Paris Woods, 33, began her career as an admissions officer at Harvard University and later as a financial aid officer and first-year adviser. After completing a fellowship, Paris relocated to New Orleans to serve as the Founding Director of Alumni Support for New Orleans College Prep Academies. Paris’ work at NOCP built the foundation for the work of College Beyond.” In 2015, Paris founded College Beyond, a program that combats the enormous challenges low-income students face in transitioning to college.
Q: How did you get started? Tell us your motivation for starting this business.
A: Our founding team is comprised of the former staff of New Orleans College Prep and we endeavored to fill the significant gap we witnessed in support for low-income, first-generation students. Most programs are small and selective, excluding the majority of our students. We believe that every student who has earned college admission deserves the support they need to succeed (true access), and at scale, College Beyond is the open-enrollment citywide solution that every student can access. I am a first-generation college graduate myself, and the opportunity to attend college was an important pathway out of poverty. I was fortunate to attend well-resourced institutions. My college advisor lived across the hall from me, and I succeeded through student-centered policies and high-quality support. This additional level of support is what College Beyond provides to students who need it most.
Q: As an African American/Black entrepreneur, what were some of the biggest challenges and/or surprised you faced when starting your business?
A: I have spent my entire career in education, serving students, and this is where I have felt most comfortable and confident. The biggest challenge in transitioning to this current role has been the need to learn completely new skills, like sales, marketing, financial management, operations, and other business functions. I have viewed these new challenges with a growth mindset, just as we ask our students to do during the tough transition to college life.
Q: New Orleans is such a “robust” entrepreneurial ecosystem. What are the resources (people, networks, organizations, programs, books, articles, etc.) that you have found most useful in starting and/or growing your business?
A: I have benefited greatly from entrepreneurial communities like 4.0 Schools and Propeller. These organizations have served as a source of technical support and encouragement, and I enjoy giving back as a coach to new entrepreneurs. I have also found the professional development opportunities through the Greater New Orleans Foundation to be beneficial as a new Executive Director.
Q: What are you most proud of (related to your business)?
A: College Beyond was recently selected as one of six recipients of a national grant through Education Leaders of Color to provide financial barrier reducing incentives to all of our participants (including books, transportation, and food). I am proud to see our work receive national recognition and to be able to provide valuable resources to the students who need it most.
Q: What advice do you have to fellow African American/Black entrepreneurs starting a business?
A: Consider the differences between starting a for-profit vs. a non-profit, build a strong team of supporters who bring different connections and strengths to the organization, get advising and support from others who have walked the path, and stay balanced to avoid burnout.
LinkedIn: Paris Woods
Address: 3520 Dryades Street, New Orleans, LA 70115