Before we became wives and mothers, girlfriends and godmothers, we were women with the capacity to dream big. And though at times these dreams were deferred because of the responsibilities which accompanied our various titles, they never disappeared and instead rested within us until the time was right for them to be awakened and unleashed. For some of us this meant finally embarking on an entrepreneurial enterprise, as the members of NAWBO (National Association of Women Business Owners) have done. It also meant facing the odds and obstacles that appear insurmountable but, because of organizations such as NAWBO, we learned that temporary derailment need not mean defeat.
October is National Women’s Small Business Month and this year the Memphis chapter of NAWBO chose to focus on the theme “Three Ways Women Business Owners Grow from Small to Big.” LaTisha Styles, entrepreneur and NAWBO Memphis Board Member, shared with me from both a professional and personal standpoint the importance of having a support system when building a business encompasses not just the expected setbacks but those that may result from checking one, or all, “supplemental boxes”: being a woman, being a minority, and being locally-owned. She’s observed during the time she has lived in Memphis (after having moved here from Atlanta) the “strength in numbers” philosophy has been unparalleled as it relates to the members of NAWBO Memphis giving back and paying it forward.
Founded in 1975 NAWBO “develops programs that help navigate women entrepreneurs through the various stages of their business growth” and today remains the only “dues-based organization representing the interests of all women entrepreneurs across all industries.” In keeping with their theme of growing a business from small to big, the Memphis chapter placed an emphasis on helping women, both members and non-members, understand the necessities and complexities of certification. At this month’s luncheon Phala Mire, President of WBENC (Women’s Business Enterprise National Council) South explained, “certification is never a guarantee of business, but it is a powerful tool to access opportunities and provides competitive edge in the marketplace.” It is a tool, LaTisha says, with which budding entrepreneurs may be familiar but have no idea how to add to their toolbox. This is where professional responsibility intersects with personal involvement; where mentorship and sisterhood take over so that a business owner can actually grow from small to big. So much so that board member Hughetta Dudley has personally walked NAWBO members through the certification process.
According to LaTisha, she found in NAWBO not only fellow professionals who “looked like me” but also a place to give back. “We want to see each other succeed and grow,” she affirms of the organization and saw first-hand at this month’s luncheon just what that looked like. A fellow entrepreneur, formerly homeless and attending her first meeting, sat next to LaTisha. As the principle owner of a janitorial service, she understood the concept of business growth but was now being given concrete guidance by women who’ve seen their businesses grow from micro to multi-million dollar entities. This is one of the greatest advantages LaTisha sees as a business woman here in Memphis: it is a city big enough for opportunity but still small enough to make connections.
“Memphis is top in growth for women in business and NAWBO Memphis is helping propel women into economic, social, and political spheres of influence,” she states. There is undoubtedly power in numbers and as more women step into the realities of business ownership the need for continued mentorship and networking with others who have broken barriers and paved the way remains. It is a truth deeply understood and honored by NAWBO’s members, who believe that women entrepreneurs are not merely dreamers but doers.
For more information on NAWBO Memphis, please visit www.nawbomemphis.org
Their next event, featuring “rags to riches” entrepreneur Joy Mangano, takes place on November 11 at bookstore Novel.