NB|AZ® program promotes business empowerment for women
Money Month. As simple as it sounds, and as easily at it rolls off the tongue, this alliteratively named event that kicked off at the end of August signifies a major, statewide effort to revitalize a significant subsection of Arizona’s economy. In fact, Money Month is designed to re-establish Phoenix as a prominent force in supporting and promoting women-owned businesses and female entrepreneurs in the United States.
In that regard, one of Money Month’s founders, Kristin Slice, is working to put Phoenix—and the entire state of Arizona, for that matter—on the map as a more socially conscious, progressive force in female entrepreneurship.
Call to Action
But first, a little context. A few years ago, Slice and a handful of equally committed Phoenix activists founded Empowered phXX, a community collaborative of diverse leaders, advocates and stakeholders that, according to its website, is “committed to strengthening the entrepreneurial ecosystem for female entrepreneurs.”
“We saw a need—and felt we were called—to address economic development of women business owners,” says Slice, who had been working nationally to put together female entrepreneurship programs. Time and again in discussions with her counterparts in other states, she began to see programs being implemented on behalf of women entrepreneurs in those states were well ahead of what was happening in Arizona.
As one bit of evidence, she cites a study reporting that as recently as 2012, Phoenix was listed as fourth in the U.S. in terms of successful women-owned businesses. This year, its position has dropped to 36th.
“As a Phoenix native, I really felt I needed to do more work in my own backyard,” Slice says. “I honestly believe women business owners create stronger, better economies and communities, and I was seeing amazing women in Phoenix who weren’t getting the same resources, attention and support as they were in other states.”
Through good, old-fashioned networking (and a bit of serendipity), Slice was introduced to a couple of executives at National Bank of Arizona (NB|AZ). As it happens, the bank has a long record of focusing its efforts on promoting women’s business ownership.
“I was telling one of the bank execs what we do and what Money Month hoped to accomplish,” Slice recounts. “She very quickly said, ‘Yes, we need that. We need this data for the bank and we need to move women’s business ownership forward, so let’s do it.’ ”
Eddie Leyba, NB|AZ Senior Vice President, Business Banking Regional Manager, heads up the bank’s efforts to reach out to small businesses.
“Historically, we’ve been involved in highlighting and advocating for women business owners…that’s always been a focus of ours,” he says. “Money Month piggybacks off some of the groundwork laid by [NB|AZ Vice Chair of the Board of Directors] Deborah Bateman and others.”
Leyba says Money Month seemed like a natural progression for NB|AZ. “This being the inaugural event, we were looking at working in conjunction with other not-for-profits in the Valley, and hosting other workshops introducing Money Month concepts to their membership or attendees,” he adds. “As it continues to roll out, it’s going to be a big effort to make sure we get our subject matter experts out in the community, and out in front of the people who have questions.”
Slice couldn’t have been more grateful for the bank’s support. “We spent about a year talking to different people and looking for different partners. But the bank’s recognition of the community impact, and their flexibility, innovation and forward-thinking really made them the perfect partner for us.”
In the time ahead, Money Month is working hard to establish a strong foothold for women business owners, Slice says. On the program’s inaugural agenda is a major effort to execute a large-scale survey and research study of women-owned businesses in the metro Phoenix area.
“What do the research and data show about women business owners in Phoenix?” Slice asks rhetorically. “We quickly realized there were no data or research. We had the national resources, but nothing that really addressed women business owners’ experiences in Arizona. So that’s been kind of our first step—to do research and gather data. I think we’ve grown in leaps and bounds considering what we’ve done with Empowered phXX, but we still have a long way to go and Money Month is helping us do that.”
Asked what she feels are some of the biggest challenges today to women starting a business in Arizona, Slice is quick to reply.
“Capital,” she says. “All entrepreneurs—men and women—struggle with access to capital. We know it’s the No. 1 reason small businesses fail, but we also know that the way women address money is different. Most women start businesses undercapitalized, meaning they put less money into it. But we also know they receive less money in loans and significantly less investor dollars. So the way we need to address these challenges is a little bit different. As women, it’s our approach, our values and, frankly, it’s gender bias that exists that makes it more challenging for women business owners.”
One of the bywords of women entrepreneurship is a concept called “50/50 parity.” Part and parcel of the capital-centered challenge that Slice describes, the 50/50 parity concept is central to Money Month’s efforts.
“We’ve had a lot of fiery debates on this topic, because women want the freedom to define success on their own terms,” Slice explains. “For me, 50/50 parity comes down to sales numbers. More than anything else, women business owners in the same industry should be earning the same amount and growing at the same rate as their male counterparts.”
What it boils down to, Slice says, is equal opportunity. “Equal opportunity to open a business, equal abilities and resources—and access to the resources—to achieve 50/50 in sales and growth.”
On the last Tuesday in August, Money Month kicked off with great fanfare. Hundreds of community leaders were in attendance to learn more about women business ownership. A state proclamation in support of female-owned businesses was read, several local female-led firms pitched their products and/or services, and the spirit and strength of women-owned businesses were in abundance.
Slice is sanguine about the event’s impact—and its future. “It’s become clear to us that if we can leverage a community event around money—and women entrepreneurs’ access to it—we can make an immediate impact on women business owners.”
But she and others are looking at Money Month as a long-term means of supporting this cause.
“It’s not only helping us kick off Money Month in the right way with the right people present, but it’s also helping us increase resources and draw awareness across the state about the value of women business owners. And that’s a pretty important contribution.”
Story by Sally J. Clasen
Photography by Mark Lipczynski