Virtual Mentoring Program Benefits Local Entrepreneurs

NBCUniversal, Inc.

Recent data has Dallas in the top four cities in Texas for women-owned firms.
Yet, a nonprofit that supports entrepreneurs says too often, women lack the funding and tools they need to succeed, and it's especially obvious now.

"What we saw when the pandemic hit was entrepreneurs really struggling to figure out what their next steps were," said B. Michelle Williams, executive director of the southern region of The Dallas Entrepreneur Center.

To fill that gap, the center or The DEC launched the Fast Start Mentoring Program. It pairs those new to business with tenured entrepreneurs. And to follow social distance guidelines, the conversations happen virtually.

"We didn't know what to expect. Yet a few weeks later, more than 200 mentors and mentees have signed up," Williams said. "In a time of crisis, human nature is really to freeze. And so, what the Fast Track Mentoring Program has done is, it has matched entrepreneurs with subject matter experts or experienced business owners to help them get out of that freeze mode."

Williams says a quick look at the numbers shows six of every 10 mentees are women.

"We're seeing that women are actually reaching out and asking for help a little bit more than our male counterparts," she explained. "And so, understanding quickly they need that insight and that mentorship to pour into them and help them pivot, I think has been key in helping our female entrepreneurs strategize ways to succeed during this time."

Williams also noted that in underserviced communities -- women, people of color or the LGBT community -- a supportive network that offers tactile and experiential helps them "flourish and stop creating barriers for themselves that they're really able to push through and really hone in on, 'I can do this. This is accessible to me. I'm capable of this."

With coronavirus restrictions being lifted, entrepreneurs will still need help charting a path through a new normal.

"They're opening with new rules and protocols we've never seen before and they'll need help," Williams said. "The other reality is just because businesses are opening, it doesn't mean customers will be ready for face to face interaction."

Even with challenges still to come, Williams sees a silver lining in the creativity of entrepreneurs and small businesses to weather the crisis.

"Entrepreneurs have grit and determination to succeed, and they're open to pivoting to survive, " she said. "Their creativity has been unmatched."

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