This article was published in the Silicon Slopes Magazine, Summer 2022
by Beth Colosimo, Executive Director, The Mill Entrepreneurship Center
Beth Colosimo is the Executive Director of The Mill Entrepreneurship Center and Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses (GS10KSB) at Salt Lake Community College. Beth works with adult and youth refugees by facilitating 2 leadership classes. Her professional career includes working for EDCUtah and various multinational corporations in sales and account management. Beth is a graduate of the University of Utah and received her MBA from Westminster College. Beth works with numerous non-profit boards and community partners in the spirit of collaboration and promoting Utah’s small businesses.
As executive director for The Mill Entrepreneurship Center and former business owner, I’m fortunate to have a front-row seat watching dozens of women conceive, create, launch, and grow their own small business as they become budding entrepreneurs and business owners. I’m fascinated to observe and study the behaviors of women in business and how their approach to business often differs from their male counterparts.
As small business educators, we teach that a key principle for entrepreneurs is to first understand your “why” when embarking on the incredibly hard journey of entrepreneurship. If you can discover and truly understand the reason for undertaking small business ownership, the path becomes much clearer. Consequently, drive, determination, and a higher likelihood of success will follow.
The Mill and our staff have taught, coached, mentored, and advised thousands of women. When these women are asked about their “why,” their answer frequently comes down to their passion for a cause, a way to provide for their family, or an intuition that nags at them, telling them to push forward, to find and follow their purpose. Rarely is their first answer about money, prestige, a title, or the ability to be the boss.
Amira Kherrallah has been working with me as a budding entrepreneur for about a year. She exemplifies the new generation of young women we’re seeing take charge of their futures with determination and grit. As a refugee from the Central African Republic, she came to Utah in 2019 after fleeing the violence in her county, living in a refugee settlement in Chad, and being separated from her family. Establishing herself in America alone would not be easy. She brought with her a strong will to find a good job in marketing and to learn English. She also brought the sadness and heartache of loss, watching her mother battle breast cancer for 17 years, and eventually losing that fight.
Amira came to me and expressed a desire to start a non-profit called PreventHer, to educate refugee and immigrant women about breast cancer awareness and prevention in honor of her young mother who died in 2018. She turned her grief into positive action after witnessing the healthcare and free resources available in the United States. Where she grew up, women didn’t have access to care and were not encouraged to seek treatment related to women’s health issues. Amira found that mammograms were mostly unattainable for the majority of women in her African community. Her non-profit educates refugee women groups about the importance of prevention and early detection in a way they feel safe and can understand.
Her entrepreneurial spirit and success in starting PreventHer ignited a second business helping refugees understand and learn to use digital marketing to promote their small enterprises among their communities. “I want to be a bridge for my community, connecting them to the resources I know are important,” Amira said. “I have the skills, why not use these skills to help my community?”
A young Colombian woman I recently had the privilege to meet told me about the non-profit she started in her country to educate teens about suicide and suicide prevention. As a carefree, happy youth she shockingly lost her best friend in high school to suicide. Maria Pineda simply couldn’t understand how she and her friends could not have seen any sign of distress in her beautiful, bright friend. She created online module training for youth designed to educate and raise awareness about warning signs, and preventive measures for recognizing and preventing young people from taking their own lives. She simply couldn’t stand the idea of another young person—with so much to live for—ending their life. Maria also turned her grief and passion for prevention into a deeply personal business. In Colombia, women entrepreneurs barely exist and are not encouraged to pursue their dreams. Maria said to me, “I’m grateful I met you. It gives me hope, strength and vision to believe that my dreams are possible. In my city, it is not common to find women role models, so it is amazing to find women in the world who have built successful businesses.”
Katie Holyfield and Taylor Matkins came to our Small Business Development Center at The Mill in 2017, seeking advice on their new venture. Having worked with adult populations with disabilities, they realized how capable the people are, but how limited job opportunities appeared to be. Their passion for creating opportunities for adults with disabilities led to Lucky Ones Coffee Shop in Park City. Although they knew very little about coffee or business, they had a drive and desire to create opportunities for disabled adults; this led them to open their shop and employ 18 individuals in 2018. Katie came back to The Mill to attend Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses to elevate her business knowledge and expand their operation.
Thinning hair is something most women and men take seriously, and the psycho-social effects of hair loss can be devastating. Two years ago, Tiffany Young and I spoke about her challenges in trying to grow her hair extension topper business, ThinHairThick. She started her business when she, like thousands of women, suffered from thinning hair. After giving birth to her triplets, she noticed a dramatic change in her hair that never self-corrected. She was later diagnosed with the medical condition Alopecia, postpartum. Many women suffer from postpartum hair loss or other medical conditions that cause thinning hair and struggle to find an acceptable and convenient way to supplement their existing hair and feel good about the way they look. Tiffany knew this feeling first-hand and set about creating a product to support and assist women who also face this dilemma that deeply affects self-confidence. Being an end-user of the product gave her an advantage over her competition because she knew how to strike a balance between function, comfort, and beauty.
While looking for a patent attorney, she found that few female patent attorneys exist and that male attorneys she interviewed didn’t take her, her product, or the need seriously. She consulted with her mentors and a board advisor who recommended she seek out a female attorney on the east coast who understood her need and believed in her product to help her legally protect her intellectual property.
She sought advice and direction from anywhere she could and often found that male advisors didn’t seem to validate the need for her business or product. Her experience was that if you showed up to the table without a SaaS or heavy tech-centric business, male advisors viewed it as a hobby, not a legitimate business. At times, she received suggestions that to even the playing field she must bring on male c-suite advisors so she would be taken more seriously, and on more than one occasion there were opportunistic advisors who offered minimal services in exchange for majority stakeholder equity. Fortunately, to offset those experiences she also found some incredibly supportive male mentors who freely shared advice and business connections which helped her promote her company.
Tiffany offers two tips in overcoming the challenges of being a female in a male-dominated business world. First, the ability to “phone a friend” in the female business community has been critical in helping her and so many other women understand how to navigate the unique pitfalls that women face in the business world. Women supporting women is more than a catchphrase or a social media hashtag. There is real, tangible value in having a support group who understands the nuanced challenges that women encounter daily in the business ecosystem. Secondly, understand that not all who claim to be mentors are in it for the right reasons. Look for someone who has arrived and is not still climbing. A mentor who has experienced the pinnacle of success is likely to offer genuine guidance.
The Mill has seen an uptick in women-owned businesses in the past few years, especially within minority and women veteran populations. One could speculate as to why, but overall, the needs and opportunities that came out of the pandemic gave rise to opportunity and rethinking what is possible in shaping careers and future earning potential.
The Mill, with our suite of business resources, creates a network that gives women courage and direction when pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors. Second careers and businesses based on passion and need are springing forth in abundance. Speaking for myself as a mentor, cultivating passions and possibilities for business ownership could not be more satisfying.
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*Read the latest issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine, Summer 2022