As a female entrepreneur, I’ve been very happy to see the recent growth in resources and support for women who own businesses. It seems there have never been so many programs and organizations dedicated to empowering women to start their own companies, including the recently announced partnership between Bank of America and the Tory Burch Foundation. These two powerhouses have come together to form Elizabeth Street Capital, which has the goal of issuing a total of $10 million in loans to female entrepreneurs in six cities, including in Charlotte via the Self-Help Credit Union.
Here’s a rundown of some contacts:
National resources include our local chapters of the National Association of Women Business Owners and Femfessionals, which provide networking and development for their members.
Innovators should also check out the Huggies Mominspired Grant Program, which awards up to $15,000 to inventors of family-focused products, including 2012 winner and Charlotte resident Lily Winnail.
Locally based women’s groups include Business Sorority, which was founded by Ameriprise financial advisor Mel Miller. “After running a couple of other groups, I realized I wanted more out of networking. Increasing your circle is great, but the holistic way we look at helping women was, I felt, very needed. We are getting high-energy, successful women who believe in helping each other, giving back to the community, and growing individually and as a group. We encourage guests to attend a couple of times before deciding to join.” Business Sorority holds its monthly luncheon in Dilworth.
Female-focused workshops and mastermind groups are available for a fee through the business consultants at Direct Point Advisors. President Judy Bezler says, “Our program ‘Success! For Women Entrepreneurs,’ provides a hands-on, interactive experience, where people can learn and connect in a woman-friendly setting. We plan to hold meetings every month in different venues in and around Charlotte.” Workshops are facilitated by Christie Kahil, co-founder of the social entrepreneurship hub Queen City Forward.
If your business has women as its primary audience and customer, you might also want to check out www.ScoopCharlotte.com, a hyperlocal website devoted to advertorial content. With over 5,000 followers on Twitter, owner Susu Bear helps get the word out for businesses in health, home, fashion & beauty, food, travel, and special occasions, many of which are run by female proprietors.
Last but not least, there’s an active invite-only women’s group named Charlotte Tweet Tarts, which, per the name, originated on Twitter, but then migrated over to Facebook. (Full disclosure: I’m a member.) The Tweet Tarts are not a business group per se but rather a highly connected group of over 800 women who, as a group, regularly provide referrals to everything from computer repair services to strategic partners to their entrepreneurial members, as well as advice on everything from marketing to accounting.
Joni Kennedy, one of the organizers of the group (and of Charlotte Startup Weekend) says, “Women can use the group to get answers to any business related question they might have from experts in their field, and if there are no experts in the group, the members can refer you to one.” Sara Stevens, an organizer (and artists promoter), describes the group as “basically an Angie’s List for Charlotte area women.”
Group member Jo Cowan, owner of Blo Blow Dry Bar in Myers Park says, “If I had to say the one resource I used the most in launching my salon last year, it would have to be Charlotte Tweet Tarts. I post to the Facebook page whenever I have a question, and I always get great responses. As a matter of fact, that’s how I found my payroll company.”
When considering resources that are dedicated to helping women, the question sometimes arises, why do women need their own groups? In the words of one blogger (writing about a recent women-only startup conference), “We want a seat at the table, not a special table off to the side.” Personally, I’ve sat at three different kinds of tables in my years as a business owner: primarily male, balanced 50/50, and primarily female. All three types have value.
I urge you to explore and take advantage of the resources that are all around for female entrepreneurs, not because we should only sit at that table, but because we have much to teach one another, which will prepare us for fully participating in the coed business world, and which will bolster us when we’re the only woman in the room.