Candace Klein: Paying It Forward

August 28, 2012

3:00 pm

“My life story is going to be a made-for-TV movie,” jokes Candace Klein.

The plot would go something like this: With a little luck and a lot of persistence, a girl with modest roots overcomes cancer and goes on to change the world by helping women like herself.

Klein, one of five children, lived in a trailer park on welfare until age five. With her acceptance to Northern Kentucky University, she was the first in her family to go to college. One of her whopping four majors was political science, and she vowed to run for governor of Ohio in 2027. In fact, she held a press conference to that effect during her junior year (only one reporter attended).

Candace Klein, who never takes no for an answer

Before she could make it to law school, Klein was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The savings that was intended for tuition went toward doctor fees, and the door toward becoming a lawyer seemed closed. But as usual, she hacked out another makeshift door: she persuaded Alice Sparks, who worked with Northern Kentucky University, to pay for some of her law school tuition.

“I am a very blessed person,” says Klein, who was inspired by her mother’s hard work. “I feel like I have had every possible blessing that a child born with little could have, and I feel an inherent responsibility to create those same kinds of opportunities for other people.”

Sparks didn’t ask to be paid back; instead, she urged Klein to invest in women. When Klein, as a lawyer, saw women-owned businesses struggling to get loans, she saw her opportunity. She started Bad Girl Ventures, which offers micro-loans to female-owned businesses in the Greater Ohio region along with a 2-month financial education course.

Being an entrepreneur turned out to be way more challenging than being a lawyer. “Being an entrepreneur is such a lonely, lonely process,” recalls Klein. She would work at home, propped up in bed with a laptop and sometimes forgetting to shower for three or four days. “What I lost, when I was doing that, was all social grace. I lost touch with reality and with my world that I had before starting my business.”

When Bad Girl Ventures’ first employee got tired of working from Klein’s kitchen table, she finally relented and got an office. Now, the company has three offices throughout Ohio, and is opening a fourth soon.

Bad Girl Ventures can’t fund everyone, so Klein has added another project to her plate: SoMoLend, which helps startups and small businesses get funding from individuals. When Klein realized that this concept – regular people lending to businesses for a small return – was illegal, she headed down to Washington to carve out another door. She spent a sweltering DC summer at the GAO working with other entrepreneurs on the JOBS Act, and she proudly claims to be the author of 38 words in it. Until the JOBS Act goes into effect, SoMoLend is holding a competition where businesses can win cash grants to pursue their ideas.

Needless to say, Klein’s plate is pretty full now:

“I always joke that I’m going to write a book someday, and one of my chapters is going to be ‘From Socialite to Traveling Hermit.’ Because I feel like all I’m ever doing is working on my business – from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to bed every single day, and even in my sleep I’m calculating things tied to my business. It’s really difficult to maintain relationships; I feel like a bad daughter and a bad sister and a bad friend and a bad girlfriend.”

She adds, “People joke about work life balance. Oh hell no.”

But to her, it’s all worth it.

“I wake up every day on fire,” she says. “I feel like this is my ministry. This is what I am supposed to be doing in this world. And I don’t know how to be anything but excited about that.”

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Kira M. Newman is a Tech Cocktail writer interested in the harsh reality of entrepreneurship, work-life balance, and psychology. She is the founder of The Year of Happy and has been traveling around the world interviewing entrepreneurs in Asia, Europe, and North America since 2011. Follow her @kiramnewman or contact [email protected]

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