One of the challenges that research consistently identifies as an obstacle towards unleashing the true economic potential of diverse entrepreneurs is confidence.
According to Susan Duffy the Executive Director, Center for Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership, Babson College, in her article on confidence recently published in Entrepreneur, “Overall, the GEM report and other research suggests that shifting self-perception is a key part of encouraging women’s entrepreneurship. But while confidence is critical, it isn’t an individual problem.
It’s an ecosystem problem. Instead of asking women to lean in, we must give them the tools, support and relationships that all entrepreneurs need to succeed — resources that men often have access to without even realizing it.”
A lack of confidence is the root cause of many of the challenges that prevent businesses from thriving. As such:
- How do we create an environment that gives individuals with innovative ideas and the desire to work hard, the confidence to scale a business?
- How do we foster confidence in all entrepreneurs to counter a culture full of messages that only certain people with specific demographic traits are capable or worthy of success?
- How do entrepreneurs claim the confidence to ask for capital, to access resources, to lead a team, and to see more possibilities?
In previous Empowered PhXX meetings, we have discussed the subtle ways to identify a lack of confidence and how it affects entrepreneurs. Individually, many groups and individuals have tried to address confidence through leadership skills, communication strategies, and program development. While these individual methods are valuable, addressing a cultural challenge like confidence requires the synergy and innovation of many partners working together. The question becomes, “How can we work together to address confidence and move the needle on entrepreneurship systemically?”
During our meeting, we started the discussion by trying to re-frame our approach to confidence. Previous efforts to increase confidence can be characterized by a common approach helping entrepreneurs become more self-aware about their lack of confidence. Whether it was through increased awareness or purchasing a program to increase confidence this approach has limited impact on the ecosystem–which is our goal.
We first identified situations that built our own confidence; most of the examples were action-based. We developed a list of best practices to actively build confidence. The list was a combination of the experiences of our discussion participants and national best practices.
- Provide opportunities to practice business skills in low-risk settings.
Example: Instead of telling people that they should be looking at their financials, provide real- life samples of other businesses’ financial statements. This provides the opportunity to work with specific variables in small, manageable steps.
- Let budding entrepreneurs connect with highly successful entrepreneurs in a way that allows them to see that everyone overcomes the same challenges.
Example: Evolving past traditional mentoring programs which require significant time commitments. Create interactive events with innovative formats inviting to increase real discussion on business challenges not just relationship building or networking.
- Delegate leadership responsibilities within networking groups, incubators and the business owner community to provide business owners with smaller volunteer opportunities that are conducive with business owners’ schedules.
Example: Instead of the president or an emcee ask a business owner to lead events or discussion. Have opportunities for large groups to brainstorm specific challenges facing the group or community and create small action steps that practice new skills.
- Create a culture that celebrates big wins in our businesses and our existing and newly developed business skills.
Example: Recognition of women is often limited to their ability to serve as a “connector,” relationship builder or volunteer, instead of celebrating their business acumen. These recognitions can be common like a social media post about a member getting certified, or introducing someone as a financial wizard or larger like a formal award for highest growth and best team building.
Laurie Battaglia led us through a leadership model to help us re-frame our approach to building confidence. As leaders of organizations in our ecosystem, our leadership has significant trickle-down effects. How we think about the entrepreneurs we serve and our fellow resource partners affects our approach. The discussion was lively, insightful, and frankly challenging. Two questions stand out as critical toward our efforts:
How would we create programs differently if we assumed all business owners are confident and they just need increased opportunities to practice?
How would we collaborate differently if we assumed all ecosystem partners are operating at the highest levels of effectiveness?
Then came the challenging question we had been working toward for months–What are the action steps we can take?
The smaller groups came up with several ideas of what groups can do individually. As a larger group, we developed several ideas to increase collaboration and improve the confidence of entrepreneurs in our community. Several ideas were sent to me after the meeting (apparently our conversation made people think long after leaving the room):
- A “Buy Women” Movement
- Welcome Community Summit: An event specifically targeting women not currently involved in a community group or who are new to Phoenix. The event would include all of the partners participating to allow women to become engaged in the community. The goal is to lower the barrier of access and leverage the limited time business owners have available to connect with the right networking group or resource.
- A celebration of the genders event, with male and female leaders in the entrepreneurial ecosystem to build more diverse connections and increase collaboration. Think fun, trivia, and education about resources, partners, and business skills.
- Solutions Sunrise: Individuals give a short business pitch to practice their skills and present a specific “ask.” Then the entire audience provides resources and advice, allowing the business (and the others in the audience) to learn from multiple partners in one place. It also gives partners the opportunity to learn from each other and demonstrate their unique niches.
- A League of Our Own: A charity spring softball tournament allowing partners to connect and work on leadership skills in a fun unique format.
Which of these opportunities sound the most effective to you? Any feedback? Please let us know. Also, if you interested in turning one of these ideas into a reality, we are looking to form committees.
Finally, several of the Empowered PhXX discussions have continued to come back to the on-going challenge of how we improve collaboration and break down silos between groups. While we know that some of that increased collaboration is already happening, and trust needs to be built through time, the group developed a specific call to action for community leaders to help move this effort forward faster.
We are asking all leaders and stakeholders to take the following Pledge of Action. In the next 90 days:
- Attend 3 events of an organization (outside of your own) that you have never attended.
- Hold at least 3 one-on-one meetings with leadership from another organization or a stakeholder to discuss how you can specifically collaborate beyond co-marketing and ask specific questions around the challenges you are both facing to increase sharing of best practices and the ability to identify possible leveraging opportunities.
We are asking all leaders to then report on their experience at our October summit and for organizations that have boards or multiple leaders, we encourage multiple leaders to sign up.
These actions not only improve the ecosystem, they improve our ability as individual leaders to better serve our clients, members, and the business owners we support.
Use our resource list to identify resources or organizations you may not be familiar with.
Email Kristin (firstname.lastname@example.org), if you are willing to step up and take the pledge, or if you need introduction to specific leaders.
Our next roundtable will be another targeted meeting to discuss another significant challenge in our ecosystem–Capital. Registration is now open.
Resources and Upcoming Event Shared:
Full Powerpoint Notes: