I recently had the chance to connect with Jason Feifer, Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur and asked him some questions about their just launched vertical, “Women Entrepreneur.” This month’s issue of Women Entrepreneur focuses on a topic that I am particularly interested in: young women entrepreneurs. As a staunch advocate for women business owners AND as a mother, myself, of two young women who are just going out into the real world, it’s a topic that I am extremely passionate about.
Q. It is a terribly exciting time to be a young woman entrepreneur. As we speak, millennials are launching twice as many businesses as the generation before them. Jason, why do you think they are in a unique position to do that?
A. I see so much entrepreneurial energy in the younger generations. I suspect it’s because young people—and especially those who were in grade school in 2008—grew up as our economy hit a recession and waves of people lost their jobs. From this, they internalized an important lesson: Nobody is going to take care of them. They will almost certainly not work for one company their whole career, or perhaps not even in one industry. The ground beneath their feet will be ever-shifting. And that means they’ll only feel stable if they’re able to embrace instability. Entrepreneurship is an answer to that: It’s a community and a mindset and a pathway that leads to people taking care of themselves.
Q. In my recent interview with Stephanie Schomer, Deputy Editor of Entrepreneur, I mentioned what I believe to be the greatest obstacles facing women entrepreneurs today, which in a nutshell are lack of access to capital, training and education. Do you think that those same obstacles still apply to emerging young, tech-savvy women entrepreneurs?
A. It’s not a problem that’ll be solved overnight, or simply by a changing of the guard. So, yes, I think emerging young women will run into the same problems. But my hope and belief is that their entire generation will be engaged in the solution, and will make significant progress. People talk about a “pipeline problem”—that there simply aren’t enough qualified women (or people of color) for various jobs. That’s nonsense. I believe we’re looking at a network problem—that industry leaders hire, train, and fund people they know, or who are in their network, or who look and act and think like them.
I see the networks changing. Today, a generation of experienced and accomplished women have committed themselves to building and supporting networks of women entrepreneurs. And emerging, young, tech-savvy women entrepreneurs will both be the beneficiaries of that new network, as well as the propagators of it: They’ll continue to pull others up with them. A network problem isn’t solved quickly, but it definitely can be solved. And I think that’s what’s happening.
Q. What role do you think the “MeToo” movement has played in sparking women of the millennial generation to pursue entrepreneurship?
A. I’d be more interested in a millennial woman’s answer to this question, frankly, but here’s an answer from a slightly-older-than-millennial man: I don’t know that #MeToo has led to entrepreneurship in particular, but it’s brought a vital conversation out into the open and, in doing so, sparked the formation of emboldened communities of ambitious and talented women. Only good things can come from that, including people meeting each other, exchanging ideas, partnering up, and starting new businesses. It’s too early to say exactly where that leads, and how we can draw a line from one thing to the other, but I don’t doubt that we’ll ultimately look back on this as a productive change.
Q. This month, you feature 13-year-old Alina Morse on the cover of Entrepreneur magazine. Alina is a successful entrepreneur with a booming candy business. What do you think that we can learn from Alina’s journey to success—and how can we leverage that to encourage the young girls in our lives … and even to inspire those who are beyond the millennial generation to launch their own business?
A. Alina’s an amazing young woman who started a candy company at the age of seven and has grown it into a multi-million-dollar operation. My favorite line from our story about her is this: In telling us how she approached building a business at that young age, she said, “I really didn’t see the risk, because I felt like I had nothing to lose.” When we’re young, we may be inexperienced—but I’d argue that inexperience can be its own kind of asset. We aren’t bogged down by old ways of thinking; we don’t say something can’t be done. Instead, we forge ahead with our fresh eyes, unafraid to fail because there’s no distance to fall. I hope all young people take inspiration from that. Your newness is an asset, should you choose to use it that way.
And for older generations, I encourage you to adopt this mentality. Look at things fresh. Ask the questions you might fear are too silly or small or uninformed. Do not be afraid to be the outsider. At any age, you’ll be new at something—and that, as I said, is an asset.
Q. In your experience talking to successful entrepreneurs, and especially women, have you found any common thread to their success?
A. I believe the most important trait of any entrepreneur is the ability to be comfortable being uncomfortable. Successful entrepreneurs don’t rest—they don’t just build something and sink comfortably into it. They understand that doing so will only lead to eventual failure. Everything must change and grow. Something that worked yesterday may not work tomorrow. To stay ahead, they need to always be pushing themselves out of their comfort zone.
Women are particularly well-suited for this. After all, they often face more discomfort early—be it from dismissive investors or partners or bankers, or inappropriate colleagues, or whatever the case is. They learn that discomfort is part of the journey (some for the good and some unfortunately for the bad), and they build up a resilience that’ll sustain them.
Q. 30 years ago this fall will mark the passage of HR 5050, the landmark legislation that eliminated the need to required women seeking a business loan to have a male cosigner in some states. Imagine that … only 30 years ago! Do you see any other legislation or movement in the future that could possibly have as big an impact as HR 5050 had on spurring women-owned businesses?
A. Wow—it’s insane to think that I was alive when something as retrograde as that requirement still existed. I’ll be honest: I don’t have a great answer to your question. Sure, I’ve seen various bills proposed to support this or that, or strengthen this or that. But politics being what it is today, I have little hope of any significant and impactful legislation being passed on any subject—certainly nothing as large as HR 5050. And history has shown that movements are impossible to predict. I’d be a fool to say I knew how anything we see today will ultimately play out.
But that’s not me being pessimistic. I believe in steady improvement. No doubt, in the way we look back 30 years and are shocked that women couldn’t receive a bank loan on their own, people in 30 years will look back at 2018 and marvel at how retrograde we were. Today’s great achievements will be tomorrow’s status quo, and we’ll only be getting better.
About the Women’s Business Development Council:
Headquartered in Stamford with regional offices in Derby and New London, the 501 (c)(3) non-profit has served more than 14,000 clients, assisted in the creation of more than 1,800 businesses and supported the sustainability and expansion of 3,800 established businesses and created more than 4,900 jobs. For more information on the Women’s Business Development Council, visit ctwbdc.org.