6-17 Meeting Summary: Moving Past Sharing Mailing List Towards True Collaboration

“Here is my flyer for my upcoming event, you invite your contacts to mine and I will invite people to yours.” This has been the previous standard for collaboration in the Phoenix entrepreneurial ecosystem. There is too much work to be done for this to continue as our norm.

We are all working hard to build a thriving ecosystem for entrepreneurs and by working together we can create greater impact. The question becomes … how? How do we develop the communications norms, the relationships and the innovative projects that move the needle on entrepreneurship?

Those were some of the questions we answered at our June 17th Empowered PhXX meeting at Sky Song.

Women Collaborating at Empowered PhXX

Everyone thinks that collaboration is a good thing, like freedom, equality or synergy, most people support the general concept. The reality of enacting those values is a little different. The reality is, if it was easy to build effective collaborative partnerships, everyone would do it.  The feedback we have received is that the Phoenix ecosystem is plagued by “silos” and a lack of true collaboration.

Using a new targeted format, we pulled together key stakeholders to discuss how we can improve collaboration in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. Laurie Battaglia stepped up to serve as our facilitator. Her experience as a seasoned facilitator for corporations and financial institutions brought a level of structure and focus that we needed to address this challenging topic.

We used the following definition of collaboration to frame our discussion. The definition was pulled from a wonderful article supplied by Melissa Kovacs of First Eval.

“Collaboration is not about agreement. It is about creation.”

As Michael Schrage puts it in his book, Shared Minds: “… collaboration is the process of shared creation: two or more individuals with complementary skills interacting to create a shared understanding that none had previously possessed or could have come to on their own. Collaboration creates a shared meaning about a process, a product, or an event. In this sense, there is nothing routine about it. Something is there that wasn’t there before. “

Discussing Women Business Owners

Laurie led the meeting attendees through a series of exercises to develop standards for all Empowered PhXX stakeholders to use as we develop collaborative projects. The goal of these guiding principles is to ensure that we all work with each other effectively.

Below is a summary of the guiding principles that emerged:

  • Diversity in team members and partnerships
  • Transparency / Honest conversations – if you don’t have the bandwidth or something is not going well, share quickly!
  • Developing shared vision and specific goals for each partner
  • Sharing the skill set and resources of each partner and assigning roles and division of labor accordingly
  • Thinking outside the box or what has been done before, while still honoring lessons learned
  • Being open to all new ideas without bias or judgement – letting go of “We did that once and it didn’t work”.
  • BUILDING off ideas to create true innovation
  • Balancing giving and GETTING. In order for collaborations to work we need to advocate for the needs of all partners.
  • Willingness to serve in any capacity
  • Leadership and the ability to delegate with accountability
  • Building trust

Reflecting on the conversation another anti-theme emerged, two ways to quickly kill any collaboration.

  • The moment a project bellows to one organization it significantly decreased the chance for true collaboration. There is a difference between accountability, leadership and ownership.
  • “We do that”. Collaboration is about discussing challenges and finding innovative solutions outside of what is currently happening. When someone brings up their program as the solution to the challenge, it leaves no room for further innovation. It is valuable to discuss what is currently being executed so people understand the situation. However when the presence of a specific program is made as a statement indicating that is it’s the only solution needed, it prevents further the discussion of a solutions outside of our own individual projects. Many of us address common challenges, so statements about your program being the solution often sparks feelings of competition and can come across as promotional. This is not the value you look for in a partnership. Many of use similar words, mentoring, developing relationships, workshops to help people build businesses. If we are all aware that we are not the only solution, using those words, we can not only work better together but we can also improve our own programs by really defining how we are unique. The reality is there is enough work to be done for each of us to have unique solutions.
  • Developing solutions for individuals is much easier than developing collaborative projects for organizations or the ecosystem as a whole. On a micro-level, it is easy to discuss how a collaboration should work, for Empowered PhXX, we need to ensure that we are also addressing what organizations can do on a macro level.

From these guiding principles we hope to develop a memorandum of understanding for everyone to use.

Collaboration Best Practices

What other guiding principles for collaborations would you like to add to the list?

As a stakeholder (if you are reading this congrats, you’re a stakeholder), how could you use these guidelines?

During the second half of the meeting we discussed specific challenges facing out ecosystem. We pulled three main areas that national research has shown are major obstacles facing the growth of women business owners. We compared those obstacles with the most common obstacles mentioned during interviews and group meetings on the Phoenix ecosystem to narrow it to three major topics: capital, certification / procurement and confidence. We reviewed some quick facts and national trends to serve as a foundation for further conversation on these topics. Then, using an “open space” format, we broke into smaller groups on each topic. Make sure to check out our slideshare presentation for the national trends and data shared.

We had three tremendous community leaders step up to lead discussions in their area of expertise, Dr. Pamela S. Williamson, President/CEO of WBEC-West led the discussion on certification and procurement. Jeff Swenson, Assistant Director of the Maricopa Small Business Development Center led the discussion on capital and Tracy Diziere of the Certified Authentic Networker Program led the discussion on confidence.

Dicussing ProcurementCertification / Procurement

In the certification group, they discussed specific challenges including:

  • Women business owners’ lack of knowledge
  • Not sure what certification is real
  • Confusion on cost
  • Qualifications to apply

They also discussed solutions:

  • Developing a specific person or point of contact for women business owners in Phoenix to contact
  • Sharing more educational material
  • Utilizing WBENC as speakers and area experts

Discussing CapitalCapital 

The capital group discussed the following challenges including:

  • Private $ coming from out of state
  • Lack of understating on banks and alternative resources
  • Negative perceptions of equity and debit
  • Education on funding and proper business skills to prepare for funding
  • Women business owners not identifying with or having value for the terms commonly used to describe training and education on the topic.

I was able to participate in the capital group. One of the interesting conversation points was realizing that different partners were better positioned to address the challenge at different points in the cycle. By working together, we can develop a better understanding of who can address what to leverage our efforts.


The confidence group also explored the topic in greater detail, creating the following list of what lack of confidence looks like.

  • Sitting Back – Not asserting their needs
  • Not chairing or valuing product or services
  • Playing small
  • Not putting out information until it is “perfect”
  • Waiting until you have arrived.

Discussing ConfidenceOpportunities that help women develop confidence:

  • Practicing pitch
  • Asking for a mentor
  • Getting outside help

They also developed a few solutions:

  • Open and vulnerable leaders
  • Facilitating truth and honesty
  • Creating a safe space for women to share
  • Providing tools to help determine prices since women undervalue thier services.
  • Acknowledging the business achievements of women business owners
  • A culture to shift failure to lessons
  • More SPONSORSHIP and mentors

As you can see, some really great discussion! And we still have work to be done. With the time crunch, we were not able to fully develop actionable collaborative projects.

Next Steps

Our next step is to continue these conversations with a similar targeted approach.

The focus of our next meetings will be on how we can work together to create greater impact, adding to the effectiveness of our current individual programs and developing some unique new solutions to address these issues systemically. This is all with the goal to move the needle on female entrepreneurship in the state.

With the summer schedule, we are not going to be able to adhere to our previous meeting schedule. So mark your calendars for the below meetings:

Confidence: Friday, July 29th 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM Registration Now Open 

Capital:  Friday, August 12th 10:00 AM -12:00 PM

We are working on a date for certification.

In all of our Empowered PhXX meetings we give stakeholders a chance to share upcoming projects and specific needs on a board.

You will see some of those requests in the photos. If you have a solution to those request please post.

Do you have an upcoming program for women business owners? Do you have a specific challenge you need a resource for? POST IT in our new Ryver channel (similar to Slack but local) which is a big chat room. You can also share upcoming events and articles you find valuable.

Thank you again to everyone who came to our meeting and to our amazing facilitators. Whether you attended this meeting or not,  please post your comments and thoughts. Tell us how you plan on using these tools! Stay tuned for other big updates including a possible women business owner summit in September, progress on our market research initiative and all updates on women business owners in PhXX!


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