Last week, the National Women’s Business Council visited Detroit, Michigan – a city that shines bright in the national spotlight for revitalizing itself through the growth of community-based, innovative and scalable businesses, and as a booming place for women entrepreneurs. Our research has shown that women play an essential role in local and regional ecosystems, particularly in a city like Detroit, which is experiencing a unique moment of revitalization.
Detroit has built a strong entrepreneurship ecosystem as a tool of rebuilding, the city is an incredible opportunity for women business owners to innovate and lead. Women are growing successful businesses and achieving their business dreams — and creating jobs, restoring their community, and strengthening the local economy. We were excited to be in Detroit to spotlight the amazing movement that is happening there.
On Wednesday morning, the Council Members dispersed to facilitate four different roundtable discussions with local women business owners, stakeholders, investors, lenders, program managers, and other key members of the Detroit entrepreneurship community.
The topics included:
Women Innovators, Women Entrepreneurs – and their Impact
This roundtable was led by Council Members Jaime Nack, Kimberly Blackwell, & Magdalah Racine-Silva and hosted at Motor City Java and Tea House, a women-owned business. The conversation was an opportunity to hear and learn from local women entrepreneurs, as well as interact with other community stakeholders and influencers that support them. It’s important to recognize these innovators and the social impact of their businesses in the Detroit comeback story.
The Stem Ecosystem for Women in Detroit
This roundtable was led by Council Members Tina Byles Williams, Teresa Nelson, & Laura Yamanaka and hosted at Tech Town, a well-established business incubator at Wayne State University. The conversation included women entrepreneurs, program managers, academia representatives, and other important stakeholders. They tackled the oft asked question: How do we support, encourage and inspire more women in STEM, and their businesses?
Women’s Access to Capital
This roundtable was led by Council Members Carla Harris, Marsha Bailey, & Kari Warberg Block and was hosted by Inforum, Michigan’s largest professional organization for women. The conversation tackled questions such as: What are the capital opportunities and funding streams for women in Detroit? Where are the gaps? What are the challenges? The Council wanted to learn what is working, what could be working better, and what is needed to better serve women entrepreneurs.
Successful Scaling! Experiences with Business Growth
This roundtable waws led by Council Members Rose Wang, Pam Prince-Eason, & Marsha Firestone and hosted at Madison Madison International, the business of former Council Member Sharon Madison-Polk. The discussion shared successful strategies for growth and best practices, as well as highlight the resources and supports within the Detroit entrepreneurial ecosystem. Representatives from Fortune 500s joined for a discussion about supplier diversity opportunities as well.
These roundtables were an opportunity for the Council to meet with local business leaders and other members of the entrepreneurship ecosystem to unearth successes and obstacles women entrepreneurs are experiencing locally. All of these discussions concluded with a brainstorm of policies and next steps for us to then integrate into our broader policy positions. We will share updates from these discussions in the months to come.
After this, we had a special treat, our chair Carla Harris keynoted a luncheon event, hosted by Inforum. Her talk titled, “Perfect Storm for Women Entrepreneurs,” cited a number of factors that are creating what she calls “a perfect storm” of opportunity for women entrepreneurs to launch or grow their businesses. This includes historically low interest rates, low inflation, record amounts of cash on corporate balance sheets, re-emergence in corporate investment, increasing presence and impact of women on corporate boards, increasing number of women earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and an increased appetite of Generation Xers’ and millennials’ for risk and entrepreneurship. In her remarks, she also outlined alternative capital resources. She closed with a trio of “Carla’s Pearls” or advice for the women entrepreneurs in the room:
1. If you consider yourself a leader, you must be comfortable taking risks, particularly in tough economic environments.
2. If you are an entrepreneur, the two most important questions you can ever answer if you want to be competitive in the market and maximize your success are why me and why now?
3. Nobody can be you the way you can be you. It’s your distinct competitive advantage.
Pulitzer prize winning journalist, Stephen Henderson, Editorial Page Editor for the Detroit Free Press, joined her on stage for a lively Q&A after.
Immediately following the luncheon, the Council hosted our Quarterly Public Meeting at the Detroit Marriott at the Renaissance Center. During this meeting, we shared updates from the Council, including updates on our latest research, recommendations, and other stakeholder engagement. Here are the top ten highlights that we shared during our meeting:
- We celebrated Black History Month by highlighting and profiling the successes of black women business leaders and sharing the wisdom from their experiences in a social media campaign called #BeBold.
- We launched a story-telling project called #HerOwnBoss. #HerOwnBoss highlights and shares honest advice, important truths, and inspiring stories from women entrepreneurs.
- We were in New York in January for a meeting with fund managers at woman-owned Medley Capital Corporation. Our Chair moderated a discussion about strategies to get more capital to women-led funds, and then hopefully women-led businesses too. The SBA Administrator joined to give a pitch about the SBA’s Small Business Investment Company program too. This roundtable was the second in our partnership series with the SBA Office of Investment and Innovation. The first roundtable, last October, focused on the pipeline for women into careers in finance.
- We worked with the White House Council on Women and Girls to organize a roundtable discussion on black female entrepreneurship. Tina Tchen and Carla moderated that discussion – and both Valerie Jarrett and the SBA Administrator dropped by to meet the group as well. It was a dynamic conversation that again echoed the need for access to resources and support.
- We hosted a roundtable discussion, in partnership with Senator and Chairman of the Senate Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee, David Vitter down in New Orleans earlier this month. We met with women entrepreneurs, the SBA resource partners, and stakeholders from the local lending and investment community. When we met with the Senator back in January to discuss our Annual Report, he spoke about the Committee’s focus on access to capital; it was great to see this event come together and we hope to do more of these at the local level with other members of the Committee.
- We also met with the Administrator and held a briefing for SBA staff to discuss our Annual Report. We reviewed our policy recommendations broadly, but focused on those directed to the SBA. There were many points of collaboration identified, many opportunities to work together to increase access to capital and markets for women entrepreneurs.
- Congress passed women small business provisions within the National Defense Authorization Act, before adjourning at the end of 2014. It’s now in the hands of the SBA for the rule-making procedure and implementation.
- The Council’s new research for this year is well underway. We’re currently learning about: a) Women’s Participation in Corporate Supplier Diversity – to develop a body of knowledge on opportunities for women entrepreneurs in corporate supplier diversity programs, b) Women Entrepreneurs’ Social Networks – to develop an understanding of whether there are structural differences in the entrepreneurial networks of male and female entrepreneurs; c) Women’s Participation in Incubators and Accelerators – to analyze how firms are selected by incubators and accelerators, and the factors that influence the successful graduation of new women-owned businesses; d) Undercapitalization as a Contributing Factor to Business Failure – to explore the role that access to capital and undercapitalization has on business outcomes for women-owned firms in particular; and e) Women’s Business Center Impact Study – to to develop our understanding of the Women’s Business Center network and to provide a framework that can guide future decision making.
- We also hosted, in partnership with the SBA Office of Advocacy, a research town hall to give information and field questions on how to submit an effective research proposal.
- We welcomed to new members: Based in North Dakota, Kari Warberg Block is the Founder, Owner and Farmer in Charge at Earth Kind, an innovative company that distributes environmentally sustainable pest prevention products. She can also be found writing in Entrepreneur Magazine and the Huffington Post on how to launch and grow your business. Dr. Marsha Firestone is the Founder and President of Women Presidents Organization. WPO is a longstanding organization dedicated to supporting women business leaders. Marsha has a long history and track record of supporting women entrepreneurs. She was formerly the Vice President of Women Inc, and Vice President of the American Women’s Economic Development.
We had a full house for the meeting and answered important questions from the audience related to start-up capital, state and local goals for women business enterprise procurement, and women business owners “reinvesting” in other women with jobs, sourcing, and more.
New businesses are an important bedrock of a thriving economy and have in recent years shown themselves to create jobs and economic growth, nationally and locally. While we celebrate and document these tremendous strides, we are excited to report that women have played a crucial role in this continued growth. All over the country, women are starting businesses two times more than the national average. That’s not just a trend – it’s a movement.