YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Starting a business can be confusing for anyone, but for women and minorities without contacts or a background in business, it can be impossible to know what to ask and where to go for that advice.
The Dandelion-Inc. Women in Business Resource panel event Tuesday evening provided some answers and perhaps the needed inspiration for more than 40 women who attended the event in the renovated industrial space for Penguin City Brewery.
Lisa Resnick founder of Dandelion-Inc. posed questions to three panelists, who provided information on how they gained their positions, the services they provide and how women entrepreneurs and business leaders can support one another. Sometimes, Resnick said, it’s often a matter of knowing where to go to get the information and assistance. Sometimes new business owners do not even know when they need to ask for help.
Shaundretta Boykins, business solutions manager in the Minority Business Development Division for the state of Ohio, said it is important for women entrepreneurs to remember everyone else “has an alcoholic in the family,” by which she means everyone is dealing with problems and nobody is perfect.
“I walk into the room like I’m 10 feet tall,” Boykins said. “Everyone has an issue. I can be perfectly flawed, imperfectly me and still enter the room and command it… I’m a game changer. I’m not going to not be me.”
Boykins emphasizes the importance of being yourself, even if someone finds you intimidating or unapproachable. She proudly said she just got her 40th tattoo and her hair has been known to change, even though by nature she is shy and an introvert.
“We are more alike than we are different,” Boykins said. “This woman has the same battles as you do. You learn to give people grace… When you realize everybody is fighting some type of battle, the same grace you need, you need to extend.”
Tanisha Wheeler, director of women and youth entrepreneurship at the Youngstown Business Incubator, also serves as YBI director or curriculum development. Being gracious can mean understanding that women have a lot to overcome in order to be entrepreneurs, she said. A proud mother of a 9-year-old entrepreneur herself, Wheeler points out women often are juggling a lot more than work and sometimes children do end up at the office.
A mother taking one of her classes at the incubator recently asked to bring her baby to class. Wheeler said that if the YBI had not agreed, that women would have missed out on the knowledge and sisterhood the class provides.
“We can be so ambitious, sometimes we forget to reach back and pull other women up with us,” Wheeler said. “It’s very important to elevate women in business because it is really hard.”
Wheeler notes the importance of having mentors in place, stating that her mentor, Stephanie Gilchrist, regional director with YBI, took her to where she was going. All three women on the panel talked about the path they traveled to get to where they are and some of the hurdles they have seen along the way.
“I got to where I am today because God is a comedian,” Boykins said, adding she had sworn off politics, but has continued to find herself in positions where politics play a major part.
Boykins suggested all the women there should consider working with the Minority Business Assistance Center, which can help women business owners of any race because they are all considered minority business owners.
Boykins is employed by the state of Ohio. In her position, she can help women and minorities to obtain the Women Business Enterprise certifications needed to open doors for funding and government projects, which require inclusion of contracts with businesses owned by women, minorities and veterans.
One of those people is Annissa Neider, an architect and founder of A. Neider Architecture LLC, who also was on the panel. The architect was involved in the Phelps Street project, the DoubleTree by Hilton downtown and her team is renovating the space for Penguin City Brewery. Neider described the WBE certification process and how it helped her to start her firm knowing that she would be one of the few businesses in the area that would qualify for state contracts.
Boykins talked about the importance of doing market research and held Neider’s story as an example of someone who researched what she had to offer to customers before opening her own business.
“How many people like me exist, not many … She could go in and dominate,” Boykins said.
Neider also related the difficulties she experienced while breaking into a male dominated field. She once found herself working for a short time at an all-male firm, where one architect made it clear he did not believe women belonged.
“You’ve got to know your worth,” Neider said. “You can’t let someone make you doubt yourself. Don’t let people discount you.”
Boykins, who has authored two books, points out seeing other women in male-dominated fields can help to validate one women’s value to others. So instead of seeing each other as competition, women need to bring more women along with them. The state certification process helps to validate the business, telling others this business is legitimate and has been vetted.
As a 31-year-old, 5-foot-1, minority woman, Wheeler said she knows too well how difficult it can be to prove to others that you know your industry. But she guaranteed the women in the room that if they have a passion, then come see her.
“If you’re excited about your business, then I’m excited,” Wheeler said. “Also, if you’re willing to do the work, I will take you from A to Z. I will get you there.”
Pictured from left: Lisa Resnick of Dandelion-Inc., Tanisha Wheeler, director of women and youth entrepreneurship at the Youngstown Business Incubator; Shaundretta Boykins, business solutions manager in the Minority Business Development Division at the state of Ohio; and Annissa Neider, architect and founder of A. Neider Architecture