Connecting black women entrepreneurs with the resources to help them grow

I often hear it said that there need to be more business, leadership, or entrepreneurial development opportunities for women in Madison. I don’t mean to start a kerfuffle but I have noticed that there are already quite a few conferences, workshops, and networking events aimed at Madison’s women. For almost a year I’ve been making a point of attending as many business and leadership developmental opportunities as I can, especially those targeted at women. There are so many events that, quite frankly, I don’t have the wherewithal to attend them all. It seems as if there’s one every week or a couple of times each month.

Just since January, I’ve started up with WARF’s Upstart program, interacted at Synergy Coworking, thrived with Brava girls on numerous occasions, envisioned at the Dreambank, been encouraged, made progress, been empowered, and collaborated with at the Black Women’s Leadership Conference (BWLC), and I’ve been challenged and stirred to greater determination at the Moxie Conference. That doesn’t include the numerous woman-focused networking events and seminars I’ve attended, which pale in comparison to the staggering amount that are available. So, where’s the disconnect for those who say there aren’t enough?

That question led me to wonder about development opportunities for specific demographics, particularly black female entrepreneurs. Thank goodness for the Black Women’s Leadership Conference presented by Sabrina Madison. It is truly a life-giving breath of fresh air to Madison’s black female community, and based on reactions to the Madison community at large, as well. As an attendee at last year’s and this year’s conferences, I have left each one wanting more — more engagement with intelligent, capable, dedicated, tenacious black women who own, lead, and thrive in business and organizations. After that experience I wanted to know more about the business landscape for black women entrepreneurs.

With a bit of research I found that American women are motivated to start their own businesses for a variety of reasons, including following their passions, having more freedom and flexibility, creating generational wealth and a legacy for their children, and giving back to their respective communities. Additionally, black women are among the fastest growing groups of women businesses owners in the country — to the tune of 1.5 million, making up nearly 60% of black-owned businesses. While this is exciting news, the Black Women Entrepreneurs: Past and Present Conditions of Black Women’s Business Ownership report reveals several challenges to our success.

Chief among these challenges to successful black female entrepreneurship are fear of rejection and the risks associated with obtaining capital. When it comes to accessing financial capital, many black women have cited lack of the “right” information, lengthy processes, and discrimination as barriers to obtaining resources. Combined with low social capital and not having a “seat at the table,” black women have trouble securing needed funding.

To alleviate fear, the report suggests seeking nontraditional funding sources like crowdfunding to avoid traditional funding roadblocks, or looking within the very small black business ecosystem to find angel investors. Research reveals that male angel investors tend to choose entrepreneurs who look like them. With males making up 75% of angel investors, that significantly lessens the chances of finding a sponsor who is black and female. Other research reveals that investment firms with female partners are more likely to invest with businesses headed by women. With that reality, it behooves black women to become accredited angel investors for black female-owned businesses. Oprah can’t be the only one who is willing and whose name we know! There are other black women, and women in general, with significant net worth who will sponsor black women — the challenge is to create more.



Along with alternate funding sources, aspiring black women business owners continue to cite lack of access to solid information as a roadblock. While there are existing information sources and programs targeted toward women and minority-owned businesses, many black women remain unaware. While local organizations like Doyenne, Upstart (WARF), and the Wisconsin Women’s Business Initiative Corp. (WWBIC) are making strides to keep not only black women but all women entrepreneurs informed, there must be continued, broad, and inclusive intentional dissemination of information to women entrepreneurs regardless of their race or socioeconomic status. Getting the information out will create greater awareness of available resources, as well as knowledge about how to access them. Essential to this will be strategic partnerships and collaborations with black women and majority women’s business associations, area chambers of commerce, Madison’s Small Business Development Center (SBDC), and other local business leaders who may be willing to mentor black female upstarts.

To establish these connections black women who want to enter the local business community will also need to network effectively. In Madison’s business environment tapping into immediate circles of influences is key. Once the initial connection is made, asking for introductions and additional contacts will help expand the network of potential information sources, mentoring, and sponsorship. The report highlights that establishing a networking database among black women has also been shown as beneficial in other cities like Cleveland. The development of a Dane County database that lists local resources and area business owners could directly connect black women business owners to mentors and sponsors as well as facilitate events, meetups, and networking opportunities to help grow, enhance, and sustain black women businesses.

Black women have owned businesses in the United States since the 19th century, with the first black female reaching millionaire status in the 20th century. We have been significant financial contributors to our families, communities, and the American workforce. However, there remains considerable work to do in support of black women-owned businesses. With a focus on development, access to information, reducing gender and racial discrimination, and reducing barriers to capital, black women business owners can continue to emerge, grow, and experience longevity in the Madison area.

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