like by having successful women be our role models...

Aviva Ajmera:

And sometimes they can be your friends and be your role models. They inspire you. They guide you. I think it helps us believe it can be done, whatever it happens to be. I heard a great quote this morning and it was, "Life isn't a straight line." And I think when we're little, oftentimes our families have this path that they create for us. And we think we're supposed to go down this straight-line path and check off all the boxes. And the reality is, as you grow, you figure out what's right for you, what feels like it's a good fit, and what might not feel so right. And I think role models help us see that new paths are okay. And not only okay, they're a part of life.

Kelly Scanlon:

You spend so much of your time helping others, mentoring other women. You're a successful woman business owner yourself. So let's talk about your entrepreneurial journey. You mentioned that two immigrant parents, they made a life here. What took you down the path to entrepreneurship? Why did you decide to pursue that path? You had corporate experience too, but then you leaped off and you took that risk.

Aviva Ajmera:

Very much back to life is not a straight line. I did not ever think I would be an entrepreneur. I never had this burning passion to own my own business. And it just kind of evolved into something. I worked for two different consulting firms, Accenture and the partnering group. I worked for Hallmark Cards for 15 years. And I gained a lot of skills, and I loved the work, but being a consultant for an international consulting firm, which is what I did before I founded SoLVE, is a hard life. And I had a little girl that was in middle school, and she was growing up, and I was traveling 80% of the time. And a friend said to me, "Why can't you do all those things that you do for all these other companies across North America, for companies in Kansas City?"

Aviva Ajmera:

And I had to just pause and think on that. And I was like, "Wow. Well, that's a really interesting idea." And so then we went about what I help my clients do, went about thinking about what competition is in the marketplace, what can the marketplace withstand, what needs are there, can I meet those needs, what price points I could choose. All of that, really, creating a business from scratch. What I loved about it was the fact that I would get to choose what clients I was working with. I wasn't traveling all the time because the center point of the focus was Kansas City companies. And the third part continues to be the most rewarding part, which is I get to help Kansas City companies grow. And Kansas City is the community that I live in. So there's this one plus one equals three pride factor in knowing that through the work I'm doing, I'm helping the Kansas City community.

Kelly Scanlon:

SoLVE KC. Your tagline, I just love it. A new approach to growing your business. What is that approach? How is it different than others?

Aviva Ajmera:

Well, in the past, I believe most companies felt they had to full-time hire all the talent they needed for their company. And what I learned through all my years in corporate, where we hired outside consultants and then being a consultant, was that's just not true. You don't need to own every single skill set because sometimes you need them, sometimes you don't. Sometimes you can get better work out of somebody who's a subject matter expert and they work with a lot of companies, and they can bring all that expertise to you.

Aviva Ajmera:

So from that standpoint, what we try to do when we work with clients, we find out what their needs are, we find out what their internal expertise is, and then we talk about where that gap is. And is that gap something that we specialize in, something we can help them with? And if it is, we usually end up working together.

Kelly Scanlon:

We've been talking about how you help other companies grow their businesses or other business owners grow their businesses. What resources have helped you grow your business, Aviva?

Aviva Ajmera:

Well, first and foremost, I would say my network. So my professional network of friends and mentors, other business people, et cetera. The second unexpected resource to help grow the business is actually our clients. I never imagined that our clients would be our number one resource for getting new clients. And in all fairness... And my husband isn't even here, so he can't overhear me saying this. My husband was a tremendous resource and continues to be. He's a very courageous, bold guy. And when I was debating on if I could handle being an entrepreneur when you don't have a guaranteed paycheck, he literally said to me, "What's the worst that can happen?" And it was such a liberating way to think about potential and to think about dreaming really big and not feeling like you had to follow that straight line and had to just do the predictable, conservative route in your career path, in earning a living, and helping to provide for your family.

Kelly Scanlon:

You talked so enthusiastically a few minutes ago about the joy it brings you to help raise up Kansas City companies, to help them be the best companies that they can be. But you also give back to the community of your time and talent in other ways, the nonprofit world and through your volunteerism. Why is it so important to make a social impact? Why do you find that so important?

Aviva Ajmera:

It's such an interesting question because I think if you had asked me that 20 years ago, I don't know that I would've had a very good answer. Giving back to the community, philanthropy, community service, it's something I've seen in my family since my grandfather. And I didn't grow up in Kansas City. I grew up in Upstate New York. I've lived in Fort Worth, Houston, Minneapolis, Chicago. But I've been in Kansas City now 27 years. So the overwhelming majority of my life.

Aviva Ajmera:

And the reason it's so important to me, it kind of goes back to SoLVE in the sense that it's the community that we live in. And as we get busier and busier in our lives and our lives are so full with all the different roles that we play, I realized a few years ago that you know what? An hour is an hour, and how you choose to spend that hour is so important. And I've always been about wanting to make a difference and wanting to have an impact. So I intentionally carve out time in my week, in my month, to be on nonprofit boards, to help organizations. I might not even be on their board, but their mission and their cause is so important to our community that I want to try to help them in any way that I can help them.

Kelly Scanlon:

How do you go about deciding which organizations to support? I know that that's something that some entrepreneurs have talked to me about before. It's like, "Man, there are so many ways. I don't even know how to begin to decide where I'm going to spend my time."

Aviva Ajmera:

Well, it's so personal, right? I mean, it's so hard to say no to people, especially when it's a cause that's really important... they're a friend, and it's really important to them as a person, but it might not be something that personally resonates with you. So I do it two different ways. I mean, there are the boards that I'm on, and they all play a different place in what's important to me. So I'm on the ballet board, the Starlight board, the Women's Employment Network, and then Children International.

Aviva Ajmera:

The other way that I do that is through SoLVE. So every year we ask our clients, "What cause is most important to you?" And we write a check from SoLVE to help support that organization. So that is a way that we give back to the community. We show our clients that we value their business and we want to support something that's important to them, but it also allows us as a company to help our community. So it's a little bit different on our business level versus my personal decisions.

Kelly Scanlon:

You talked about having that impact and having that influence. And I think that sometimes, entrepreneurs underestimate the influence they have. It may not always be in numerous boards that you're on, but you're influencing an employee or staff member's life through the job they're working at. Your business itself may be influencing the community, maybe innovating in a certain way. When did you first realize that you had that kind of influence?

Aviva Ajmera:

I think I first realized it, but I didn't know what to do with it yet. All the way back when I was in grad school, so about 25 to 27 years old, I was in two really cool classes. One was around organizational behavior and one was a leadership class where we did a lot of crisis simulation.

Aviva Ajmera:

And I remember my professors, different professors for each of those classes commenting about... They called me a harmonizer and they talked about how I listened to the different stakeholders. And my goal was to kind of diffuse a heated situation and try to bring harmony and bring people to the middle. I didn't know really what to do with that skill, to be honest with you. But then as I started growing up in my career at Hallmark and I became a leader and I was on special task forces and different types of roles where I was working across the company, so not only with my own team with my peers, but even above me, so with the corporate officers, I realized that those listening and harmonizing skills, I was able to create a difference. And I was able to have influence to kind of bring people that had very different points of view to a place where they could both be comfortable and we could solve the issue or the problem at hand.

Aviva Ajmera:

Obviously, that extends into consulting because a lot of times you're working through things within an organization and there's conflict and really strong, different points of view. But then I also actually realized it again most recently, four years ago, when I was honored to get the women Women Who Mean Business award here in Kansas City. And I realized the power of a female network of friends and the fact that we all support each other so much. And when there's something that we really believe in, we rally to support one another in whatever way we're capable of doing it. And just because something is important to me, it's all about, again, just having the courage to ask, to say, "Would you be willing to support this tremendous organization, XYZ?"

Kelly Scanlon:

What has being a business owner taught you about yourself that maybe you didn't even realize before that you didn't know about yourself?

Aviva Ajmera:

It's definitely taught me to have more courage, which I think I told you, I am a naturally risk-averse person. People don't realize that, but I think about things 1,000 times if I've never done it before, before I actually take the leap. And I think being a business owner and an entrepreneur, you rapid cycle through that because you're in that position a lot.

Aviva Ajmera:

It gave me even more confidence that the skills and the experiences and the network that I have can work together so beautifully to make a positive difference in our community. And then I think the other thing, which is a good life lesson no matter how old you are and what stage of life. I try to teach my daughter this all the time. You don't have to have all the answers. It's really okay to reach out to people and say, "I'm struggling with X, Y, Z," or, "I want to learn a little bit more about, A, B, C," or, "I'm thinking about this and that. Do you have any experience in that? And what are your thoughts in that?"

Aviva Ajmera:

And it's such an actually inspiring way to go about either solving a problem or trying to get support for something or embarking on something new because we all have a different collection of experiences. And part of being a business owner is really just having the courage to say, "You know what? I have to learn how to adapt my company and how to be resilient and how to ebb and flow with what the needs are in the marketplace."

Kelly Scanlon:

You serve a diverse group of industries. You don't specialize in any one particular area. So you have a front-row seat to many innovative ideas. And you help your clients work through those. Is there an industry that excites you most? And what changes do you see pushing business in new, exciting directions, especially here in Kansas City?

Aviva Ajmera:

Yeah. So there are some common themes that I see with my clients. And you're right. I work with for-profit clients, nonprofit clients across all industries, and I love it. So one is more of a dynamic that I see, which is the power of partnerships, organizations being able to partner with other organizations to kind of have that amplifying effect when it comes to the difference that they can make. The other is really technology. And I'm seeing technology pop up in so many different ways. The most frequent enabler for going back to Women's Capital Connection, the entrepreneurs that are seeking capital, its technology applied to many, many different industries. It could be AI. It could be to enable efficiency in a really tedious, intensive process. And I'm seeing it literally in every single industry: customer service, agriculture, consumer products, B2B, medicine, animals, everything. Technology's going to be this... It is a super enabler.

Kelly Scanlon:

Aviva, you have done so much, and we appreciate you sharing that with us today. Thank you so much for all that you're doing for the Kansas City community, both for the businesses and for the nonprofit community.

Aviva Ajmera:

Kelly, it's been really fun talking with you today.

Joe Close:

This is Joe Close, president of Country Club Bank. Thank you to Aviva Ajmera for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC. Aviva's company, SoLVE KC, inspires new thinking in growing businesses. Aviva herself encourages new thinking and boundary-stretching from the women entrepreneurs she mentors and the nonprofit organizations she volunteers to serve. "There's a one plus one equals three pride factor in knowing that through the work I'm doing, I'm helping the Kansas City community," she says. Country Club Bank shares Aviva's passion for helping Kansas City companies and Kansas City itself grow. Come see us to discuss how we can help you take your company to the next level. Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

 

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