By Andrea Zopp, Managing Partner at Cleveland Avenue
In 2021 women are finally in the room where it happens. Whether it’s politics, business or higher education, it’s hard to deny the impact of women on our world.
Women — most notably women of color — have long been underrepresented in entrepreneurship. But over the last 20 years, female entrepreneurs have taken the reins in the business world. They’ve ranged from small startups all the way to chief executives of Fortune 500 companies. Women are inevitably changing the game by creating new jobs, strengthening communities, and ultimately helping grow the economy.
Yet, despite a rich heritage in entrepreneurship and proven results in leadership, women in business are still facing several challenges. The main one being the ability to get credit or capital needed for their businesses. Part of this is due to the lack of representation in the venture capital industry. This results in Black, Latinx and female entrepreneurs struggling to access venture capital support. In Chicago, Black and Latinx entrepreneurs have 80 percent of their equity capital needs going unmet compared to 46 percent of white business owners. As a means of combating this challenge, women are turning to crowdfunding, grants or professional organizations for help to run their business, make industry introductions and advise them on how to do what they’ve never done before. That’s where we come in.
Cleveland Avenue and our diverse team of professionals are committed to addressing the capital gap for underrepresented entrepreneurs and underserved communities starting right here in Chicago. In March, we launched CAST US, a $70 million venture investment fund focused on investing in Black, Latinx and female entrepreneurs to close the racial wealth gap and make huge, historic inroads in gender equity over the next 20 years. Our public-private partnership will create a business ecosystem that will make Illinois a hub of innovation able to support a more diverse, talented group of entrepreneurs. The lack of venture capital investment in these businesses means we need to make more connections to build a stronger, more diverse network. There are clear and measurable benefits to helping women-owned businesses, including shaping an equitable, robust and more resilient economy as we recover from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s undeniable that the time to recognize the impact of female entrepreneurship is now.
Whether they’re starting a business out of necessity or passion, women are both conducting business in new ways and ensuring that more businesses have a positive social and environmental impact. As we celebrate women this and every year, we reflect on these women’s own version of success and how they continue to inspire the next generation. It’s clear that despite the challenges, women are changing the landscape of business along with its outcomes; creating deep, real and lasting change.
Female entrepreneurship is on the rise with no signs of slowing down. We’re here to open more doors to the rooms where business happens.
It’s the era of women entrepreneurs, and we’re not throwing away our shot.
The United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) defines a patent for an invention as “the grant of a property right to the inventor.”
A patent helps protect the mechanisms, principles and components of an invention. The term for a small business patent starts on the date its application is filed with the USPTO. Generally, this lasts for 20 years. Patents tend to be filed less frequently than trademarks and copyrights within small businesses. However, this is still a necessary form of intellectual property protection for inventions.
How to determine an invention is patentable
How do you determine that your invention is patentable? A patentable invention is defined accordingly by the USPTO: “Whoever invents or discovers any new and useful process, machine, manufacture or composition of matter, or any new and useful improvement thereof, may obtain a patent therefore, subject to the conditions and requirements of this title.”
The USPTO further breaks down the four requirements of a patentable invention.
“A” patent: This is singular. Only one patent may be granted for each invention.
Useful: The invention must have a specific, substantial and credible utility.
Process, machine, manufacture, composition of matter: This is a description of the subject matter, and categories, eligible for patenting.
Whoever invents or discovers: The inventor is the only person who may obtain the patent.
Three types of small business patents
Once you determine your invention is patentable, you must figure out what kind of patent you need before filing for a small business patent. It’s important to understand which patent type is the right fit for your invention. Presently, there are three types of patents:
Let’s explore how each patent protects a specific type of invention. Once you understand which patent is the closest categorization for your invention, we’ll look at how to apply for a patent.
Utility patents are among the most commonly filed small business patents with the USPTO. This type of patent may be a useful process, machine, article of manufacture, composition of matter or new or useful improvement. These are four categories of statutory subject matter and may be defined accordingly.
Process: This is an act, or series of acts or steps, typically from an industrial or technical process.
Machine: The USPTO defines machine as “a concrete thing, consisting of parts, or of certain devices and combination of devices.” Essentially, this is the literal meaning of inventing a machine.
Manufacture: These are articles made by the invention. They may be produced from raw or prepared materials and through either hand labor or by machinery.
Composition of matter: This is the chemical makeup of the invention. It may be composed of two or more substances and all composite articles. This may be gases, fluids, powders or solids.
A fifth category may also apply to the word “useful.” The invention must be able to operate and have a useful purpose. For example, a new search engine is a type of software that may qualify as a utility patent.
A utility patent also has the option to file as a provisional or nonprovisional application.
What’s the difference between the two terms? Provisional applications are a low-cost patent filing. Applicants may establish a filing date in the United States for their invention. Then, they may file a nonprovisional application to claim the invention later. Nonprovisional applications are reviewed by a patent examiner. If the invention is considered patentable, the utility patent application is filed with the USPTO.
A design patent is granted to anyone who invents a new, original and ornamental design for an article of manufacture.
How does this small business patent differ from a utility patent? A utility patent will protect the use of an article. Design patents protect the appearance of an article, but not its structural or functional features. Famous design patents include the Statue of Liberty and the original curvy Coca-Cola bottle. A recent example of a design patent are emojis, protecting the look and appearance of the digital icons.
The terms for a design patent, as effective May 13, 2015, may last 15 years from the date of the patent grant. Prior to 2015, the term was 14 years. This provides small businesses with over a decade’s worth of patent protection.
One of the most unique small business patents is the plant patent. This patent may be granted to anyone that has invented, discovered or asexually reproduced a distinct, new variety of plant. Here are a few examples:
Mutants (this is only applicable if the mutant is discovered in a cultivated area)
Newly found seedlings
Algae and macro-fungi
Asexually propagated plants reproduced through means other than seeds, such as layering or budding.
Plants that would not be eligible for a plant patent include existing plants, such as roses, bacteria, and edible tuber reproduced plants like potatoes.
A plant patent’s terms are for 20 years from the date of the patent’s application filing. Similar to that of a utility patent, a plant patent may file a provisional or nonprovisional application. The inventor filing this application must be the same person that invented, or reproduced, the plant they wish to patent.
Applying for a patent
By now, you likely have a good idea as to which small business patent is best for your invention. The next step is to get ready to apply for a patent.
As you prepare to apply for a patent, keep in mind the following.
What is your application strategy? You may choose to file as yourself (Pro Se) or work with a patent attorney or agent.
Will you file a provisional or nonprovisional application? This may be contingent on the type of small business patent you are filing.
Do you have enough money set aside for fees? There are several fees associated with filing a patent, including application fees, search fees, examination fees and issues fees.
How soon do you need the patent? You may consider expedited examination options to file for and receive patent approval sooner.
Do I have everything I need for my application? Your patent application materials may require an oath or declaration, drawings and additional written documents. Make sure you understand each required part necessary for obtaining your patent and include it with your application.
Will I mail my application or submit it online? Double-check everything prior to making this last step to ensure your application is complete. Remember that once your application has been filed with the USPTO, you will not be able to add new items to it.
Patent approval and next steps
If your patent is approved, congratulations! You will receive notice of approval and a patent grant that is mailed to you.
After receiving your small business patent, make sure to maintain the patent over the years. Pay any maintenance fees on time to ensure it does not expire and check the status as needed for this valuable piece of intellectual property.
Elizabeth Suarez worked in the corporate world for 15 years. After holding countless leadership positions throughout the U.S. and Central and South America, she not only has extensive insight into a male-dominated industry, but according to Suarez, it also made her realize that more women were needed at the executive table.
“I would say I lived a syndrome of me, myself, and I. There was no other Latina; there was no other woman,” Suarez said. “When I decided to retire from the corporate world, that’s when I realized that what we had to do was basically be better negotiators to be able to be in meetings where people make decisions, the problem, many women, we – Latinas are not present where decisions are being made.”
Remembering all those years in the industry takes Suarez back in time to where her dreams began.
“I started out as this girl who wanted to make a difference in the corporate world,” Suarez said. “I grew up in Puerto Rico, I am of Cuban parents, I went to the university in New York as well as [got] my master’s degree, and I was in the corporate world everywhere.”
Today, Suarez lives in Denver, she is an author, and a coach and a leadership and negotiating strategist. Suarez empowers professionals to obtain more money and recognition, while helping organizations to develop a stronger workforce.
Suarez credits a big part of her success as an entrepreneur to the people who helped push her to take the plunge.
“I have to admit it, I had a lot of people who helped me and who believed in me,” said Suarez. “I had many mentors who believed in me and even today they follow me and want to help me.”
Since then, paying it forward has always been one of Suarez’s mottos as she remembered that her mentors told her, “Hey, remember that you have to help others in your community. This is not just about you. This is about your community.”
So following in their footsteps, Suarez became a mentor of young women and after mentoring for a few years, she came to another important realization.
According to Suarez, it’s difficult for many women to advocate for themselves.
“I always say to people that culturally we have always been told that we have to be grateful – grateful for living, grateful for our health, grateful for our work. And what I’m saying is that, yes, that is important, but at the same time, we have to be able to communicate to other people that we deserve the salary, that we deserve the promotion because we have brought a lot of progress to the company,” Suarez said.
Being a good negotiator, according to Suarez, is being able to be someone who can listen to what the other person is saying. One who can understand the needs of the other person and at the same time, can communicate effectively so that the other person can understand his or her needs.
“This is not about winning everything you want; this is being able to identify a solution that will be a good thing for both people,” Suarez said.
Suarez has a daughter in college and she gives her the same advice that she gives all young women.
“You cannot assume that if they offer you the job that that’s it. I accept it, it’s over, I’m going to party, no no no,” Suarez said.
According to Suarez, women need to take it upon themselves to do a thorough investigation of the going salary for the position that they are applying for.
“There are different ways to find out. There are different apps that tell you this. The average salary of the type of job where you are living, and you have to have the strength to say, ‘This is a competition; we are playing a game. I play, and even though they offered me the job, I’m going to have to ask for more,'” she said.
Suarez encourages women to negotiate in the same manner as men do because, according to her, “Study after study shows that men always ask for more than women.”
“From the beginning, you have to negotiate more,” Suarez said, “and if they tell you that they cannot give you more money, negotiate more things. Free days, bonuses – agree to re-analyze your work in six months, and from there you can get another raise.”
Suarez is the author of the book ‘The Art of Getting Everything,’ and she has been has a keynote speaker at women’s conferences across the country, including the Women in Technology Conference where she spoke to over 650 women about the power of negotiation, networking and self advocacy.
The need to break the glass ceiling has existed for the past couple of centuries, and women have been fighting long and hard for that big moment. Available statistics suggest that 36% of small businesses worldwide are owned by women. People ask me about what it’s like being a woman in business at my age, and I always have the same answer:
“It’s difficult, there are challenges, but you push through.” My challenges, of course, pale in comparison to the million others who don’t have the environment, access, or support that I have had. However, we often hear the words that it’s difficult, but I think it’s important that we take the time to break it down. I am a highly solution-focused person, for better and for worse, and so, I would like to plug in some guidance to all those navigating similar experiences.
LESSON 1: PROTECTION VERSUS ENCOURAGEMENT
Yes, everyone is familiar with the savior complex, but it gets so much worse in the world of business. I want to say this gets better as you get older, but I have seen it happen to my colleagues with 20 and 30 years of experience as well. The assumption that we, as women in business, are naïve, standing like deer-in-the-headlights, is a real stereotype that we find ourselves fighting against more often than not.
Getting advice from those more experienced than you can be useful; however, it is essential that you question the intention of that advice. Is the intention one of protection, fear of your inability to succeed, or for your safety? Here is what I am going to say: you know your work better than anyone. Trust your own instincts and critical analysis. For instance, when we at Mirai Partners were entering Lagos as a new location for our business, most people gave us incredibly discouraging advice. We thought differently, and here we are, three years later, with state-level contracts and further expansion planned over the next three years.
LESSON 2: BREAKING INTO THE BOYS CLUB
Do I feel entirely comfortable going for a meeting or networking at events after work hours or outside a conference? The real answer is no, but I have done it many times, because when you own your own business, you have to. A 2019 survey revealed that out of 600 female entrepreneurs, nearly 56% had experienced some form of discrimination or harassment in their capacity as business owners. As such, the reason many women do not feel comfortable with gatherings associated with work is that we fear that men in those spaces will behave in a way that we don’t expect or want. However, as someone who’s had her own share of such odd experiences, I do have a set of ground rules to prevent such occurrences in the future, which might help you as well:
– If you are not meeting someone in their office, try and pick a neutral and public place.
– If they make you feel uncomfortable, no business opportunity is worth it.
– Personal questions about your relationship status shouldn’t be asked, so don’t be afraid to not answer.
Click here to read the full article on Entrepreneur.
A woman launching an innovative new comb for afro hair wants to use her experience to get other young black women into engineering.
“I would have loved a young me to have been taught by a black woman,” said Swansea-based Youmna Mouhamad. She received an enterprise fellowship from the Royal Academy of Engineering to help her develop the product. Fewer than 2% of engineers are women from ethnic minorities.
“I want to be part of the change, so that a young person that comes after me is in a place where they feel much more heard and much more accepted,” said Youmna. She was doing a PhD in physics when she first got the idea for the Nyfasi Deluxe Detangler, which provides an easier way of conditioning natural afro hair.
Youmna supported her studies by working as a nanny and the little girl she looked after used to cry with pain when her hair was washed and conditioned.”The whole house would be full of tears,” she remembers. “I wanted her to have a better experience.
“I shifted to engineering because I always had a desire to work on things that I can touch with my hands, and I love the process of taking an idea and actually creating something.” Once Youmna had developed a prototype she looked for women with afro hair to join a focus group to test it. Lenient and her nine-year-old daughter, Goodness, were among the volunteers. “I have got three girls and I do their hair myself,” said Lenient.
“The washing process is dreadful because they don’t want to. Why? Because it’s quite painful for them, especially the combing part.” “And this detangler, the first time I tried it, it was really easy.” Goodness agreed, adding: “The normal comb feels like someone is pulling your hair, when it’s tangled it hurts. But with this comb, it’s very soft and easy to untangle.”
In 2014, South Shore mom Karyn Bello and her family began navigating uncharted territory when her daughter, Lily, came out as transgender.
Seven years later, Bello, 51, created her own fashion line of lingerie designed for transgender women and hopes to be an example for parents of transgender people.
Her clothing line, named Zhe in reference to the gender-neutral pronoun, includes technology meant to fit transgender women’s bodies and help them feel comfortable in their own skin.
“They’re meant to help trans women navigate through the world and through their clothes comfortably without having to worry,” Bello told the Advance/SILive.com. “They’re much more accessible and safe for them to be wearing.”
Bello’s underwear line is designed to help transgender women stray away from harmful do-it-yourself methods of tucking.
Tucking is a way to disguise the genitalia and create a more feminine appearance underneath clothing or in underwear. At times, it is achieved using duct tape or other adhesives, which can be harmful to the body.
“[These methods] are bad for your urethra; you get UTIs easily,” Bello explained. They’re just bad for your health. I was coming at it from a mom’s perspective. I want you to be healthy and take care of yourself, too.”
The Zhe underwear is made with technology to help achieve a similar outcome in a much safer way. Key features of the underwear include a wider gusset, multi-layered front panel, and spandex support.
Lego, the world’s largest toymaker, has pledged to eliminate gender stereotypes from its products — including labeling that marks toys as “for girls” or “for boys” — as part of a bid to match the wishes of its young customers.
“Despite the progress made in girls brushing off prejudice at an early age, general attitudes surrounding play and creative careers remain unequal and restrictive,” the Danish company known for its colorful building blocks said in a statement on Monday, which was also the United Nations Day of the Girl. “Girls today feel increasingly confident to engage in all types of play and creative activities, but remain held back by society’s ingrained gender stereotypes as they grow older.”
Lego’s move comes amid heightened debate about the role that toys play in creating and perpetuating gender stereotypes. On Saturday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed a new law requiring large retail stores in the nation’s most populous state to provide gender-neutral shopping sections for child-care items and toys beginning in 2024.
The toymaker’s announcement also comes in response to a global survey, commissioned by Lego and conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media, that found that parents and, to a lesser extent, their children, are still influenced by gendered notions of career. Young girls are also more willing to participate in activities that cut across “gender norms” than their male peers, the poll found.
For instance, when asked which gender immediately comes to mind upon thinking of scientists, parents from seven countries were much more likely to say “male,” researchers found, using online, opt-in surveys.
And while 82 percent of girls saw nothing wrong with them playing soccer and boys doing ballet, only 71 percent of their male counterparts felt the same way.
While it was heartening to see girls becoming more confident, Madeline Di Nonno, the institute’s chief executive, said the discrepancy might also reflect that boys fear being teased or bullied if they play with toys associated with girls.
“Let the kids decide what they want to play, how they want to play with it and how they want to express themselves,” she said in an interview.
“Our job now is to encourage boys and girls who want to play with sets that may have traditionally been seen as ‘not for them,’ ” Julia Goldin, Lego’s chief product and marketing officer, told the Guardian newspaper.
The company said in an emailed statement that it would work to offer a more diverse array of characters and roles so that no child would “feel that they weren’t welcome or represented” in Lego products.
The campaign to make toys and other children’s products more gender-neutral has been around for several years. Advocates including Evan Low, a Democratic assemblyman who helped write the new California law, note that gender-based divisions of such products have contributed to “the proliferation of [science, technology, engineering and mathematics]-geared toys” for boys and “pursuits such as caring for a baby, fashion, and domestic life” for girls.
Some conservative organizations, however, pushed back on the California bill, arguing that a government-imposed view on gender constitutes a violation of free speech and reflects attempts to impose a gender-neutral ideology.
Click here to read the full article on Washington Post.
Professional Woman’s Magazine recently spoke with Ashley Mehta, chairwoman, CEO and president of Nolij Consulting, a woman-owned, solutions-focused healthcare IT company that specializes in digital healthcare modernization for the military, public and commercial sectors.
Mehta founded the Northern Virginia-based Nolij Consulting in 2013, and since then, has scaled the company to be the leader in healthcare IT.
We asked the Ohio native more about Nolij, her challenges as a female business owner and her goals for the future:
Professional Woman’s Magazine (PWM): Tell us a little bit more about your background. Were you always interested in IT?
Mehta: I am a graduate of the Ohio State University’s Max. M. Fisher College of Business. I have two children and am privileged to be in a position where I can create a positive, impactful work environment for my employees while giving back to the community and championing causes that I am passionate about, including veterans’ and women’s issues. I love working in IT because, whether it’s making systems more efficient, reducing client expenditure or producing better outcomes, technology is able to create a significant and real change in organizations and people’s lives. Yes, I’ve always been interested in technology as it increases business efficiencies and brings people together to solve the most pressing business problems.
PWM: What led you to create Nolij Consulting?
Mehta: I was a former stay-at-home mom with two young children who found herself in a position where I needed to go back to work. I joined a large consulting firm and had the opportunity to learn the entire spectrum of the business – from compliance to proposals, business development, technology and everything in between. As the industry started shifting from large business opportunities to more small business opportunities, I recognized my chance to start my own company and make a real difference in the industry while having the work/life balance I wanted so I could juggle all of my responsibilities. From there, Nolij was born. Over the past 9 years, we have made great strides against considerable odds in establishing ourselves amid a crowded GovCon marketplace! Ironically enough, I have trained several previously stay at home moms in this business and they now work for Nolij.
PWM: What challenges, if any, have you experienced as a female founder and CEO in this space?
Mehta: The biggest obstacle I’ve faced to date is the lack of prime IT opportunities specifically set aside for women-owned businesses. As Nolij has grown its footprint across the GovCon space, and is now expanding into the commercial sector, I’ve continued to focus on key areas, such as cybersecurity, RPA and AI, where we can expand our partnerships to create new opportunities for women-owned businesses.
PWM: What would you say is your greatest accomplishment to-date?
Mehta: Building a successful, thriving business and creating an outstanding consulting company with a great work environment for my employees while being a great mother is my greatest accomplishment so far. Our employees gave us a 4 on Glassdoor, which is no easy feat to achieve for an organization. Glassdoor is a website where current and former employees anonymously review companies. I am proud of employing leading talent across the industry and having the expertise to serve our clients and add to their success.
Nolij is proud to give back to various charities and support the less fortunate in our community. As a little girl, I’ve always dreamed of having extra money to give to those in need.
I’ve been able to do this while raising two beautiful children who have worked hard as well and have bright futures ahead of them. These successes inspire me every day to keep moving forward.
PWM: What advice would you give to another female entrepreneur?
Mehta: I would say that leading by example, putting yourself in front of clients and marketing your company on social media is very important. It’s also critical to set yourself apart and create a differentiator for your company. Distinguish your company and invest heavily in training resources and certifications for your organization and your employees. To build a successful team, be sure you are offering the right benefits that will keep employees with you and give them the chance to grow professionally. It’s no longer expensive to provide the benefits and resources that larger companies do. It is important to create a strong foundation to make people feel valued and enjoy coming to work each day. And remember, once you have a strong service/product offering, no one will care if you are a man or a woman.
PWM: What are your goals for Nolij Consulting? What do you hope to achieve in the future?
Mehta: We are focused on strategic growth in a number of areas going forward to make the company future-ready. We are also focused on strong partnerships and relationships to further strengthen our capabilities to meet our clients’ goals. We’ve created three new joint ventures (JV) focused on cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, emerging technologies and health IT services. These joint ventures are a combination of 8A, WOSB, Hubzone, and SDVOSB managed JVs. We also have a mentor protégé JV relationship with a large health IT company where we plan to win opportunities under relevant IT contract vehicles. We are currently working to win several contract vehicles that give us the ability to win task orders under those vehicles. We just recently won GSA 8A STARS III and Navy Seaport NxG. We are also strengthening our AI /ML solutions to establish a strong capability in software testing and Electronic Health Records (EHR). We just won an artificial intelligence sole source opportunity with Health and Human Services (HHS). We’ve established several emerging, next-generation technology product partnerships and are currently establishing a workforce that is well trained on delivering these products. Our goal is to achieve an even stronger health IT company focused on our employee’s wellbeing while providing excellent health IT services to our clients.
PWM: What is something colleagues would be surprised to know/learn about you?
Mehta: I have a twin brother who is also in IT. He is more in the sales and software product side of the business. My son looks quite a bit like him. I also have an older brother who is in healthcare mergers and acquisitions. I grew up with my father owning his own consulting business around continuing education for CPAs. He did not have the luxury of the business conveniences that we have today. Due to the lack of technology, he had to educate CPAs in person, ship heavy training materials for his classes and had to conduct business over a phone hooked up to a wall. Today we can offer e-learning opportunities, send large documents over the internet, use our mobile phones to have Zoom or WebEx meetings with clients across the world. As a business owner and mother, I have a tremendous amount of respect for what my dad accomplished while raising kids without the technological advances we have today.
PWM: Anything else you would like to add that we missed?
Mehta: If your company has predominately male leadership, if it’s not leaning more towards a healthy even split, then the next generation of women will consider your company yesterday’s product. A product not worth their investment and time; a place where innovation and creativity will be stifled by outdated norms.
I want to take a moment to recognize the bright daughters of my outstanding employees and all that they are accomplishing. It’s exciting to think about a future where their contributions will not only be recognized but will be sought-after. Ultimately, empowering women in the workplace ensures your company will be ready for whatever challenges lie ahead.
Facebook this week announced a $100 million commitment to a program that supports small businesses owned by women and minorities by buying up their outstanding invoices.
By buying up outstanding invoices, the Facebook Invoice Fast Track program puts money in the hands of small businesses that would have otherwise had to wait weeks if not months to get paid by their customers.
The program is the latest effort by Facebook to build its relationships and long-term loyalty among small businesses, many of whom rely on the social network to place ads targeted to niche demographics who may be interested in their services.
Businesses can submit outstanding invoices of a minimum of $1,000, and if accepted, Facebook will buy the invoice from the small business and pay them within a matter of days. The customers then pay Facebook the outstanding invoices at the same terms they had agreed to with the small business. For Facebook, which generated nearly $86 billion in revenue in 2020, waiting for payments is much less dire than it is for small businesses.
Facebook piloted a smaller version of the program in 2020 after hearing how much the company’s suppliers were struggling in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, said Rich Rao, Facebook’s vice president of small business.
“We just heard first-hand the financial hardships that these suppliers were facing, and it was created really quickly and brought up as an idea and pitched to our CFO to say, ‘Hey, would we be able to help our suppliers with this?’” Rao said. “It was a very small pilot, but we did see that be very successful.”
Now, Facebook is drastically expanding the program and will buy up to $100 million in outstanding invoices. Rao estimates this will support approximately 30,000 small businesses.
“It’s a new concept, but we’re really excited about it,” Rao said.
U.S. businesses owned by women and minorities, and that are members of supplier organizations that serve underrepresented groups, are eligible to apply for the program. This includes the National Minority Supplier Development Council, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Veterans Business Development Council, Disability: IN and the U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce. Facebook is also exploring adding more partner organizations for the program, the company told CNBC.
“We deserve multicultural projects. We deserve to see ourselves. Everyone deserves to see themselves, and not just see themselves up there [on the screen] but also behind the scenes too,” shared Primetime Emmy and Grammy winner, Tiffany Haddish.
“You’re entertaining multicultural people. You’re entertaining a nation that is a melting pot. It’s not one thing. We are a melting pot. So, it needs to be that represented by our industry.”
To the critically acclaimed comedian, actress, producer, author, activist and philanthropist, diversity, equity and inclusion are not just buzz words. They are the bedrock and foundation of her career, as well as the legacy she hopes to leave in the world. That fortitude and dedication to service is what made Haddish an easy choice for Professional Woman’s Magazine’s 2021 Wonder Woman of the Year.
It would be hard to go anywhere in the country and find someone unacquainted with Haddish’s work. From her comedy performances and television appearances (Def Comedy Jam, The Carmichael Show and her hit Showtime special Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood) to her New York Times bestselling memoir, The Last Black Unicorn (which debuted at the number 15 spot) and her hit films like Girls Trip, where she starred alongside other greats, Regina Hall, Jada Pinkett Smith and Queen Latifah, or Nigh School co-starring with Kevin Hart, Tiffany Haddish is easily considered one of the most recognizable women in comedy.
Her comedy album, Black Mitzvah, made history as the second time an African American woman has won the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album since Whoopi Goldberg in 1986. Her accolades further include hosting the revival of the historic CBS special, Kids Say the Darndest Things, as well as a frequent guest host of the award-winning The Ellen DeGeneres Show, when fellow comedian Ellen DeGeneres needs to take breaks. She is also a successful entrepreneur as the founder and owner of her own production company, She Ready Productions.
About the Vision
She Ready Productions has been a dream in the making for Haddish, who started her company to make a change, not only in her life, but the lives of as many people as she could. “It was important to me because I wanted to be able to tell our stories the way that I think they should be told, and I wanted to provide jobs for people,” said the star. “I could be that selfish person like, ‘I’m the star. It’s all about me!’ It’s not all about me, and I don’t have all the stories. There are so many stories to be told. I wanted to create a company that is female-run and that is telling our stories and giving opportunities.”
Because the country is currently in a rebuilding phase from the pandemic, especially the entertainment and media industry, Haddish wants to support those who need work and opportunity the most. “The vision is 500 jobs every 3 months for 500 people. That’s my vision,” she said. “Every time we do something, that’s 250, right? So, if I get two projects going at the same time, that’s 500 people working. In my mind, this time next year, 1600 people would have been employed, put their kids through school and paid their rent. In my mind, that’s what I see.”
About the Future
Born to an Eritrean refugee and African American businesswoman in South Central Los Angeles, Haddish grew up in and out of the American foster care system. Her father left when she was very young, thus her mother remarried and had two more girls as well as two boys. When Haddish was nine years old, their mother was in a car crash that her stepfather later admitted to causing, leaving her mother with severe brain damage that caused aggressive and violent changes to her behavior. After that, Haddish became the major caregiver for her siblings until they were temporarily separated in foster care when she turned 12. When she turned 15, their grandmother reunited them once more under her care.
These experiences left a special place in Haddish’s heart for displaced children and those in the foster care system. She has partnered with Living Advantage, a nonprofit that focuses its work on the welfare of foster children, as well as the Laugh Factory Comedy Camp and her own organization, the She Ready Foundation, which facilitates programs for foster youth like the She Ready Internship Program.
When asked about the program, Haddish was effusive. “It’s going actually very good. The kids are learning a lot, and we have these meetings every few weeks, just checking in with them to make sure they have the skills. We’re giving them life skills as well.” She continued, “They’re coming from a place, well, you know where they’re coming from: where I came from. Nobody showed me how to do a lot of things that I wish somebody would have shown me instead of me having to bump my head and figure it out.”
Haddish has often described her formative years and experiences as difficult and without much guidance. From not understanding her body in her early years (and even being hospitalized with toxic shock syndrome at one point) to living in her car during her twenties, Haddish had to learn a lot about life for herself, something she wants to spare the youth in her program. Along with life skills, they are also learning about the entertainment and media industries and how to navigate the business of bringing people joy.
“We’re showing them. We’re giving them the blueprint…they’re talking about their experiences so far…how much they’ve grown and learned. I’m just excited for them. I’m a big believer in Whitney’s song, Greatest Love of All,” Haddish shared while reciting the lyrics, like a poem and a motivational speech. “It is my mantra. Every month, we say this honey! So, that’s what I’m trying to do, and I see it. I see them growing. I see their whole demeanor, their whole energy, changing. I know they are my future. People who know where I come from are about to be running this business, and it just fills my heart up with so much joy.”
About Her Business
So, what comes next for the woman who has starred in at least one profitable blockbuster every year for the past five years, now that she’s adding producing credits to her acting accolades?
“Director,” she said immediately. “And then we’ll go for my doctorate because I want people to call me Dr. Haddish,” she continued. “I just want to hear people call me Dr. Haddish…I would probably get it in communications. A doctor of communicating; I love it.”
But that’s not all. Haddish also plans to publish more books in the future. “Yes, there will be another book coming, sooner than later,” Haddish admitted. “There’s three books coming. One is a memoir that picks up where Black Unicorn left off. There’s a middle-age/YA teen book coming and a children’s book.”
Each book is very different and has a unique focus that you might not expect. “The children’s book is about unicorns,” Haddish said, “and about being comfortable with yourself. The YA book is about my experience going into high school, or junior high I should say. And the memoir is about these last five years.”
“I really focus mostly on adults. I’m a grown up. But I do realize that these kids need something too, and I love them. They love me. I work well with children, and they’re my future. So, I want to give them something that’s going to bring them up…it’s books I wish I could have read when I was a kid.”
Haddish is focused on using her experiences, lessons and unique brand of funny to give the industry a better tomorrow. Ultimately, it’s her goal to help people overcome the same obstacles that she’s had to face, to build the futures they want and experience life with dignity. She wants everyone to know that it all starts with you.
“I want [people] to know that it is important to love yourself. You take care of you first and then take care of everybody else. Don’t ever feel guilty for that.”
Read this story and more fascinating articles in the digital issues here!
By Shonna Jordan, owner of Jordan & Jordan Marketing
It was only about three weeks until my big event. I had sold tickets. I had sold exhibit tables. I had sponsors, food and beverage, volunteers, models and music all lined up. I put deposits on the venue and vendors. I invested in programs and pop ups, promotions and products. All the pieces of the puzzle were in place.
And I had just hung up with a friend who told me, “You can NOT have the event! No one is going to come!”
Not just my world, but THE whole world, had just gone on lockdown due to this thing called COVID.
What the hell was I going to do?
Jumping into Action
If you have not read Ken Blanchard’s book, Who Moved My Cheese, I strongly recommend that you do. Someone had just moved my big cheese and I had no time to hem or haw… I HAD TO sniff and scurry… like IMMEDIATELY!
I quickly wrote a script, downloaded a teleprompter app, turned my kitchen into a little studio, put on my “news anchor” face that I learned during my college days, recorded a great “don’t fear, the event isn’t cancelled it’s just postponed temporarily” message, uploaded it to YouTube and blasted it out through every social media outlet and every email I had in my database in less than a day. And then? Then I caved, crumbled, withdrew and went into hiding. I had put on the brave face, but underneath it all, even knowing I really had to keep moving, I was a mess and at a loss. Accustomed to producing and directing events, I found myself with lack of direction in uncertain times.
Not only did I have the March 2020 event, The Business Women’s Mega Mixer, which had to be postponed, I also had already started promoting my second large event, The Business Explosion, slotted for October 2020… both are annual events that were in their eleventh year. On top of that, I own and operate a women’s networking group, Good Ol’ Gals Business Connections, for which I held monthly meetings in three locations. Yea… those also came to a screeching halt in March 2020 and those also had attendees, sponsors and marketplace tables that had already been purchased for March AND April.
Before I could really get a game plan together, I had to get a read on where those who had invested in the meetings and events stood. I was in awe that the vast majority were incredibly understanding and committed to weather this storm with me. And that’s when it REALLY hit me. I wasn’t in this alone. There were a multitude of events that could no longer be held and we didn’t know for how long: no sporting events, no school or school-related functions, no weddings, celebrations, dance parties. No gatherings… at all. The magnitude of this pandemic had finally sunk in and after what I would consider a “fair” amount of time had passed and more than enough wallowing had been done, I started planning again.
Crafting a Plan
Determined to be ready the very second things started to open up again, I got creative. How would I handle putting on an event while still abiding by safety protocols? What could I do to create a safe environment in which participants would be comfortable attending while providing a platform for reconnection and rebuilding while ALSO honoring and respecting the choices of each individual? Ain’t that a doozy? And I wanted to be first to welcome everyone back to in-person events without jumping the gun. Quite the balancing act.
Month after month, I stayed up to date on the state and county guidelines. I took the networking group online and down to just one meeting a month and kept the same vibe behind the computer as I did in front of the room. Maintaining the connection was critical. For the larger business events, I kept in touch primarily with the venue, as they were truly on top of all the most current safety guidelines and projected dates for reopening or moving to the next tier.
It was challenging to keep plugging away, I won’t lie. But as I watched and listened, not only to the news but to my community of business professionals, I had hope. People were chomping at the bit to get back to “normal,” and I was prepared!
From providing commemorative kerchiefs to use as a personal microphone cover to personal, event-branded bottles of hand sanitizer to stars on a “walk of fame” that served double duty as social distance markers! My favorite creative idea was the one that honored individual choices… I provided pins to affix to each attendee’s name badge lanyard that had one of four symbols on it to denote the wearer’s comfort level with contact — from “no contact” or “fist bump only” to “handshakes ok” to “I’m good with it all”! No guilt, no judgement. The Good Ol’ Gals had their first in person meeting at the very end of April 2021… and it was a huge success!
Expect the Unexpected
But what about the two annual events? The GOG Gala (that April networking meeting I just mentioned) was maxed out at 60 attendees to stay within the 25 percent indoor capacity rule at the time. I realized early in 2021 that having the Mega Mixer in March wasn’t going to be an option as it draws upwards of 250 participants and that wasn’t permitted yet. But the Business Explosion could most likely be held in October… so what to do? Get creative, start planning, be prepared… and expect the unexpected. That came in the form of my venue being sold and would no longer be used for events! What the…?!?
The idea came to take the best elements from both events and blend them into ONE BIG EVENT… MegaBOOM2021! But where to hold it now that the venue I had used for years was no longer an option? And within the same budget? I put it out there to my tribe and they came through. The first big business event in my area is ON! And guess what? Even with less time to promote, I’m ready and so are those who have patiently waited.
This journey for me had its major ups and downs, both professionally AND personally, but like many I’ve heard from, I used this unprecedented situation to take stock, do some introspection and self-analysis, set a few things straight and let a few things go. Going through this ordeal gave me a new perspective on my business, my life and my self…. Emerging from it surprisingly a better human for having gone through it.
No matter what life throws our way, getting creative, being prepared and understanding that the only certainty in life is change will keep us moving forward in a positive direction.
Shonna Jordan is the owner of Jordan & Jordan Marketing, a North San Diego County-based marketing agency which, in addition to brand development, marketing messaging and marketing materials development for small businesses, also produces two annual events: The Business Women’s Mega Mixer and The Business Explosion. Jordan writes, speaks and trains on various marketing and business-related topics and owns and operates the women’s networking organization, Good Ol’ Gals Business Connections. You can contact her via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.