APPROACH AND METHODOLOGY
Our work in the greater Grand Rapids area builds on our history of bringing our business accelerator program into localities such as Wisconsin, New Mexico and North Carolina where women entrepreneurs lack a connection to each other and to a robust system of services that address the economic, psychological and cultural obstacles to their success.
Count Me In's systematic approach for propelling women entrepreneurs along the path to business success are:
- Providing the space for women entrepreneurs to stand among their peers and see where their businesses compare, learn from each other, and hold each other accountable with caring support.
- Learning to delivering a winning two-minute pitch that enables a woman entrepreneur to describe her business in a comprehensive, concise and compelling way is an effective medium for women entrepreneurs to challenge themselves, gain confidence and clarity about her business, and attract potential customers, vendors and investors to help the business grow.
- Generating stories/PR to break the isolation and provide examples of other women entrepreneurs' challenges and triumphs that they can emulate.
The overall result is women entrepreneurs being able to compete for government or corporate contracts, taking advantage of the marketplace and creating good jobs. Evidence of our proven model is 30% of our current program participants have reached $1 million in annual business revenue. The top 200 of our program participants have collectively increased revenues by 115% and staffing by 102%.
In Grand Rapids, we're providing business resources for women-owned enterprises to succeed and grow. Over the course of two-years, we're helping 50 program participants scale to $250,000 in business revenue, affording them greater economic stability, the capacity to hire their first employees and a foundation upon which they can scale to $1 million in revenue. Criteria for participation in the Business Accelerator Program includes annual business revenues of $50,000 to $150,000; businesses must be at least 50% owned by a woman who is a U.S. citizen or legal resident; been in operation for at least two years; be able to commit to participating in the program for the full year and having no bankruptcies or liens within past five years.
IMPLEMENTATION, TIMELINE, AND DELIVERABLES
1st and 2nd Quarter
- Program planning with local partner, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW).
- Program participation criteria, application, content, schedule and facilitator(s) will be finalized
- Formation of local Steering Committee, which are comprised of business organizations, colleges, church's and women's groups. The committee will help with outreach and bring awareness to the business accelerator program.
- Planning for Introductory Business Leadership Institute
- Develop marketing/PR plan
3rd and 4th Quarter
- Hold Introductory Business Leadership Institute, one and half day event with panels and workshops, open to all women business owners in the greater Grand Rapids area. - October 7th and 8th
October and November
- Weekly pitch parties (practice sessions) to be held, either at GROW and/or at various locations in the Grand Rapids area. These events also serve as information sessions on how to apply to the program, its contents and benefits. They also help develop the sense of bonding and momentum for the participating women and those that are applying.
- Media promotions and outreach continues, encouraging women to apply (up to the deadline) and to attend the selection event.
- Program applications are reviewed and final group of participants selected.
December (week of the 5th) - Grand Rapids Business Accelerator Program Event
- This event is to announce the 50 program participants, present them to the community and kick off the year-long program. The event will also feature a keynote speaker(s), panels and an exciting raffle. The participants will each give a two-minute pitch about their businesses.
1st Quarter - January
- This begins the 12-month coaching & training program for 50 participants. The program is intended to be transformational so that participants are different at the end of the program from who they were at the beginning.
- The participants will be sectioned into cohorts of 10, led by a facilitator. The facilitator will provide coaching, training in specific areas of business development, accountability to the participants, and support in removing the mental or emotional barriers to growth that the participants may be facing.
- Meetings will be held three times monthly (for the first six months) in 75-minute conference calls.
- Cohorts meet twice monthly for the second half of the year.
- Participants are required to attend at least nine out of 12 regularly scheduled monthly Meetups to be held at GROW or 'guest hosted' at different partner organizations. Meet-up guest speakers will also be from partner organizations or subject experts from the greater Grand Rapids area.
- Participants each receive a Student Notebook, all relevant participant forms, the Count Me In online financial tracking program to chart their progress, Count Me in webinar series, and access to any resources provided by GROW and/or any other local partners
- Conduct year-end initiative evaluation
1st Quarter - Program's Culminating Event
- The 50 program participants will have submitted their end-of year financials. Program administrators will review their 2012 business growth including final annual revenue and employee hires.
- Top Prizes go to 1st, 2nd and 3rd place businesses with the highest percentages of revenue and employee growth. Additional prizes awarded to the business with the Best Executed Marketing Plan and the Best Green Practices.
- Press briefing on the program participants.
- Conduct post initiative evaluation
According to the U.S. Census, the majority of women-owned businesses earn $50,000 or less in annual revenues, and only 2.6 percent of women-owned businesses are at $1 million. It's not always access to capital that prevents women entrepreneurs from growing their businesses into substantial, viable enterprises. Other factors that prohibit women's business growth include:
-First, women tend to underestimate their true level of skill and ability. They lack the confidence in themselves and the validation of others needed to have a clear assessment of their worth and value. This low self-esteem translates to small businesses with limited revenues, barely viable enough to support its owner.
-Second, women tend to work in isolation, with neither employees nor a community of support (such as business coaches, mentors and peers) to provide insight and accountability. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 84 percent of women-owned firms have no employees other than the owner of the business.
-Third, they lack the visibility and influx of new customers that strong PR can bring, and the training needed to recognize and utilize the best business ideas and methodologies available to them.
Count Me In recognizes that there are programs that support women-owned businesses. However, very few focus on post-start up. In addition, women in underserved, inner city communities may have limited access or knowledge of business building programs. Count Me In is providing a solution by scaling its work particularly in urban markets. Our business accelerator program helps women build skills, gain confidence and make decisions that lead to personal and business growth. We provide the guidance, resources and support for personal and business transformation to occur, which creates jobs, strengthens communities, and benefits families.
SEEKING: Financial Resources, Implementing Partners, Media/Marketing Opportunities
OFFERING: Best Practice Information, Media/Marketing Opportunities
Count Me In is seeking a partnership to bring its successful Business Accelerator Program to 10 under-served urban markets. They also offer partnership opportunities for organizations looking to have a greater impact on urban communities. Their goal is to work with local partners in each of the cities to help women grow their businesses to the $250,000 in business revenue within 18-36 months of enrolling in the program. There will also be excellent media coverage because of the number of new jobs being created and communities being revitalized.
Count Me In's Live Pitch Competitions helped people refine the way they think and talk about their businesses. Having a great practiced pitch is an elemental tool in an entrepreneur's arsenal. CMI is developing a very exciting mobile application to help more entrepreneurs learn how to craft an effective business pitch. When the app is ready to launch in mid-May 2012, CMI will share this with CGI, so they disseminate this app to the CGI community.