Chairman’s Briefing: Marking Women’s Small Business Month

October 31, 2016

Of all the investments that the Delta Regional Authority makes, I’m especially proud of the investments that we make into the people of our region – into expanding their skill sets, providing them with valuable experiences, and creating a support and mentorship network for them through the Delta Entrepreneurship Network (DEN).

The Delta’s entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of our local economies – creating new jobs that stay in our communities and making new investments into our Main Streets.

No group better exemplifies the positive ripple effect of this investment than the growth and strength of the Delta’s female entrepreneurs. 

As of 2012, there were more than 9.8 million women-owned small businesses across the United States – with our part of the world leading the nation in the growth of female-owned companies. In fact, Louisiana and Mississippi ranked as the top two states with the highest growth in women-owned businesses, according to the National Women’s Business Council.

From healthcare and education to professional services and retail, the Delta’s female entrepreneurs are leading the way.

And yet, less than three percent of venture capital investments go to women-owned businesses. This is a missed opportunity. All stakeholders – entrepreneurs, investors, Chambers of Commerce, small business incubators – need to do a better job identifying promising companies led by women and providing significant resources.

The DEN platform seeks to do just that – identifying the budding entrepreneurs in the Delta and provide them with greater access to technical training, resources and connections to regional, national, and global investors.

To commemorate October as National Women's Small Business Month, I wanted to spotlight a few of our outstanding female entrepreneurs who have recently been selected as DEN Fellows:

These women truly serve as role models for all of us. They have each shared what’s working, and what’s not working. They have provided some insight into the challenges they face as female businesses leaders, and the lessons they have learned along the way.

Tracy Simpson, founder of Clinicpass, an online platform to make it easier for pharmaceutical representatives to educate doctors and clinics while managing in-office meetings, said that “starting a business has proven to be more than I ever expected – more time, more money, and yes, more reward.” 

“I was a pharmaceutical representative for 15 years. To watch the progression of growth and demand has been exciting.  I have meet outstanding people along the way. I have learned that failure is not an option, and I am stronger than I thought possible.  Through the hardest of times, I still felt blessed.”

She trumpeted the importance of having support network of friends and mentors to ease the ups-and-downs that naturally occur any time one launches a company.

“Clinicpass would not be possible without having my husband fully involved and committed with me.  When I first shared the "Clinicpass idea", he encouraged me.  Today, he continues to support me and, when needed, brings me back to reality when I've had a difficult day.”  

Carmen Portillo is Arkansas's first Certified Professional Chocolatier. While she has been making chocolates for over 8 years, she said that she faced a different challenge when trying to cook up her business.

"One of my biggest challenges as a female entrepreneur has been building a strong mentor network of other female entrepreneurs,” Carmen said. “The majority of the high-level business leaders are male. Women have to work harder in creating their own path and facilitating connections into the more elite business networks.”

Her recommendation to other entrepreneurs? “The more you trail-blaze your way into these circles, you stop worrying if people treat you differently and you focus on your successes. Then you can reach out to bring more women into the network.”

And Carmen’s work is paying off. Cocoa Belle Chocolates is entering into an exciting growth phase. Later this year, Cocoa Belle Chocolates is opening a new chocolate production facility in Arkansas with a full line of artisan chocolate products that will be sold in retail stores across central and northwest Arkansas. She’s hoping to expand across the country very soon.

Alabama’s Amelia Thomas understands the value of diversity in the workplace, which is why she formed Entrelinc, a technology-driven platform that matches and connects large businesses with small, locally-owned, minority and women-owned businesses in the communities in which they have locations.

Amelia echoed the importance of building a strong network, especially outside of your inner circle of friends and loved ones.

“It is never easy starting any type of business, but when it comes to building a highly-scalable startup, it may seem like an impossible task. Just remember that joining a community with like-minded people is a must. In most cases, your closest friends and family will not understand what you are seeking to build and since they don’t know how to support you, they probably can’t provide the best advice to keep you motivated.”

These are just three examples of the drive and innovation we know exists in our region. DRA will continue to work with and support female small business owners, and those in the Delta who are working to ensure that the resources they need are available. 

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, the people of the Delta region are its greatest asset, and I am proud of the investments we make in them.


Chris Masingill