Is the media truly reflecting the current state of entrepreneurism?
I am a 33-year-old African American woman and I am a part of the fastest growing bracket of entrepreneurs in the United States. I do not fit the stereotypical image of an entrepreneur.
When you ask the average person to name successful entrepreneurs, they usually rattle off a list of predominantly white males like Bill Gates or Mark Zuckerberg.
Are there women who are killing it on the entrepreneurial platform every day? Yes. I know this because these are the women we serve and write about every day at Lioness Magazine. Yet when the face of entrepreneurism is projected in the media, you don’t tend to see women who look like me. How come?
The landscape is changing – FAST
“Women are the fastest growing population in the small business community and are making great economic strides. Today’s rapidly growing start-up culture is proof that our nation’s entrepreneurial spirit has been reignited, and I’m proud to say women are taking the lead in starting and opening businesses at rate of 1,288 new businesses a day,” Carla Harris, chair of the National Women’s Business Council (NWBC) said.
In August 2013 Harris was appointed to head the NWBC by President Barack Obama. The NWBC is a non-partisan federal advisory council created to serve as an independent source of advice and counsel to the President, Congress, and the U.S. Small Business Administration on economic issues of importance to women business owners. The Council was created in 1988 through the passage of H.R. 5050 – a landmark piece of legislation eliminating individual state laws that required women to have a male relative cosign a business loan. Their work is focused on access to capital, access to markets, job creation & growth, and data collection.
I asked Harris what she has been seeing from other women who are knee-deep in entrepreneurism across the country. “The current business climate is ripe for women entrepreneurs. In today’s new market environment, we’re seeing women take advantage of newer and alternative ways to raise capital,” Harris began. “Take crowdfunding for example – it’s a game-changer for the industry, and for women entrepreneurs in particular. We believe that today provides a perfect opportunity, a perfect storm if you will, for women entrepreneurs. Interest rates are at record lows, creating a robust environment for commercial borrowing. Record levels of cash are on the sidelines with both institutional and individual investors and on corporate balance sheets. And all of these entities are looking for good ideas, particularly as the appetite for risk continues to increase in the market. Also the emergence of incubators and accelerators are helping to level the playing field for sourcing start-up capital.”
And depending on the industry some of these women want to launch or scale in, the playing field can get rocky. Laura Franta-Abdalla covered some of these hurdles in a piece titled, “How Black Women Entrepreneurs Are Finally Breaking Through the Tech Glass Ceiling” over at www.mic.com. Laura noted that African American women are now among the fastest-growing entrepreneurial segments in America with a rate of nearly 200% from 1997 to 2007. Yet “out of all venture capitalist-backed startups, only 8% were women-owned and, even more startling, only 1% were black-owned.”
So how are we launching our enterprises?
Tynicka Battle, CEO and co-founder of ThinkTank Digital in New York City, said she and her partner Amina Elshahawi were determined to invest in themselves.
“Thankfully, starting a digital marketing company does not require substantial start up fees. My partner and I both put up $5,000 to start ThinkTank. We couldn’t pay ourselves right away but were blessed to have a steady roster of clients just six weeks later,” Battle, 39, shared. “We didn’t seek loans. We don’t like debt and operate based on our revenue. If we need something more, we go out and bill more.”
She and Elshahawi head a six-person team that handles all aspects of digital marketing, with a special focus on social media strategy and analytics. They were able to curb costs by digitizing everything. Battle said they digitized every aspect of operations, from banking to invoicing to payroll. They sought every online resource open to business owners so they could travel and work remotely without losing any productivity. But even they are not immune to some of the adversities women entrepreneurs face.
“It is important to recognize women in any industry, and especially ours. Amina and I have been on panels and in meetings where we’ve felt marginalized and have been totally disregarded. As minorities we are no strangers to that feeling, but thankfully, we do not internalize the attitudes of others – it only encourages us to excel even more,” Battle said.
Venture Capital firms dedicated to women such as Golden Seeds are doing their best to get behind women entrepreneurs. They have a network of 300 angel investors who are looking for bold, scalable enterprises led by women. When Golden Seeds Managing Partner Loretta McCarthy spoke to Lioness back in May 2014, she said while many women start lifestyle businesses that may not require outside funding, they believe that “increasingly women are starting companies that have the potential to achieve substantial growth and could be attractive opportunities for investors. At Golden Seeds, we provide an environment in which women-led companies will be seriously considered for funding.”
Harris said it is about getting women in front of these available resources. She said there are a lot of resources available to women entrepreneurs, but the problem is often that they don’t know where to go, who to ask, or where to look. She believes that too many women are not privy to the wealth of support that the Small Business Association (SBA) provides small business owners. The NWBC likes to point women entrepreneurs, both aspiring and established, to SBA.gov to take advantage of the webinars, educational resources, and wealth of information catered specifically to women entrepreneurs. On their site – www.NWBC.gov – there is also a dedicated page with helpful links to guide and support their community of women entrepreneurs.
“If you aspire to be an entrepreneur, make sure that you think critically about your sources of capital and plan to start when you think that you have enough capital to carry your business through at least the first year,” Harris said. “Many businesses fail right at the point when they are on the precipice of being successful because they run out of capital. You should also think about who will be on your team. If all roads lead back to only you, then by definition your growth will be capped because you are one woman.”
How do we change the public face of entrepreneurism?
Visibility. As we continue to grow our enterprises it is equally important that we are the face of our brands. Network, engage with your audience, seek new opportunities to be front and center. Develop a public relations strategy. We can’t wait for others to tell our story. We must tell it ourselves.