Back in the 1990s, when women first joined the entrepreneurial revolution and were starting businesses faster than the general startup rate, a common complaint was they had few, if any, role models. There were the iconic women entrepreneurs like Anita Roddick (The Body Shop), Muriel Siebert (the first woman to own a seat on the New York Stock Exchange), Lillian Vernon (Lillian Vernon Corp.), Ruth Handler (Mattel), Mary Kay Ash (Mary Kay cosmetics), and Martha Stewart to be sure.
But there weren't a lot of other women business owners in their cities and neighborhoods they could share ideas, challenges, and solutions with. And there were even fewer successful women available or willing to mentor them. In fact, I was at a meeting of a relatively new women's organization back then when one of the women entrepreneurs wasn't sure she wanted to help startups since "no one helped me when I was starting."
Well, we've come a long way since then. There are about 12 million businesses owned by women in the US, generating US $1.8 trillion in sales. And now it's a lot easier to find mentors.
How powerful is mentoring? According to the American Psychological Association, a mentor can be "lifechanging." Mentorship can take many forms. Here are a few places you can look:
SCORE, a resource partner of the Small Business Administration, is the largest network of volunteer, expert business mentors in the country.
Mentorship from SCORE is free. You can get connected with a mentor at any one of their 300 local chapters or via email, phone, and video. Last year, 61% of SCORE's clients were women. According to its Megaphone of Main Street report on Women's Entrepreneurship, women who are mentored are "as successful as men-owned businesses as measured by business starts, revenue growth, job creation, and number of years in business."
SCORE's research shows businesses that are mentored are more likely to actually launch and stay in business. Women business owners who are mentored are more successful — regardless of their mentor's gender.
Targeting entrepreneurs who are already in business (emerging or established), the WBDC teamed up with the MicroMentor online mentor matching program, which matches small business owners with business mentors locally and across the country.
The mentoring relationship lasts for three months but can be extended. There is an active customer support team at MicroMentor offering direct support and resources during the mentoring experience.
Springboard's mission is to promote women's entrepreneurial development through alliances, partnerships, and direct programming. They lead the accelerator programs: 777 women-led companies have participated in Springboard's accelerator programs, raising US $10.3 billion. The annual program combines high-value, in-person events with strategic connections to surround talented women business builders with a 'personal advisory team' — the relevant expertise and connections in support of the "Women Transforming Industries."
Having a mentor can make you a more successful entrepreneur. According to Bridget Weston, SCORE's acting CEO, "Entrepreneurs who work with a mentor are five times more likely to start a business than those who do not have a mentor. And, small business owners who receive three or more hours of mentoring report higher revenues and increased growth."
Whether you're a budding female entrepreneur or have been running a business for years, having a mentor is priceless. Any one of these organizations can provide you with a strong female leader, equipped with advice to help you along your path.
Ready to get started on your entrepreneurial journey? Speak with an Alibaba.com expert today.
To celebrate International Women’s Day, we spoke with some of the women business owners seeing success on Alibaba.com. Each one we reached out to had important female mentors in their lives. Read some of their stories below:
In addition to the organizations listed by Rieva Lesonsky, these are a few more programs standing by to help women entrepreneurs:
- Dolphin Tank: Springboard's Dolphin Tank programs are "helpful feedback-driven" pitch sessions for entrepreneurs to receive constructive insights from knowledgeable professionals. The Dolphin Tank is an interactive discussion led by an expert panel. The objective is to provide connections and advice to enable entrepreneurs to overcome their challenges and capitalize on their opportunities.
- The Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab Venture Accelerator: The Women Innovating Now (WIN) Lab is a five-month venture accelerator designed by women entrepreneurs, for women entrepreneurs. The program "empowers female founders to disrupt, experiment, and build big businesses on their own terms."
- Astia: founded in Silicon Valley in 1999, Astia is a non-profit organization "dedicated to identifying and promoting best-in-class, high-growth ventures that include women leaders." It offers a global ecosystem of engaged investors and advisors who offer resources, including capital, networks, and expertise.
- EBW 2020: EBW's goal is to "help unlock and support ventures that collectively will create over $100 billion in social and economic impact by 2030." They offer aspiring women innovators "free access mentorship, infrastructure, support, business education, opportunity, and a community to succeed."
- 37 Angels: 37 Angels is a network of over 70 women investors and mentors with two missions. The first is to train women to be angel investors. The second is to help new businesses get the funding they need and keep control of their businesses.
You don't always have to follow the advice of a mentor — but consider and evaluate it.