By Holly Gaskill
Chris Lesner, founder and CEO of Project World Impact (PWI), spoke to Taylor students on Oct. 29 about his business experience as a Taylor University student and starting a nonprofit organization.
Lesner opened his guest speaking by talking about his entrepreneurial journey. In his first year at Taylor, Lesner started three different businesses. Although all eventually ended, each provided experience for Lesner to begin Think First Marketing out of his dorm room.
Think First Marketing partnered with Taylor alumni who owned businesses in need of digital marketing and branding. According to Lesner, he had an annual income of $100,000 as a college student with this marketing business.
Although Lesner was happy with his success, he felt called elsewhere. His business mentor, Wess Stafford of Compassion International, challenged him to use his talents to give back to the world. Lesner passed on Stafford's challenge for him to the Taylor students in the audience.
"What if you could use your marketing skills to impact the kingdom and lead people to Jesus, instead of making all this money and instead of making money for all these companies?" Lesner said.
After being challenged with this, Lesner went on to start PWI in 2010. Through its website, PWI connects its users to a nonprofit organization based upon causes and locations they have interest in.
For its first three years, PWI was only surviving financially through a side marketing firm. Also during this time, PWI had failed attempts at launching its website. Lesner shared his mindset at the time as an encouragement for students to chase their business and non-profit ideas.
"And I was thinking that worst case scenario, everything goes absolutely crap and I move back in with my parents," Lesner said. "It wasn't going to be the end of the world. Most of my friends were moving back in with their parents anyways. Best case scenario, we were going to lead people to Jesus."
According to the PWI website, over five million people a year use the website to view its 2,000 registered nonprofit organizations. The website has also recently launched PWI Swipe, which lets its users donate their change up to the nearest dollar on any website purchase.
"A lot of people have the notion that starting a business is fun and easy, but Chris brought to light how hard it truly is to start a business out of nothing, but at the same time, how rewarding it is because of how hard it was," senior Shane Livingston said.
Lesner closed his presentation with an encouragement to students from Isaiah 45:2a (NLT), "I will go before you and will level the mountains."