Lisa Nichols, CEO of Chesterfield IT consulting firm Technology Partners, participated in an exclusive roundtable meeting this spring with President Donald Trump, his daughter Ivanka, Vice President Mike Pence and Linda McMahon, administrator of the Small Business Administration [SBA].
The roundtable gathered 10 entrepreneurial women professionals from across the country to discuss the significance of the American economy allowing women to thrive. Nichols was the only Missourian in attendance.
Women-owned businesses are growing five times faster than any other demographic and currently contribute $1.6 trillion to the American economy. Attendees discussed the magnitude of difficulty for women trying to build businesses from the ground up and continue to grow them.
The leaders represented diverse ethnicities, upbringings, life experiences, ages and businesses. One thing they all had in common was a philanthropic heart, which is key to how they approach business leadership. Each also brought the passionate pursuit of a dream, as they continue making their way to the top of their respective fields.
Nichols said the room felt “completely electric” as each woman introduced herself and her company.
“I truly feel the Trump administration is serious about empowering women-owned businesses to grow and thrive,” said Nichols. “The way they are inviting different groups to the table to hear real-life perspectives is a great way to address real-life challenges that are similar for all women entrepreneurs, despite the demographic differences that were represented at the roundtable.
“This was an experience that I will never forget, and I am just so honored to have been included.”
Nichols detailed some of the challenges that come with being a woman entrepreneur.
“Access to capital is the major frustration for women entrepreneurs,” she said. “Women start 1,200 businesses per day, yet they only receive three to seven percent of available funding despite their success rate.”
Women are also less likely to receive investments. Fewer than 15 percent of all ventures receiving equity capital had women on their executive teams in 2014, and only 2.7 percent of the companies [183 of 6,517 companies receiving venture capital funding] had a woman CEO. Businesses having all men teams are more than four times as likely as companies with just one woman on the team to receive funding from venture capital investors.
Nichols believes that another huge challenge is the lack of mentors for female entrepreneurs.
“I worked for two Fortune 500 companies before my husband and I co-founded Technology Partners and I never had a woman mentor,” she said. “My mentors were all men who saw me more as a daughter. I am very grateful for that, but women need other women because women think differently, lead differently, and certainly have different challenges.”
During the roundtable discussion, McMahon asked what kind of education should be made available to women entrepreneurs to help them grow their businesses, as the SBA is trying to provide curricula and training for women when they are starting out.
One of the suggestions was to provide more education around the customer experience.
Nichols agreed and added some advice from personal experience: “I think women should be educated on the employee experience, as well. In our world, our employees are being courted all the time by other companies, as IT professionals are in very high demand. The demand for IT professionals far outweighs the talent pool, so building a culture and ecosystem that helps not only attract but retain these employees is paramount to the long-term sustainability of our business.”
A particular challenge is for women-owned businesses that are farther along on the growth curve. When they no longer qualify as a small business, but they want to take their business to the next level, they don’t have anywhere to go.
Nichols said, “I have heard women say that they feel like they need access to the next level of successful women that they can learn from.”
Just a day later, Nichols met with Gov. Eric Greitens to discuss the advancement of technology initiatives in Missouri.
Technology Partners has provided competitive IT services nationwide for over 20 years. Nichols and her husband, Greg, started the company in 1994. The company has been named one of the top 10 IT consulting firms and top ten women-owned businesses in St. Louis.