Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Robyn Benincasa, Founder of The Project Athena Foundation, located in Scottsdale, AZ, USA.

What's your organization, and who are your members?

I run a 501c3 non-profit called The Project Athena Foundation. At Project Athena, my past ultra-endurance adventure racing friends and I help Survivors of medical or traumatic setbacks train for and complete an adventurous dream as part of their recovery!

In other words, we turn life’s setbacks into huge comebacks through adventures like hiking across the Grand Canyon and back in 2 days, hiking 50 miles through the vortexes of Sedona, traversing all of Zion National Park in 2 days, and kayaking and cycling from Key largo to Key West in 3 days. And we not only take female and male survivors on our adventures for free (they apply for a grant through our website), but we also take Fundraising Gods and Goddesses who train for and complete the adventures right alongside the Survivors as one big team!

Tell us about yourself

I’m a recently retired San Diego Firefighter, a World Champion Adventure Racer, a New York Times Bestselling Author (How Winning Works), a CNN Hero, owner of 2 metal hips, and proud mom to one very NON-adventurous love bug, my rescue pup, Valentine. I'm motivated and inspired to get up every single day and inspire people to have huge hairy goals and build world-class teams to accomplish them! You can find my story here!

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

I'm an entrepreneur at heart, although I also had the economic safety of being a San Diego City Firefighter for 23 years. Honestly, it was nice to have a consistent paycheck while I worked on my own businesses on the side, and I recommend that to everyone if you can pull it off. Now I have two successful for-profit businesses, my corporate speaking, and teambuilding company and my short-term rental business, in addition to the 501c3 Project Athena Foundation.

They’re all strong and growing with a little bit of daily love and attention and some FANTASTIC TEAMMATES! My future plans include expanding my short-term rental business in Sedona, AZ, and starting an animal sanctuary on our land there, so we can rescue any animals that need a forever home and never-ending love.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

I think the hardest thing about being an entrepreneur is that it's tough to gauge, especially in the beginning, how much time and effort you should invest and whether there is going to be an actual return on that investment at some point. I sidestepped that by having a “real” job on the side, so my entrepreneurial businesses grew organically over time and without that pressure to produce immediate income.

I was “lucky” in that regard, but we all know that luck = opportunity + preparation :) I think the other interesting aspect of being a business owner is building your world-class team. I spent waaaaay too much time and energy trying to fit a round peg in a square hole teammate-wise. I always tried to give team members what they wanted, even if it was a detriment to the business and they weren’t really earning what they were asking for.

Now a more “experienced’ me is pretty sanguine about finding just the right people, paying them what they’re worth, and quickly letting go of the people who don’t have a passion for the mission that goes beyond “what’s in it for me.”

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Hire people with a passion for the mission, a whatever it takes attitude, and the desire to be a part of a team, first and foremost. Lots of skills can be taught. Drive, the desire to learn and grow, and a temperament that suits the team and your customers are the most important traits.
  2. This may be counter to what others are saying. But for me, it was less of a pressure to actually have a “sure thing” job for consistent income and then my entrepreneurial business ventures on the side, at least until they grew enough to support my team and me. It's a bit more work to keep all of those balls in the air, but I personally like to have multiple sources for growth and income potential and then have my choice of which is more interesting and/or productive when/if I need to decide to invest my time and effort into only one. I actually went 23 years having a full-time job, two for-profit companies, and a non-profit, but it was really due to the nature of the downtime on my fire job. I was always working in my room between calls. If you can find an opportunity like that, take it.
  3. Be honest about your own strengths and challenges. We’re all great at some things and horrible at others. Don’t try to do it all. Roll with your strengths and focus on them. Your strengths are what got you here. Outsource your weaknesses and challenge to other awesome people who have your challenge as their own strength. For example, I’m horrible with social media. So I have a guru. I also am not well versed in investing my money for my future goals and dreams, so I have a world-class financial advisory team. I stick to creating inspiration, branding, marketing, leading adventures, and dreaming big.

Is there anything else you'd like to share?

Come play with us on a Project Athena adventure! If you know a Survivor that we can help live their adventurous dream as part of their recovery, please have them apply at our website. Or if you’d like to not just take a hike but GIVE a hike (or multisport adventure) to yourself and really inspire Survivors on a cool adventure for a neat cause, you can register for one of our 2023 adventures at our website too! I lead all of the adventures, so I’ll see you out there!

Where can people find you and your business?



If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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