Intentionalist, Your Guide to Finding Local Small Businesses


Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to Laura Clise, the brains behind Intentionalist. I stumbled across Intentionalist through a variety of different Seattle business groups that I’m in; everybody seemed to be talking about it. In their own words, “Intentionalist is an online guide to intentional spending that supports small businesses and diverse local communities.” It’s so much more than a directory, though. Intentionalist is a community that’s making a huge impact in Seattle. And I think you need to know about it! Laura was kind enough to let me fan-girl over here and harass her with my questions. I’m stoked for you to meet her. I love Laura’s deep appreciate for her business, her perspective on small business, and her spirit. I’ve been lucky enough to meet her in person and she is SO much fun!

I've been following Intentionalist for a long time and LOVE your message! What inspired you to create this movement in our area?

Aww, thank you so much for your support and encouragement. Honestly, Intentionalist is the result of an instigating event (travel in SE Asia and wanting to support the local community/economy via my tourist $) that was followed by persistent nudges over the five years that followed. 

I was busy in my *day job* leading sustainability and corporate citizenship for a big company, but was continually confronted by how hard it is to "be intentional" about who benefits from the money that we spend. Corporations and governments have had supplier diversity programs in place for decades, through which they procure goods and services from small, minority-owned, veteran-owned, and women-owned businesses, but as an individual consumer, there didn't seem to be any resources that would enable me to do the same. 

As I have been processing the changes Seattle and other cities are wrestling with, it occurred to me that consumer spending is an underleveraged tool to support greater economic inclusion. With all of the growth and change in Seattle, small businesses (especially those owned by members of historically marginalized communities) are under greater pressure than ever to survive. The good news though is that there is an increasing number of people who are interested in supporting local, diverse businesses - the challenge is that it's incredibly difficult and time-consuming to figure out who and where they are.

Last year during black history month, I spent hours trying to identify black-owned restaurants and while I was ultimately able to discover and support a bunch of great businesses, I knew that there had to be a better way. 

Intentionalist is a resource that makes it easy for many of us to do something that we already want to do - learn about and support the people behind the small businesses that keep our communities vibrant and diverse.

What is your biggest joy in doing the work that you do? The thing that gets you the most excited?

Working on Intentionalist is truly a privilege. And on the days when being an early-stage entrepreneur is tough, I do my best to remember that fact.

I get most excited when we receive feedback from small business owners and users that Intentionalist is already making an impact - that we are succeeding in our mission to foster connection and community. Five minutes ago I received a text from a new acquaintance who visited a family-owned, LGBTQ-owned, minority-owned restaurant in her neighborhood on our recommendation and that she loved both meeting the people working there and enjoyed a delicious meal with her family. 

We create value when we are able to not only encourage people to check out new businesses, but offer them the opportunity to get to know the people behind them - when a transactional purchase becomes an "intentional" support for people and communities who matter.

I recently published a small business gift guide and got some angry messages about only highlighting small businesses owned by females. As somebody from a tech background, I'm all about the data. Do you have any good data on supporting small businesses, how much they make historically (I think you gave a great stat at FBomb!), etc. that you think the world needs to know? 

The reality is that more women are starting businesses than ever before (1,821 per day in the U.S.) That said, we know that women make less money than men (writ large), and that women-owned businesses have lower average revenue compared to those owned by men (in large part due to access to capital).

Intentionalist is overall an inclusive platform - community members (users) can suggest their favorite businesses, and if it's owned by a straight, white, cis, civilian man, we will still add it to our resource - because at the highest level, Intentionalist is about giving consumers the ability to know and chose who benefits from the money we spend. That said, our platform is explicitly oriented toward enabling consumers to find diverse-owned small businesses. The people who find Intentionalist most compelling are those who recognize that we as consumers can make a difference in effecting change when it comes to the economic inequality at the heart of so many issues in our society. 

Are there any trends in small business that you are excited about into 2019?

Fortunately, I think that there is a trend toward story-telling. This is in large part due to shifting consumer preferences/expectations. I believe that story-telling has the potential to powerfully cut through our addiction to convenience, because it allows us to connect on a deeper level and understand that there are people behind the storefronts that shape our communities. The challenge and opportunity for Intentionalist is to support small business owners in sharing their stories and connecting with consumers who miss connection and a sense of community in the midst of our increasingly busy and digitally isolated lives.

Anything else that you want the world to know?

Each of us can make a difference and support the people behind the small businesses in our communities through everyday decisions about where we eat drink and shop. We can help mitigate economic inequality through the intentional spending equivalent of "Meatless Mondays" - all we have to do is periodically take a moment to "Spend Like It Matters", because it does.



Laura Clise is a corporate intrapreneur turned social entrepreneur with a passion for instigating impact at the intersection of business and society. Prior to founding Intentionalist, she held a variety of corporate roles leading sustainability, corporate responsibility, supplier diversity, and external communications. She serves on board of directors for IslandWood and Athlete Ally and can sing and/or order chocolate ice cream in Spanish, German, Italian, Chinese, Cambodian, Hebrew, and Turkish. 

Laura is an Aspen Institute First Mover Fellow and alumna of Carleton College and the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

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