VOL. 10 | NO. 8 | Saturday, February 18, 2017
SPECIAL EDITION: Women & Business
Networking Helping Propel Women-Owned Businesses To New Heights
By K. DENISE JENNINGS
When Memphis middle schoolers and sisters Madison Star and Mallory Iyana went on “Shark Tank” and secured $60,000 and partnerships with both Mark Cuban and Daymond John, they took their place among the ranks of female entrepreneurs who, in large numbers these days, are showing the business world that they are a force to be reckoned with.
Memphis middle-schoolers Mallory Iyana, left, and Madison Star secured a $60,000 investment on “Shark Tank” for their startup, Angels and Tomboys, which produces beauty and body-care products for young girls and teens.
(Memphis News/Andrew J. Breig)
Madison and Mallory’s business, Angels and Tomboys, is a beauty and body-care line for young girls and teens. It started organically in 2014 out of a need they didn’t see anyone else filling, which is the impetus for many women-owned businesses today. They played with their mom’s lotions and body sprays, but they were too expensive and too strong-scented for preteen girls, so the girls told their mom they wanted to create an all-natural line of lotions and body sprays with cool scents specifically for tweens. Their mom, an entrepreneur herself, encouraged them and now the girls have two famous investors, capital and an expanding business.
Madison and Mallory’s mom, Viara Iyadunni, is the founding partner of V-Rock Productions, a large-scale event and production company that puts on opening ceremonies, launch parties and trade shows, and the owner of a body-care company called Spirit Soaps and Washes. The idea that starting a successful business would be a stretch for middle-schoolers had never occurred to them, in large part because of their mom.
When Iyadunni began building her businesses more than a decade ago, she largely hid her identity as a woman for fear of not being taken seriously. She recruited men to help her secure financing and make strategic connections, but she thinks things have changed since then. She has since stepped out and is the vocal face of both businesses, and she’s raising her daughters to follow in her footsteps.
“What they see is what they’ll be,” said Iyadunni. “Everything I do, they want to do it. We’ve had lots of conversations, and I’ve encouraged them to create their own life using the gifts and talents that have been given to them. They haven’t encountered the same obstacles that I did 12 years ago.”
‘GET OUT THERE EARLY AND LEARN THE ROPES’
Things are changing quickly in the realm of women-owned businesses.
Based on 2012 National Women’s Business Council stats, there are nearly 9.9 million women-owned firms across the United States, up 26.8 percent from 2007. Exact numbers vary, but hover around 30 percent of all businesses in the U.S. being owned by women.
Although there have been barriers for women in business in the past, many are discovering that creating an environment where collaboration trumps competition is starting to raise the bar for everyone.
Professional development and mentoring are becoming well-used tools in encouraging and developing women entrepreneurs, from Girl Scouts to women-led tech accelerators. Women are capitalizing on their relationship building and networking strengths to parlay themselves and their businesses faster and farther than ever before.
“Get out there early and learn the ropes, then you can show someone else the way,” said Dianne Dixon, president of the Memphis chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Dixon, a former founding partner of Clark/Dixon Architects, recently retired from her career in architecture and is now focused on giving other women entrepreneurs a hand up through her role at NAWBO.
“We want to create a community (for women) that is not holding them down, but helping them up,” said Dixon. “There are more of us now just in sheer numbers. We’re smarter and we’re determined, even desperate to be included.”
Stacy McCall, president and CEO of the Memphis ServiceMaster by Stratos franchise, agrees that there are so many more doors open to women to help them be successful entrepreneurs.
“The environment of networking that exists with technology has been a big factor,” she said. “Sharing doesn’t just have to be local, it can be regional or national or even international. You don’t have to meet face to face with subject-matter experts to learn anymore. We have access to institutional knowledge from thought leaders in any area. We can make business decisions real-time with information that we have access to now that we didn’t have 10 or 20 years ago.”
EMPOWERING WOMEN THROUGH INNOVATION
Memphis is home to several innovative programs that have led the way in championing the development of women entrepreneurs.
Girl Scouts Heart of the South developed two of those original programs: The Possibility Place and Stand Beside Her, which encourage innovation and collaboration respectively.
The Possibility Place was developed by Kim Crafton, chief governance and strategic engagement officer for GSHS, a Girl Scout since age 6 and a business owner herself. It is a flex space in the GSHS headquarters that is used for entrepreneurial training and brainstorming and was the site of a “Shark Tank”-type program where local business leaders came in to hear the girls’ business ideas and offers advice and expertise, networking ideas and in some cases financial investment.
“We had the ‘Shark Tank’ event when The Possibility Place opened, and the girls were able to promote and entrepreneurial idea to businesswomen,” Crafton said. “It was a chance for the girls to let their ideas be heard, to think through the specifics of implementing them and get some honest solid feedback. A couple of them had really great ideas.”
While The Possibility Place helps with business training, Stand Beside Her tackles the collaborative component through a mentoring program that encourages relationship building instead of competition among women.
Stand Beside Her Memphis was created by GSHS and has since expanded to 32 states, garnering sponsorships from national organizations as well as national funding.
Memphis is also home to Upstart, a business accelerator through the nonprofit Start Co. organization specifically geared toward women-led tech startups.
“We’d been building a startup accelerator in a majority minority city, and it didn’t feel like we could move ahead without investing in women-led startups,” said Eric Mathews, CEO and founder of Start Co., which helps budding entrepreneurs grow their startups by connecting them to mentorship and capital, among other things. “We were one of the first in the world. Women in tech is a hot topic now, but in 2013 we were pioneering. Inclusion is one of our core values and we wanted to put money behind that.”
Kayla Rodriguez Graff, accelerator lead for Upstart and a graduate of the program, earned her graduate degree in California and was involved in the startup of a business in Silicon Valley, but she chose to launch her medical device company, SweetBio, through Upstart because of the collaborative and hand-up culture in Memphis and at Start Co.
“Barriers (for women in business) do exist, so I wanted to get involved with Upstart to move beyond discussing the barriers to success … going through the curriculum with the rest of the accelerator but also designing curriculum to help women hone skills and to develop them as business leaders.”
One of the biggest changes for women entrepreneurs seems to be their confidence in themselves and the environment of collaboration that is more prevalent now, and there are a whole generation of girls unaware of the struggles women business owners have faced in the past.
Melanie Schild, CEO of Girl Scouts Heart of the South and a self-proclaimed social entrepreneur, points out that the Girl Scout Cookie Program, old as it is, is the largest girl-owned business in the world and that the time to start empowering women to be business leaders is when they’re young.
Just ask Madison Star and Mallory Iyana.