This post is part 1 of 2 posts on the Beacon DC report.
Last week I went to the release of Beacon DC’s report “Building Inclusive Ecosystems with Intentionality: A Strategy to Support DC’s Women Founders” held at Google Headquarters in downtown DC. You may know Beacon as the organization that supports women entrepreneurs in the District and which awarded 12PointFive, Hera Hub DC and InnovatorsBox a grant to hold Mentorship Roadshow in January. At the Roadshow and other events around DC, Deloris Wilson J.D./M.P.A., BEACON Fellow at Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law & Policy, held focus groups that provided qualitative data for the report. I was excited to see what my fellow entrepreneurs had to say about resources for them and excited to participate in the workshop afterward. A signature of Beacon events is that they put you to work with ideas and action items after you learn something.
I headed downtown and found a great spot in front of the building which should have been a red flag. My parking app would not register the spot and the pay-to-park meter wouldn’t take my credit card. A fellow attendee and I commiserated and exchanged information so that should we get a ticket, we could at least have back up that we were not alone. We were hopeful, if not optimistic.
I was happy to see my Mentorship Roadshow partners, Monica Kang, CEO of InnovatorsBox and Julia Westfall, CEO of Hera Hub DC. By the time I left, I was energized about the findings and the commitment of the women and men in the room who were there to find solutions. Before we get to that part, Wilson briefed us on some sobering statistics. According to the American Express State of Women Owned Businesses Report, minority women generate less revenue in their businesses than white women. This is especially true for African American women who start the most businesses per day and yet earn the lowest amount of revenue across all groups.
In DC, the numbers are just as bleak. According to the National Women’s Business Council, black and white women in D.C. have comparable numbers of businesses (White women: 11,000 firms; Black women: 12,000) but businesses owned by white women out earn those owned by black women by a ratio of over 5 to 1. While there is a lot to celebrate about the DC area and it’s perpetual placement near the top of the lists of places friendly to female entrepreneurs, this report made it clear there is work to do. The report made recommendations in four key categories and asked us all to be part of the solution. The categories are:
Expanding Access to Capital
Providing Resources and Support
Creating New Business Opportunities
Inspiring the Next Generation
Each recommendation has corresponding action items. The strength of the recommendations is the focus on systemic, relational and customized solutions as opposed to one-off, transactional, and “one size fits all” solutions that were often mentioned by the entrepreneurs Wilson interviewed. Too often, startups get conflated with small businesses even though the two groups need different resources for funding and support. Recognizing the seven stages in the life cycle of a business, and where a particular venture falls on that spectrum, is critical to creating an ecosystem where companies can not only start, but grow.
Of course, the part that resonated with me is that women entrepreneurs are not maximizing their certifications. This comes as no surprise but I appreciated the emphasis on ways for companies to generate revenue and the analysis of the current challenges. Navigating the system and/or systems designed to support minority and women entrepreneurs can be complex and costly. There is a lack of understanding about what certifications are available, what they mean, and why their important. I’ve addressed this before in other blog posts but it was a nice reminder that my customer discovery is on point.
There is an overabundance of educational programming, we need more opportunities to focus on revenue. – Entrepreneur, Beacon Focus Group
Beacon knows they can’t just give us the information, we have to engage with the recommendations and with each other to make real change. After the report, attendees participated in working groups to address four action items Beacon highlighted. I participated in a round table about their mentorship initiative and worked with a passionate group to hash out ideas on how to make it impactful. I was able to grow my own network with two new contacts who became connections when we linked up after the event.
Despite the statistics, I’m hopeful and optimistic that DC can be a place that sparks a real change and I’m grateful to Deloris Wilson, the Beacon Board, and the women and men who are lending their support to keep DC a great place for women entrepreneurs and improve it for all women entrepreneurs. I’m also glad that 12PointFive is providing a necessary service and look forward to find more ways to integrate what I do into the existing ecosystem so more people can find me and make available resources work for them. I will be sharing ideas in my next post on how to make that happen.
And, at least for now, my hope and optimism was warranted. I didn’t get a ticket.