Melissa Ice has a passion for people, and it shows in everything she does. From figuring out ways to lead young adults through service or finding innovative ways to employ and empower people who have been human trafficked in Fort Worth, building relationships has always been at the core of her work.
“It’s funny to think back on how it started because it was sort of just us trying to humanize the people that we were serving initially. I was on staff at a church in Fort Worth at the time as a Mission Director. And I had a group of TCU students and we were just committed to serving people in our city that were in poverty. And we did that locally. So, in Fort Worth and then globally by going overseas several times.”
When starting a business, sometimes it is hard to find the “need” in the market. Ice saw a need to help those in poverty, but didn’t want to help those in need as “charity cases.” Instead, she wanted to build lasting relationships.
“I think the thing that I started noticing when I was interacting with the people that we were serving is that Fort Worth is a great place to have your material needs met. And I saw that happening. And at the same time, I also recognized that I felt like the people I was interacting with just had a need for community and relationship…And we weren’t just giving them stuff because, if you’re on Lancaster or you’re spending time with people on the streets or in poverty, you see the people show up with the stuff and then leave. And then you see the people who are in poverty go inside the building of the nonprofit organization that provides that material relief and they get the stuff and then they leave. It just felt a little transactional. So, we just started having breakfast on Friday mornings with people who were homeless. And because I think the thing that I was trying to alleviate in their lives, which I didn’t know at the time, was just their relational poverty, which is equally as important.”
Ice saw building relationships as the solution to solving relational poverty and an idea was formed to start her non-profit called The Net.
“Something that we’ve been saying at The Net for a long time is about the disparities between “the haves and the have nots.” And it feels a little weird being someone who kind of dabbles in both those worlds and kind of has to ping pong back and forth between being in really close proximity to people who have just been handed a really awful lot in life, whether that’s because they grew up in a certain zip code or because their family dynamics were extremely broken since they were young. And then to me, if you add on the color of their skin, there’s just an even bigger disparity.”
Being aware of the “haves and have nots” allowed Ice to see the differences between individual situations and be able to identify where she could specifically help people in every relationship.
“We’re going to employ the people that other people seem unwilling to employ because of their trauma, their background, criminal record, etc. And then we also are going to be a 100% give-back model, where we don’t keep any profit. We just give all the money back to the services that we provide for our employees and use all of the profit to continue to employ people.”
Taking a leap of faith is what innovation is all about. Doing what has never been done before and trying something new is how we explore better ways of doing things. And for Ice, making sure people had a job, an income and could provide for their families was of utmost importance.
“What I love about Fort Worth is that once you do raise your voice, people do start to listen. And at the same time, there is not this dog eat dog world kind of vibe in Fort Worth. And if anything, you feel supported, you feel heard. And for The Net’s purposes, you feel seen, known, and loved.”
It is important to have a strong support group when starting a business. One of Melissa’s biggest supporters is her husband and fellow entrepreneur, Jamey Ice. Starting a business is one of the hardest things people do in their lives, but Ice says it is worth it in the end. Having people who are innovative and supportive to help you along your journey has been one of the main keys to her success.
“I would say initially we’re both very involved in each other’s things, and I think it’s because we know how hard the beginning of starting anything is. And you have to have a supportive spouse if you start anything because it’s just a grueling process to start something from scratch from the ground up. But at the same time, I think what’s fun is that we are both, you know, sharing ideas with each other.”
“…Starting things is not for the faint of heart. And if you’re fixed on failure, then you will definitely give up before it’s even begun. And so, I think that we learned to have a really good, healthy relationship with failure and neither one of us let it get us down because we would encourage each other.”
Believing in your own idea, purpose, or product is ESSENTIAL to getting your business off the ground. Failure is inevitable but shouldn’t hold you back. See those opportunities as a time to reflect, grow, and try something new in your business and always make sure you have an adequate support system in place to help you survive the roller coaster ride of startup life.
Click here to listen to the full podcast of Melissa Ice. Interested in another Innovator’s story? Check out the post on Kari Crowe-Seher of Melt Ice Creams who’s mission is to ‘Serve Happy Ice Cream’. You can’t go wrong with that!