Program aims to erase challenges minority women entrepreneurs often face

042221 Atlanta: Hodgepodge Coffeehouse owner Krystle Rodriguez at the Moreland Avenue business on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Atlanta.     “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”
042221 Atlanta: Hodgepodge Coffeehouse owner Krystle Rodriguez at the Moreland Avenue business on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Atlanta. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Two Atlanta business welcome support of C200, a non-profit that addresses disparities facing minority women business owners

Before COVID-19 hit, the number of women-owned businesses grew 21% from 2014 to 2019; the number of firms owned by women of color almost doubled to 43%. And, while that is encouraging, it’s a bit… fill in the word… startling, mystifying, unsettling, interesting, outrageous… that minority female-owned businesses averaged $65,800 in revenue in 2019 while non-minority women-owned businesses saw a flushed bottom line of $218,800, according to “2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses,” that was commissioned by American Express.

Research shows that in many ways the gap between white women entrepreneurs and women of color “mirrors the systemic challenges and disparities faced throughout history,” says Kareem Hall, who runs Emory University’s Goizueta Business School’s Start:ME micro-business accelerator program for East Lake and Southside.

“These disparities are augmented by some of the recent challenges going through the pandemic. White entrepreneurs have better access to capital, networking and resources to start and grow businesses. It’s similar to why so many women of color entrepreneurs didn’t qualify for the first round of the Paycheck Protection Plan; they needed prior relationships with a bank, a minimum number of employees. People of color tend to be rejected at higher rates from banks. The cards are stacked against many businesses led by women entrepreneurs of color,” he says.

To help offset this disparity in an immediate way, C200, a Chicago-based nonprofit whose mission is to “inspire, education, celebrate and advance women entrepreneurs” set up CHAMPION, a program that provides professional networking, a 12-week course on growing the entrepreneur and the business from Babson College’s WIN Lab Global, and a $25,000 grant.

“We are a group of successful women in business, and with everything going on in the world with COVID, we decided we had to take action and do something specifically for women business owners of color,” says CEO Carolyn Dolezal. “We knew we had to put capital into the program and meaningful capital. We self-funded and want to address the systemic issues and challenges. We want to make a difference for the women’s personal and professional lives.”

The entrepreneurs had to already have a successful business of at least three years and a history of giving back to the community. The board interviewed 23 finalists and selected 15, including two from Atlanta: Labrescia Dawson of Dawson’s Management & Consulting, which specializes in solutions and strategies for corporate, commercial and government clients, and Krystle Rodriguez, who owns Hodgepodge Coffeehouse.

Rodriquez opened Hodgepodge Coffeehouse on Moreland Drive in Ormewood Park in 2012 and a second in Reynoldstown in 2019. Pre-COVID, she had signed leases for two more stores. A Decatur location should open next month and Summerhill later on in the year.

She had participated in many programs aimed at women and Black entrepreneurs including with Goldman Sachs and Babson College.

“I’m getting what I need now and what I need to get to the next step,” says Rodriquez. “It’s not theory; it’s how to execute for where I am now and for where I’m going. It’s in the moment.”

She calls the women in the network “beyond compare. They have a wealth of knowledge and bring their perspective and life to the table for real conversations, especially conversations you don’t tend to get in professional situations like how do you balance work with family or how do you take care of yourself. The support is beyond compare.”

042221 Atlanta: Owner Krystle Rodriguez is preparing to expand by opening a Marketplace inside her Hodgepodge Coffeehouse on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Atlanta.  Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
042221 Atlanta: Owner Krystle Rodriguez is preparing to expand by opening a Marketplace inside her Hodgepodge Coffeehouse on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Dawson agrees that the network is amazing with the women “stretching” her. She will probably use the $25,000 grant to “reinvest in my business and maybe find a way to stop working 15 to 20 hours a day. I need more employees. I’m just soaking it all in.”

Monica Cole, head of agribusiness, food and hospitality for Wells Fargo, says the CHAMPION program is a way for senior executives to network not only with their peers but for up-and-coming businesswomen. “It’s an opportunity to give back. There are so many challenges to being successful for women of color, and this program provides the things they need to continue being successful. We are opening up our expertise and skill set and giving a financial contribution so they can overcome the financial barrier.”

Monica Cole with Wells Fargo
Monica Cole with Wells Fargo

Credit: Jovanka Novakovic

Credit: Jovanka Novakovic

When she joined the CHAMPION program, Rodriquez planned on using the capital to buy equipment to roast her own beans. “I was going to jump feet first and pay for the upfront cost of equipment, but going through this program, I’m now looking down other paths. We’ve been having really strategic partnership discussions about growing your business. I don’t know if I’ll use it for roasting or to pay for the buildout of Summerhill. The way I’ve been looking at capital has changed since this program.”

She nixes the idea of franchising but eventually wants to go into the roasting business and sell her coffee along with her in-house baked goods to other retailers and wholesale. “I’d love to support other small businesses as they grow. When COVID hit, we lost 70 percent of our sales, but after I realized that my family would be fine, my real concern was my staff, team and community. That’s why in three to five years, I want to transition this to a co-op employee-owned company.”

042221 Atlanta: Mallory Lunquist (left) and Dan Merewether enjoy their coffee orders outdoors at the Hodgepodge Coffeehouse on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Atlanta. Photo: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com
042221 Atlanta: Mallory Lunquist (left) and Dan Merewether enjoy their coffee orders outdoors at the Hodgepodge Coffeehouse on Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Atlanta. Photo: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

The CHAMPION program has helped her focus on her next steps. “I feel like I have even more ownership in my business, not that I didn’t before, but I know what I should be looking at and how I’m going to get it. They’ve helped me break down my big goals down into bite-size pieces. I know nothing is set in stone. You can have the best intentions and have it end up completely different. But, that’s OK, and I feel I have the resources to now know how to navigate and overcome hurdles.”

For C200, they will measure the program’s success with whether the women improve revenue, increase profit margins and grow their employees. “Classic financial metrics,” says Dolezal. “We’re going to ask them how they feel about growing their business and if they’re getting the right tools and guidance. Are they satisfied with their progression; not everyone needs to grow a billion-dollar business.”

Even though it’s a new program, she is hopeful and confident of the women’s success. “From what I’m seeing, every single one has a story of grit, determination, resilience, creativity, optimism and passion and has worked so hard to get where she is, and we encourage others who are inspired by these women to join the conversation.”

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