National Women’s Business Council: Inspiration in Atlanta

The Atlanta visit of the National Womens Business Council focused on research and understanding the success factors of women entrepreneurs and, in particular, black women entrepreneurs. Georgia leads the nation in the growth of women-led businesses.

“We have come to listen,” boomed the big, generous voice of Obama-appointed National Women’s Business Council leader Carla Harris. She is a celebrated Harvard alumn who is also Vice Chairman of Global Wealth Management, Managing Director, and Senior Client Advisor at Morgan Stanley.

Her commanding tones and welcoming smile bookended the three day NWBC tour of Atlanta. She was flanked by the energetic and newly appointed executive director Esther Morales, coming to the NWBC from the Office of the First Lady.

Jen Bonnett, General Manager, ATDC, at luncheon
Jen Bonnett, General Manager, ATDC, at luncheon

A number of national council members travelled to Atlanta on this listening tour, including women entrepreneurs like Anne D. Shybunko-Moore of GSE and luminaries including Jen Eeale, CEO of the National Association of Women Business Owners, and Pamela Prince Eason, the President & CEO of Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, and Sandy Welfare, the Executive Director of Women in Technology.

National Women’s Business Council highlights Atlanta’s leadership


NWBC's Carla Harris, Walkers Legacy Founder Natalie Cofield, and the lead Ph.D researcher--anyone pls drop me a name?
NWBC’s Carla Harris, Walkers Legacy Founder Natalie Cofield, and the lead Ph.D researcher–anyone pls drop me a name?

Locally, Maryam Alavi, Ph.D and Dean of Scheller School of Business at Georgia Tech; Theia Washington Smith, executive director of the City of Atlanta Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative, and Jen Bonnett, General Manager of the Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) at Georgia Tech were much in view as hosts and helpers of a community-wide conversation that ranged from race in women’s entrepreneurship to access to capital. Startup Chicks, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and Atlanta Tech Village shared some of the costs to host local groups of women entrepreneurs as the National Women’s Business Council posse traveled across the city, dropping in at Georgia Tech, the Metro Atlanta Chamber, and the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative. The focus was the jaw-dropping growth of women entrepreneurs in Georgia. Our state leads the country in the growth of black women entrepreneurs, and women’s entrepreneurship more generally. “Atlanta is a trail-blazing city,” said Harris, “and that’s why we’re here.”

Casual conversation in the crowd ranged from excitement over the new BIG incubator by Katherine Finney, to appreciation for the new Startup Runway seed capital event series for women and minorities, to pride in the Atlanta’s Mayor and city council for creating a visible, living symbol in the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative.

National Women’s Business Council drew applause when  . .

Dean Maryam Alavi, Ph.D, Scheller School of Business at Georgia Tech
Dean Maryam Alavia, Ph.D, Scheller School of Business at Georgia Tech (host for NWBC)
  • Powerhouse Kathryn Finney, responding to a comment that there was a lot of work to be done educating people about positive gender and race relations. She said with straightforward sincerity: “We don’t have time for that. We have to get on with it. Talk to those who already get it.” The room burst into applause.
  • Dean Maryam Alavi, Ph.D, reporting that in Fall 2016–the next two weeks–53% of the entering freshman class in the business school are women. “These are great statistics, particularly considering that women were admitted to Georgia Tech for the first time in 1952,” she said. “These are great times for women to be entrepreneurs. It has been said in the next 20 to 25 years, the advancements in science and technology will be 5 to 10 fold. To put this in perspective, our children and grandchildren will look at us today the way we look back to 1890. Just think about that.”
R to L, Whitney Keyes, Kathryn Finney, Mary H. Parker, Terrez Thompson, and Grace Fricks
L to R, Whitney Keyes, Kathryn Finney, Mary H. Parker, Terrez Thompson, and Grace Fricks
  • Mary H Parker, female founder and CEO of one of the largest woman-led security firms in the country, shared about being the second of 9 children of sharecropper parents, and how she studied people to get ahead.  This elegant woman held the audience spellbound as she described in great detail how she learned how to go from an intuitive understanding of her million-dollar-plus business to one deeply grounded in financials through learning to find, hire and trust wise outside counsel.
  • Some early NWBC research was revealed.  Conducted under the auspices of Walker’s Legacy Foundation, a tribute to the legacy of Atlanta entrepreneurial legend and the first female American millionaire Madame C.J. Walker, the research is showing that trust is not an easy assignment for women, and especially not for black women entrepreneurs. Early directions in the data suggest a need for:
    • Increased social capital. Women entrepreneurs, and most especial black women entrepreneurs, need to build more social capital inside and outside their natural networks. Terrez Thompson at Coca-Cola shared, “I don’t believe all that stuff about women not liking and not helping each other. That said, I have learned to simply go to another woman and say, what’s up between us? Let’s fix it and get over it.”
    • Increased shared thought capital. Women entrepreneurs tend not to trust the “status quo”–in general, a natural minority perspective when you’re an outsider in the majority culture. The research pointed out this can create a crippling lack of confidence that can be overcome by hiring consultants that can help you increase your thought capital. Hire the smarts your network didn’t equip you for.
    • Increased access to capital. Women start businesses with 1/6 the capital of male entrepreneurs. Grace Fricks spoke  about the ways her firm, Access to Capital, has loaned millions of dollars to women and minority entrepreneurs. The SBA and others shared there are more programs, including crowdfunding, coming onboard to help women find the resources that aren’t in their family networks. One researcher pointed out that black women entrepreneurs in particular are cash strapped as single heads of households, a reality that means many of their companies can be cash starved as they juggle multiple competing priorities.

      Council Visit
      NWBC tour at WEI Atlanta

Stay tuned to NWBC’s research section for more coming out on that this September. “Those that don’t get it, hug the data,” quips Harris. “So we make sure they have the data.”

In conclusion, here’s a quote from America’s first woman millionaire, Madame CJ Walker, whose museum in downtown Atlanta is a draw and an inspiration to entrepreneurs to this day:

“I got my start by giving myself a start. I am a woman who came from the cotton fields of the South. From there I was promoted to the washtub. From there I was promoted to the cook kitchen. And from there I promoted myself into the business of manufacturing hair goods and preparations . . . I have built my own factory on my own ground.”Madame CJ Walker, formerly Sara Breedlove

With support from each other, focused through intense lenses like the National Women’s Business Council, the ground women entrepreneurs are building our factories on just keeps growing.

*Thanks to Stacey Sutton for the header image in this article.

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