Black Women About Business (BWAB) is an 11-month virtual and retreat platform for aspiring, novice, and seasoned entrepreneurs focused on education, mentorship, coaching, and funding.
BWAB founder Demarra Gardner spoke with Black Enterprise contributor Rochelle Soetan about the challenges of launching BWAB and how the organization will strive to help black business women achieve their goals.
Rochelle Soetan: When you think about black women in business what are the needs you think of for effectively scaling a business?
Demarra Gardner: I believe that we need community support that feels relevant and conducive to our needs. I think that the “tribe” is often missing for us so we end up learning about things the hard way, which is what I did in business. I believe that there is a better way forward. One of the ways that we can serve the community is by ensuring that women have better and total access to high-quality education relative [to] their knowledge and to grow their businesses. Based on all of the information that is available about access to capital, there is a huge need for women to have financial support to be able to scale their businesses.
Why black women? Why not all women?
There is a lot of focus these days on black women in a variety of capacities, particularly, in the realm of business. There are many programs that support black women in business but none like my vision for BWAB, which is really a one-stop shop.
This all-encompassing program was designed to give black women the full support they need to create a strong foundation in business and to launch and scale their businesses successfully. We are addressing everything as a whole to include self-worth, self-work, educational needs, mentoring, financial education, access to capital, and mind/body/spirit connection.
There are many women-owned organizations now that support female empowerment, black women rising, and black girl magic. What are some of the first steps that black women in business can make to remove many of the societal labels and stereotypes placed on them?
Firstly, there has to be a safe space for women to explore many of these issues. What is optimal is that there has to be an environment where women are connected by things like their identity, aspirations, and entrepreneurial goals. Having an intentional safe space to talk about these issues can encourage the internal work that needs to be done, which is quite different from the mechanics of business. You can pick up a book and learn about financial management or attend a workshop to learn about any one facet required to be successful in business. What you may not be able to acquire in many of these spaces is the self-work, inside out, which is the most challenging body of work.
Secondly, when we are taking into account who we are, how we came to be, and the messages that have not been beneficial to us, we are then able to strip ourselves from those and be accountable. As change agents, we have to facilitate these types of spaces and give women the space to be able to engage in a way that is meaningful to them. This is where the mind, body and spirit connection reside. There is also an acknowledgment that there are unique experiences to the black woman. Being able to uplift, discuss, and explore these issues will allow us to go deep in how we begin to heal as whole beings.
How will BWAB help women not only lead their own organizations but also serve as leadership examples for how others lead in business?
I love that question. What comes to mind is that I am my sister’s keeper. We talk a lot about being our brother’s keeper, but I want us to take on more of the identity of what it means to be our sister’s keeper. In an intentional way, what that looks like is a way to help black women understand that they have a responsibility to support one another, and to take pleasure in supporting one another. Oftentimes, when we do not support each other, nor do we get the support that we need essentially. Without question, we are stronger collectively.
There will be space in Black Women About Business for women to get acquainted with one another, both personally and professionally, and to assess where collaboration is most possible. At this junction, we are discussing what it means to go through this cycle in its entirety and as we reach the end of the program. We must assess what it looks like for us to give back to our communities in a really intentional way. Perhaps, we have felt and continue to feel as though we cannot support black businesses, but we absolutely can. And we can do this unapologetically.
What kinds of leadership development and industry experts will BWAB provide for entrepreneurs?
I’m collaborating with an assortment of professionals who are well-known, have a considerable following, and are known in their fields for the niche that they are bringing, be it branding, social marketing, or business planning. These partners will provide the educational support, mentorship support, coaching support as well as the funding and developmental aspects of business. At least 90% of all of the business support we will provide will be offered by black women.
How will the process work for new members from beginning to completion? And will you be able to track the progress and success of the program through market research?
Absolutely. First and foremost, the first core level will have lifetime access to all of the materials that we create. Secondly, if they want to be a part of another tribe of women, they will have to re-enroll. However, having lifetime access to the materials is critical and provides them an opportunity to further engage in a meaningful way. For example, we’ll have an annual retreat every summer which will be offered to women in both tracks, novice/aspiring and advanced, as well as women who are not a part of the black community. This will give members an opportunity to personally engage. There will be many opportunities for the women to stay involved with the work.
Regarding the market research, as a consultant, I will also be an evaluator. I feel that accurate market research and evaluation is missing from many existing programs that are providing business support. At BWAB, we will be evaluating the success of the program throughout and there will be follow-up evaluation that we implement, along with structured interviews and things of that nature. We will have case studies, long and short-term, to show the accuracy of the work that we’re doing.
BWAB will open its membership application process on Nov. 11 and will launch nationwide on Dec. 4.