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Women’s Entrepreneurship – Austin and Beyond: A Report Back

Last week the Council had the pleasure of visiting Austin, Texas. We were so excited to visit Austin, a city known for its innovative entrepreneurial spirit, as well as momentum and opportunity for women business owners and leaders. Thanks to a combination of supportive initiatives, committed local government and a strong entrepreneurial spirit – there are more and more women-owned and women-led businesses that call Austin home. And we knew we had to experience this first-hand.

Public Meeting

First, we hosted our quarterly public meeting at the Austin Convention Center on the heels of the WBENC National Conference and Business Fair. The quarterly meeting is an opportunity for the Council to share with the public the latest facts and information on women-owned businesses. This meeting included remarks from our Council Chair, Carla Harris, followed by our roster of esteemed Council Members speaking about our research and activities. We shared updates on our research portfolio, noting our soon to be released research (look out for data on social networks and women’s access to capital this summer!), and reported out on various events that the Council participated in this past quarter, including a keynote at the CT Inaugural Women-owned Business Day and a meeting at the White House on women and finance. We also previewed our comment to the SBA on the Women’s Small Business Federal Procurement Program.

In the second half of the meeting, our Executive Director Amanda Brown moderated a panel of experts including: Christie Barany and Courtney Turich, the female duo who founded Monkey Mat and also winners of ABC’s SharkTank; Whitney Johns Martin, a cofounder of Texas Women Ventures, a fund managed by women and for women (and former Council Member!); Gary Linder, President of PeopleFund, a community advantage lender and Community Development Financial Institution in the Austin-are with a strong reputation for lending to women-owned and led ventures; and last but not least, Gay Gaddis, the founder and CEO of T3, the largest woman-owned independent advertising agency in the country. Together, we discussed the newest trends in women’s entrepreneurship and their best practices in not just navigating the ecosystem but supporting women through it.

The panel was informative and entertaining – not an easy combo! Christie and Courtney shared how they navigated male-dominated work environments to ultimately become inventors themselves and the support they have received from their Shark Tank investors, Lori Greiner and Mark Cuban. Gary Linder shared how his organization, PeopleFund, is committed to women entrepreneurs – 47% of PF portfolio women-owned businesses. Gay Gaddis shared how she evolved in her thinking about what an inclusive work environment is: after three of her most valued staff became pregnant – she asked them to come back to the office with their babies. And no, not just in a nursery – in the boardroom!

Roundtables

After the exciting panel, we visited the Austin entrepreneurship community. In a series of roundtables hosted by Council Members at the beautiful Asian American Community Center in Austin – we invited local members of the entrepreneurship ecosystem to have a lively, honest and productive conversation about the following topics:

Ready for Primetime – A Conversation about Women & Government Procurement
Hosted by Marsha Bailey and Deborah Rosado Shaw

Not everyone was familiar with the federal government’s 5% goal for spend to women-owned small businesses, which is valued at billions of dollars on the table for women business owners. We also talked about the intersectionality for minority & women business owners; they too often must choose to pursue opportunities as either a minority or as woman, and not both. Participants spoke about the importance of WOSB certification. For more information about certification, please check out our certification cheat sheet. There are important changes happening at the federal level too: sole source authority is coming soon for WOSBs and the elimination of self-certification also in progress. You can monitor our website for updates. The conversation also recognized the importance of mentorship, with many in the group citing their own personal experiences and the role that their mentors have played in their journeys. The Greater Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Asian Chamber of Commerce and the Greater Black Chamber of Commerce were in attendance; they are important networks for many women in the Austin area and take that role very seriously. They serve as the connector and foster those relationships with the public sector and greater community.

Women & Exporting – Go Global, Get Your Export On
Hosted by Carla Harris and Laura Yamanaka

We talked a lot about what a supportive ecosystem would look like, including: a strong SBA Export Office and Export Assistance Center, a strong Department of Commerce office and strong university relationships (one or more nationally renowned universities like UT), entrepreneurs with an appetite for exporting, and CDFIs or aggressive commercial banks looking to increase their lending to entrepreneurs. This group also discussed the importance of mentors and counselors to business owners, particularly at the early stages of exporting – as it is a new strategy for many women-owned businesses. Finally, participants discussed the actual market potential for exporting American made products. One person mentioned that “Made in America,” really has a cool factor, especially in Asian markets so the opportunities are worth investigating.

Women in Technology: Women Innovating, Women Dominating Tech
Hosted by Kimberly Blackwell

We had a very lively discussion that started with a conversation about social impact businesses and untraditional businesses and then how to find and grow a network of support. Several people shared their experiences in the Austin VC community (only 2.5% of VC money actually comes to Austin!), so the group then brainstormed strategies to get more of the money to the local tech ecosystem. We also discussed the value of women-only spaces vs women-supportive spaces. One member shared how she had created a tech incubator that provides the tools necessary for a start-up so the start-up can focus on broader strategy and business planning. She had found great success in opening the incubator’s doors to women and creating a supportive environment. And lastly, we focused on what made Austin such a great ecosystem for women interested in the STEM fields. It was clear that there are a variety of programs, but most excitingly – there is a passionate core of people dedicated to maximizing the exposure Austin is receiving in the national marketplace to invest in women.

Women & Scaling – Effective Strategies for Fast Growth Businesses
Hosted by Marsha Firestone and Kari Warberg Block

In our vibrant conversation about how to scale your business and the local supports, we learned that Austin has a vibrant start up community, but the ecosystem is really new and still developing, still being activated to support the bustling entrepreneurial activity that is happening. A recurring theme was the  need for increased mentoring, especially by community leaders, training courses for employers and employees, and technology courses. Participants spoke up about the importance of finding the right partner, someone that shares in a passion and commitment to the business and is ready to dive into the work. We also heard from the group about the value of experts – finding mentors, seeking out business advice, and even attending classes that is specifically focused on business growth and strategies for successful, sustainable growth. Participants also shared that when scaling, it is important to have a relationship with a bank. This should be developed early on as banks can provide capital and credit, but can also provide entrepreneurs with contacts. Entrepreneurs should be proactive and meet with their bank representatives regularly in anticipation of scaling needs.

Austin Entrepreneurship Expo

We concluded the roundtables with a local Austin Entrepreneurship Expo where a variety of local supports tabled and met with aspiring and current entrepreneurs on how best to support their ventures. Special thanks to Yolanda Garcia Oliveraz, the Regional SBA Administrator that kicked off the expo too.

Thanks for having us Austin, we had a great time and hope you did too! 

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