The Women’s Business Center South

Interview Series: The Women’s Business Center South

Interview With Vonesha Mitchell and Lamisa Hasan

Last week, the Women’s Business Center South inaugurated its new project to support women entrepreneurs across the country. Based in Memphis, the fourth floor of  Crosstown Concourse co-working space will be a center to learn about remote practices and train to grow as an independent entrepreneur. 

The idea is to provide networking opportunities and training assistance from financial strategies to marketing management. The courses target all ages and business scales. The project directors, Vonesha Mitchell and Lamisa Hasan, want to support the local community by offering a space to learn and grow a business as a woman during these challenging times. 

More than just being a safe space, the project aims to provide women with certifications and guidance to become independent entrepreneurs.

We interviewed them to know more about the project and their motivations. Here is their story and how the project begins:

1. To start, could you introduce your professional stories, and how did you begin to work together? 

Vonesha was a director of community and economic development at the Memphis Medical District Collaborative. Lamisa worked as a community organizer to help small owners to start their food business without English as their first language. 

We met during a community development project to expand mobility opportunities in the city. Activating that space, we wanted to organize international events, and we started to work together. When the Women’s Business Center South grant came, we were ready to work again on a new project. 

2. Let’s talk about the women’s business center south. How does that story begin?

The project results from a partnership between Women’s Business Enterprise Council South (WBEC South) and the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). The WBEC South has a center in Nashville, and it covers Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana, and the Florida Panhandle. As part of the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), they wanted to expand in other cities. On the other hand, the SBA aimed to support 20 business centers offering services for the next 30 years. 

For this partnership, we received $150,000 to launch a new center in Memphis and provide training, tools, and resources to women. Working with the host of the organization Phala Mire, we found the site, organized projects that meet their goals, and connected people with what they do. After we started, by July 12, we had 135 women signing up for courses!

3. On August 23rd, there was the Grand Opening for the expansion of Small Business Administration-funded centers. What was the inauguration about?

We organized the Grand Opening to let people know that we are here, and we have the resources and space to work with small businesses, especially for women. 

All the speakers talked about building a remote business as a woman, providing practical strategies and tools.

Among the speakers: 

  • Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris
  • Joan Massey, City of Memphis Director of the Office of Business Diversity & Compliance
  • Jessica Taveau, President of Epicenter Memphis
  • Phala K. Mire, President & CEO of WBEC South
  • Corrine Hodges, CEO of the Association of Women’s Business Centers
  • Natalie Madeira Cofield, Assistant Administrator of the US SBA Office of Women’s Business Ownership

There was also a performance by Tonya Dyson, part of the revival movement and new soul underground.

4. Why the focus on promoting incentives and courses for women willing to start a new business? 

We provide business coaching and training to Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) because there is a historical disparity in access to capital for women-owned businesses.

Currently, women’s networks are not as robust as their male counterparts’ professional networks, so we want to provide an opportunity for WBEs to foster these relationships to procure large contract opportunities. 

Often, women who create their own businesses do not have a background or established knowledge in business management. The businesses they create might be aligned with an idea or skill that is not aligned with running a business, so we offer training for WBEs to meet that gap. 

At the WBC South, we also want to provide a space that focuses specifically on women so that women feel safe to acknowledge any difficulties and needs that men don’t experience.

5. How does the co-working space help to create a space that meets different needs and training?

We hope that the center is a space that is inviting to women. As mentioned above, it’s very important to us to provide a safe space for WBEs. We also hope that the center offers organic networking opportunities for WBEs so that women can meet their business goals and unlock the next level in their business life cycle.

6. Do you think the impact of the pandemic and remote work will encourage women to find a new identity in the professional environment? 

Yes, we are seeing that many women are creating their own businesses due to a need that they might have. 

Women are still the primary child care provider and child caregivers. Consequently, women require more flexibility in the workforce. If the job they currently hold doesn’t offer them flexibility, this often leads them to create their own business to financially support themselves and their household. 

We also see that women’s businesses offer more flexibility as a component of company culture because of these experiences. The pandemic may have highlighted some of these experiences that women are living.

7. You are based in Memphis. Is the city a good place to start a remote business as a woman?

Absolutely. Memphis is uniquely positioned to provide support to WBEs. The cost of living in Memphis is outstanding, which makes working optimal for remote businesses. There is also a robust entrepreneurial ecosystem in Memphis that can provide the highest level of support that the city has ever seen. With the pandemic, the whole world is much more open to remote business now as well, so this is a pivotal point in our culture where we are seeing that remote businesses are seeing a high level of success.

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