Enterprising Women of Color

Strengthening a small business ecosystem of support and success for women entrepreneurs of color, Enterprising Women of Color provides business assistance and programming powered by the Washington Area Community Investment Fund (Wacif).

The latter was established in 1987 with a mission to increase equity and economic opportunity in underserved communities across DC. The Enterprising Women of Color initiative came to fruition with the support and partnership of the Minority Business Development Agency to turn great ideas into reality!

Enterprising Women of Color focuses on building out a supportive small business ecosystem for women owners of color—what does that look like in practice?

The vision for the Enterprising Women of Color DMV Business Center is to connect women of color entrepreneurs in the region to the resources and funding they need to grow and scale their businesses as well as to create a supportive community of fellow female entrepreneurs for like-minded support. We will be focused on the long-term view of investment in women not just immediate success. At the core of Wacif’s work has always been providing capital for low-and moderate-income entrepreneurs. The Center will be a deepening of all the work that Wacif has been doing to support WOC entrepreneurs for 34 years.

We will also provide one-on-one and group technical assistance through our Small Business Advisory Services and classes. We recently completed a series called Mindful Money that focused on key aspects of small business finances like types of financial statements founders needed to understand and ensuring that contract prices are optimized for cash flow and reflect the cost of producing the goods or services.

And finally, we will build a community for women of color entrepreneurs in the region. Although in person connection has sadly not been possible since the pandemic, we have been hosting monthly Coffee and Conversations to just create an open, casual space for the entrepreneurs we work with to connect with each other and have open conversations about what they are excited about their business or what they might be struggling with and to connect over opportunities when appropriate.  Over the past few weeks, we have been in the process of conducting conversations with 100 women of color entrepreneurs in the area about how the Center can best serve them. And in addition to the need for capital and training, we kept hearing enthusiastic responses to building a network for local women of color entrepreneurs. So we will be doing that through the Center. In the coming months, we will also pilot the EWOC Tribes program for women who are in similar industries and similar points in their entrepreneurship journeys.

Who are some local owners you are finding particularly inspiring right now?

There are countless women of color entrepreneurs in our region! One of the amazing women doing transformative work is Mary Blackford, founder of Market 7 who is taking on DC’s “food apartheid issue” head on and meeting the challenge of inequitable access to full-service grocery stores. According to a recent report by DC Hunger Solutions, there are three full-service grocery stores in Wards 7 & 8 compared to more than 70 in the other six Wards. Market 7, a new food hall at Benning Market located in Ward 7, will be a hub for black-owned food businesses. To learn more about Mary’s work, you can join us for the next Women of Fire Fireside Chats Series where she will be the featured speaker!

Join the upcoming Health is Wealth conversation with Market 7 founder Mary Blackford.
What upcoming initiatives or events from EWOC are you most excited about?

Applications are now open for Wacif’s first version of the award winning Ascend Capital Accelerator focused solely for women of color entrepreneurs, Ascend.Her Capital Accelerator: Phoenix Cohort. The last year and half of living through the pandemic have been incredibly difficult for all of us. For those running small businesses, it has been filled with revenue loss, losing staff, need for constant and rapid changes to strategy and a near permanent state of uncertainty. With Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprises already generating average sales 50 – 90% less than other demographics, they are under even greater threat from the long-term economic fallout of the pandemic.

The 2021 Ascend.Her Cohort: Phoenix Edition will focus on supporting the region’s WOC entrepreneurs rise from the ashes of COVID-19 to build stronger and more sustainable businesses that can withstand shocks now and in the future. This holistic, multi-week program will provide a much-needed space to pause and reflect everything participants have done to grow their businesses and plan for what comes next alongside a trusted community of other passionate, determined, and strategic-minded women committed to growing their businesses. Applications for the Ascend.Her Accelerator will be open until August 20.

In August, in honor of National Wellness Month, we launched our first Health is Wealth Series. Entrepreneurship often seems like the dream path; you make your own hours, you get to be your own boss, you are pursuing an idea you are passionate about. But for all the glamor we tend to associate with entrepreneurship, it can be a very difficult punishing path.  With the freedom of working for oneself is accompanied by the pressure of having to be everything for one’s business and having the success or failure of the enterprise fall squarely on your shoulders. Race and gender-based barriers make this even more harmful to women of color entrepreneurs. That is why we are launching the Health is Wealth Series, to give the entrepreneurs we support a space to pause and think about their self-care. And to emphasize that for WOC entrepreneurs, self-care, is self-preservation: critical for preventing burnout and ensuring the success of one’s business in the long run.



Messay Derebe,

Program Director at Enterprising Women of Color.

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