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Atlanta, A Trailblazing City Recap

Just last week, the Council headed South to Atlanta, GA for our August Public Meeting, entitled Atlanta, A Trailblazing City: The Importance of Diversity and Innovation in Entrepreneurship.  This public meeting highlighted the dynamism and immense growth of Atlanta’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, specific to women entrepreneurs. Why Atlanta might you ask? Well, Atlanta, in particular has been ranked in the top 3 amongst the 25 most populous metropolitan areas for the growth of women-owned businesses. In the most recent Survey of Business Owners (2012), there are an estimated 376,506 women-owned enterprises in Georgia, make sure to look at the Georgia state fact sheet. Georgia leads the nation in such growth, particularly for black women entrepreneurs– a tremendous increase of 98,216 enterprises from 2007.

Our Public Meeting, hosted by the Scheller College of Business at the Georgia Institute of Technology kicked off with opening remarks from Dean Maryam Alavi, PhD, who proudly shared that 53% of the Scheller College’s incoming freshman class are women. Our Chair Carla Harris called the meeting to action with a roll call and overview of the meeting agenda, which included updates on our current and new research portfolio in addition to our engagement and communication endeavors. She welcomed the new esteemed Council Members – Jen Earle, representing the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and Rose Wang, representing Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP).

Council Updates

One of the Council’s most recent engagements involved our Chair Carla Harris who testified on the significance of creating opportunities and continued support for women entrepreneurs across the country for the Congressional Joint Economic Committee Hearing entitled, “Encouraging Entrepreneurship, Not Bureaucracy” this past July. Take a look here! We also shared our new fact sheet highlighting the 131,064 American Indian and Alaskan Native women-owned businesses across the country. The Council also shared updates on the long-awaited Grow Her Business Resource Platform website that was unveiled on June 30, 2016. The website features nearly 200 best-in-class resources for high-growth oriented women entrepreneurs – and has been featured by various outlets such as Forbes and Fortune. To date, the website has had over 21,000 page views.

We also shared the continued progress on our FY2015 Research Portfolio on Black Women Entrepreneurs, Women’s Participation in Corporate Supplier Diversity Programs, Entrepreneurial Ecosystems (with Atlanta as the last Ecosystem Town Hall of the series), and Women’s Participation in Incubators and Accelerators. Furthermore, we announced we will be funding all 9 of our research solicitations for our FY2016 Research Portfolio. Stay tuned for the following topics:

  • Survey Development on Women-Owned and Women-Led Businesses
  • Social Entrepreneurship Amongst Women
  • Commercialization Amongst Women in STEM Fields
  • Women Veterans & Business
  • Latina Entrepreneurship
  • Necessity as a Driver for Women’s Entrepreneurship
  • Crowdfunding as a Source of Capital
  • Growth out of the Small Business Designation
  • Research on Millennial Women Entrepreneurship

Special Remarks by the U.S. Small Business Administration and City of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative

Our Public Meeting was also joined by two key stakeholders in Atlanta when it comes to business and entrepreneurship. Terri Denison, the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Georgia District Director spoke about the important role of the SBA to counsel and support women entrepreneurs in Region IV, particularly through programs such as SCORE and other forms of localized assistance. On a more local level, the City of Atlanta was represented by Theia Washington Smith, the Executive Director of the City of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, better known as WEI. WEI is a flagship business incubator program spearheaded by the city as a commitment to support the start and growth of women entrepreneurs and business owners. Theia spoke about the significance of this trailblazing city initiative as it is paving the way for unique opportunities to foster not only socioeconomic growth for women entrepreneurs, but how it also bolsters growth and success within the city of Atlanta.

State of Black Women’s Entrepreneurship, A Sneak Peek

As part of the Council’s FY2015 Research Portfolio, we partnered with the SBA’s Office of Advocacy to research and delve into the specific experiences of a sub-population of women entrepreneurs that is experiencing immense growth and evolution in the United States. This lead to the commissioning of our research Black Women Entrepreneurs: Assessing the Unique Challenges and Opportunities, which aimed to explore their particular business journeys, encourage dialogue among entrepreneurs, thought leaders, policymakers, and other stakeholders, and to help identify and develop strong policies and recommendations that fit the needs of this population for sustainable growth. Although the research is not set to be released until September 2016, the fact that Georgia has the highest representation of black women-owned firms in the United States (exceeding 153,000), being in Atlanta served as the right opportunity to share this research journey thus far. We were thrilled to have this discussion moderated by our Chair Carla Harris and joined by the commissioned contractor - Natalie Cofield, Founder & CEO of Walker’s Legacy and Dr. Haile Cole, the Lead Researcher for this research to discuss the highlights of this project. This discussion exposed the complex historical context that has influenced and shaped the social, economic, and business climate for black women entrepreneurs – drawing on connections such as the significance of black women’s labor in the United States; key components for such entrepreneurs starting and scaling their business enterprises; and the persistent challenges that black women entrepreneurs often face in regards to accessing financial capital and possessing a strong foundation of mentorship. This was an insightful conversation that resonated with our audience and set the stage for the work that still has to be done. Stay tuned for the full release of this research next month.

Plenary Discussion with Atlanta Stakeholders

This Public Meeting also served as a great opportunity to hear from trailblazers that are spearheading companies, relationships, and initiatives distinctive to the city of Atlanta. The audience was very excited to hear from these powerhouses: Kathryn Finney, Founder and Managing Director of Digitalundivided; Grace Fricks, President & CEO of Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, Inc (ACE); Mary Parker, President & CEO of All(n)1 Security Services, Inc.; and Terrez Thompson, Vice President of Supplier Diversity for The Coca-Cola Company. Collectively, the panel discussed a plethora of successes and challenges of the business climate of Atlanta, GA, such as how the combination of supportive initiatives, city government, and thriving multi-industry communities are working to develop a strong foundation for women entrepreneurs and business owners; but also about the disparities of women receiving venture capital and other forms of equity investment.

These four women brought distinct perspectives from their respective industries. In particular, Kathryn spoke about the motivations for bringing the BIG Innovation Center for Black and Latina women in tech to Atlanta— a long awaited symbol of supporting and increasing the development of women in the tech industries. She also made a point for a quick shout-out to mention that she is hiring! Mary Parker has continuously led a trailblazing trail from an early start in her manufacturing career, but a career change led her to starting a business of her own as the President & CEO of All(n)1 Security Services Inc.—a multi-million dollar security, personal security, technology, and full-service firm. As someone that developed the “hustle gene” at a young age, Mary advised the crowd to “learn from your no’s and turn them to a yes,” in addition to not being afraid to do something completely new in order to be a dynamic entrepreneur.

Grace Fricks, President & CEO of Access to Capital for Entrepreneurs, Inc. (ACE) was definitely a source of wisdom as a strong figure in the Atlanta entrepreneurial community. Since its founding in 1999, ACE has made more than $36 million in loans and provides a full range of services for women at all stages in their business journey. With her expertise in such an important field, Grace advised the room to look at mitigating the risks to lend more, being on top of your personal credit, and using the resources available for financial literacy for your business.

Terrez Thompson, Vice President of Supplier Diversity for The Coca-Cola Company rounded out our panel as she represented a corporation whose home is Atlanta, GA. For Terrez and The Coca-Cola Company, supplier diversity is extremely important. She spoke about their 5by20 initiative which the company has ignited to enable the economic empowerment of 5 million women entrepreneurs by 2020; and Coca-Cola’s 2nd Tier Supplier Program that encourages prime suppliers to subcontract portions of their products to diverse suppliers. Terrez advised the audience to be smart about ‘power networking’ in order to do business with her company and other corporations, but to also “really understand how to connect the dots: who are the customers, suppliers, and values of the company” that the entrepreneur seeks to work with. We want to again thank our amazing and dynamic panelists for being a huge part of this Public Meeting, in addition to our Council Member, Whitney Keyes for moderating. The audience and (we) certainly learned a lot.

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Atlanta not only exemplifies a city with a strong foundation and innovative strategies for economic growth, but is also a city crafting its own unique identity in catalyzing and supporting women entrepreneurs and business leaders at all stages in their individual and collective journeys. Thank you to the city of Atlanta for hosting us for #NWBCinATL.  

 

Author: Shannon Trudge is the Special Assistant at the National Women’s Business Council.

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