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How One of the Most Powerful Women in the NBA Became a Food Entrepreneur

No matter what court or industry you’re playing in, you’re not meant to sit on the bench.

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BY Wanda Thibodeaux - 29 Aug 2017

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The National Basketball Association might not feel much like a business as you watch players fake out the defense or score on rainbow shots, but make no mistake. Partnerships, branding, sales--it's all there. As the NBA's former Vice President of Marketing for over a decade, Saskia Sorrosa saw that firsthand. She credits her experience with the association for getting her ready to found and grow her own baby food business, Fresh Bellies.

 

"My role at the NBA was [...] very entrepreneurial," Sorrosa told me, "so learning to think like an owner, be proactive, be persistent and be resourceful were all skills I learned then and apply now to my business."

 

Sorrosa shared these top lessons she internalized from being one of the most powerful influencers of her industry.

 

1. Stay true to you.

 

"I saw the NBA face many tough decisions throughout the years," Sorrosa says, "and even when it meant taking a financial loss, they always did the right thing. As an employee, seeing this type of commitment was inspiring and empowering. It made me feel good about where I worked and about the work I was doing. Fast forward 11 years and that inspiration has helped shaped my vision for the type of business I want to build. I believe in the importance of running a business with purpose and having an unwavering commitment to doing the right thing, even when faced with adversity."

 

2. Tap the power of we.

 

"Regardless of how good you are at your job, there are limitations to how far you can go on your own," Sorrosa asserts. "[...] The more people you have supporting your goals and driving your mission, the louder your collective voice and the stronger your business. Decisions are risky when made by one person, but generally more reliable when made with the input and buy-in from a team. This holds true in the world of entrepreneurship. Leverage the strength of those around you. Allow them to complement your skills, and work together to build a stronger business. Alone, you might not have the answers. But together, you [often can] find brilliant solutions."

 

 

3. Your voice and unique perspective have power and value, even when you are the minority.

 

"I had to work hard to become an influential voice within a traditional, [predominantly male environment and] corporate structure when I was at the NBA. [...] The food industry is also dominated by men [...]. I haven't let that stop me, and instead pull from my previous experience to establish my own rules and differentiate myself in a crowded industry. [...] No man can challenge my experiences as a mom, a Latina and a working professional [who] is both. I embrace all of it and I use it to build bridges instead of walls. Along the way, I have realized I am heard and respected not for who I am but for what I bring to the table. And what I bring is ALL of my Latina self."

 

4. Focus on research, not [me]search.

 

"While at the NBA," Sorrosa explains, "I learned early that telling our senior executives my idea was good simply because I thought it was good, was not good enough. If I couldn't back it up with research and stats, then I had to go back to the drawing board. [...] I always told myself: Focus on the research, not the [me]search.

 

"[When founding Fresh Bellies], I had to understand how an entire industry had shaped our eating habits over the years and dig deep into the scientific evidence of how humans learn to eat to find a credible solution. I devoured medical journals, books and an overwhelming amount of studies about how we learn to eat and the critical components to building healthy habits. This knowledge allowed me to turn my idea into a business that addressed issues never before addressed by an entire industry. Having the data to back it up has given me credibility in a way that my story alone never could."

 

Applying the advice

 

Sorrosa admits that entrepreneurship is a lifelong journey and that she personally has had a steep learning curve over the last few years. She also knows applying these lessons isn't a smooth cakewalk. But she has two pointers that can make the task a little easier:

 

"[Have] a 'north'. Where are you headed? What type of business do you want to run? What problem(s) do you want to solve? Through setbacks and hurdles, you have to remember your purpose and what got you started in the first place. Once you've answered those questions, everything you build from that point on should fuel that vision. Always go back to those questions, [to your core], to build your business and face difficult decisions.

 

"[Secondly,] team up with experts who complement your strengths, supplement your background and make you better. [...] Look to others who have gone before you and learn from their experiences, their successes as well as their setbacks. Make it your goal to be brilliant as a team and not an individual. Be honest with yourself, accept what you don't know and leverage your strengths."

 

What's all this sound like, summarized into a single motivating sentence?

 

"Listen to feedback, be open to change, leverage your strength, accept your limitations, be persistent and never lose sight of your vision."

 

I think I heard a swish.