Black women are the fastest-growing subset of entrepreneurs in the U.S. In order to lead the way, we must be innovative drivers of business. Here are some ideas you can leverage to take your enterprise to new heights:
Join incubators and accelerators.
Both are designed to jump-start a company's development and provide mentorship and networking. Incubators usually focus on shared space and services, while accelerators typically provide access to early-stage funding and a chance to pitch to angel investors and venture capitalists. DreamIt Ventures (dreamitventures.com) is a start-up accelerator that offers up to $25,000 in funding in exchange for a 6 percent equity stake, while NewME Accelerator (newmeaccelerator.com) is a start-up incubator/accelerator for minority-and women-led tech businesses.
Participate in interactive workshops.
Ramp up your business through Lean Startup Machine (leanstartupmachine.com), an intensive three-day workshop with locations worldwide that teaches entrepreneurs how to pitch products and work in teams to create an MVP, or minimum viable product. The goal of the MVP test is to go out and speak with real customers and collect cash or noncash currency, which serves as validation. The event culminates with each team pitching its new product solution to peers.
Seek out angel networks.
They are a collection of "angels" who pool their resources and expertise to finance startups. Meet investors and present your best pitch through the Minority Angel Investor Network (minorityangelinvestornetwork.com).
Fund your dream.
The Pipeline Fellowship (pipelinefellowship.com), an angel investing boot camp for women started by its CEO, Natalia Oberti Noguera, has trained more than 70 women, who have committed more than $350,000 in investment since its April 2011 launch. Because of its success, the program has expanded from New York City to Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. Female entrepreneurs who present at the Pipeline Fellowship Pitch Summit have a chance to receive a $50,000 investment in exchange for an equity stake.
Take advantage of niche market opportunities.
Don't overlook programs targeting special groups. V-Wise (whitman.syr.edu/vwise), offered in cooperation with the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), provides tools for female veterans and active duty officers to become successful entrepreneurs. Female family members of these service-women can also take part. V-Wise provides ongoing mentorship to both start-ups and established business owners, while the Many Faces, One Dream tour (manyfacesonedream.com), also a partner of the SBA, is an economic empowerment conference for LGBT entrepreneurs of color, providing counseling on financing, business certification, business plans and marketing.
This article was originally published in the April 2014 issue of ESSENCE magazine.