Each month at Data Driven Design, we set out to feature a company that is doing amazing things in our community. For our first interview, our Digital Strategist Bailey Robbins sat down with Courtenay Rogers, the newest director at Pathway Women’s Business Center in Nashville, Tennessee to talk about her role in an organization that empowers women to be successful entrepreneurs.
Can you tell us about how you got started with Pathway?
So I have been the director of pathway Women’s Business Center for a little over three months. I’m still new, but I have a side hustle called Girls to the Moon and worlds collided about three years ago when Pathway Lending and Pathway Women’s Business Center (WBC) hosted an event for girls to the Moon. We use actually this room that we’re in as a space for young girls. We empower young girls 10 to 14 to change the world and we had this really cool event where we were teaching them how to start a business. So we are doing market strategies, business plans — all kinds of stuff and we ended up using the Pathway space.
I’ve known about pathway for a while and the opportunity came up for they were looking for a director. There was an internal promotion and they needed somebody to come in and become the director and it just it really worked out.
So yeah, I haven’t been here long but I’ve definitely known about Pathway Lending for a while.
Can you describe you position currently and the day to day for you?
Pathway Lending is our parent company and Pathway WBC is a program that falls under Pathway Lending. Some people come to Pathway Lending looking for a loan and then they come to us because they need education. But some people also walk into Pathway WBC because they need to learn how to start a business and then as they get further into their business journey, they realize a year “oh, wow, I new line of credit.”
It’s not like if you come and take classes from us that you have to get a loan from Pathway Lending or that if you get a loan from Pathway Lending you have to get education from us. It’s great when it works that way, but we can help people no matter what they need. It’s not just financial and it’s not just education and we have quite a few folks that have started on the lending side that are now WBC clients and vice versa.
I would say daily. I’m spending time with entrepreneurs very specifically women business owners and minority businesses owners — helping them get the education and resources they need to succeed and that’s kind of a broad way of really saying that we are here in Tennessee. We cover the state of Tennessee as well as a part of Alabama and a little bit of Mississippi has just has just opened up from a Pathway Lending perspective. But as far as the WBC goes, we cover the state of Tennessee and we are helping existing small businesses grow and flourish, and also helping entrepreneurs. Start their own businesses.
So Pathway Lending lending is a CDFI, which is a community development financial institution and that basically means that we have partners that invest in us so that we can go into the existing community and help small businesses flourish and very specifically help them get access to Capital.
It’s a lot less going out into a community and building new and more going into a community and seeing how we can help the existing community get stronger.
What really interested you and wanting to help accelerate the growth of women in starting their businesses?
So, I mentioned earlier, I’m an entrepreneur. Five years ago, I started girls to the Moon with two of my best friends — there are now five us doing it. It’s still a side project for us and I think it’ll stay a side project for quite some time. In helping empower young girls, it feels great to kind of go full circle and really help empower women business owners to achieve their dreams.
It’s tough to be an entrepreneur and there’s so much to figure out and to learn that just by offering some classes or education or mentoring, we can make a huge difference. We can be the difference between someone not starting a business or starting a business.
The statistics are pretty strong that there’s not a lot of women business owners. They’re definitely not a lot of women at the CEO level of large companies. I feel it’s really really important to provide as many resources as possible to help women, you know to help women succeed to help them. Not just start a business so that they can be working for themselves, but they can go into the community and hire more people.
I mean it’s a huge economic driver and it feels great to be to be leading a group of people that, every single day, we are making a difference in small businesses.
What challenges do you see for women who are looking to start their own with their new business?
So there’s challenges for all entrepreneurs, right? No matter what. There’s so much information out there. There are a lot of rules that have a lot of different answers depending on who you ask but specifically for women. It is harder for us to get access to Capital. So you see a lot of companies that are owned by men that are easily getting loans. From banks or getting VC money from investors.
The numbers just aren’t there for women and so it’s really important to level the playing field. We very much focus on helping women business owners. We can help any small business or entrepreneur, but we just very specifically market and advertise to women and minority business owners.
An interesting stat that I learned when I first started here: 30 years ago this year a bill was passed in Congress that allowed a woman to sign a business loan without the signature of a male relative. Thirty years ago, so I’m 40. I was 10 years old when that happened. So not not a 100 years ago. So yeah, 30 years ago if you needed to go get some Capital to open up a business to walk into a bank and get a loan you had to have a male relative sign that loan for you. So that was just 30 years ago that a law passed to allow a woman to go get a business loan on her own. We’re behind when it comes to helping women business owners.
So Pathway WBC is powered by the Small Business Administration (SBA). The SBA does a lot to help women and minority business owners. The resources are out there. It’s just a matter of embedding ourselves in the community and just letting them know we exist.
Do you know any women personally who have faced these challenges?
Oh, absolutely. Yeah, we have people come through our doors all the time who have an incredible business concept. They have a really strong understanding of finances. They understand where their shortfalls are when it comes to marketing or HR or operations, but no one will have a conversation with them about starting it.
It feels great to say, “yeah, come on in, have a conversation and then let’s take the first step into getting your business started.”
We had a one of my favorite success stories a recently. A young woman actually came to Pathway Lending asking for a loan because she wanted to open up a plus-sized body positive bridal boutique.
In Nashville, there are no bridal shops where you can get above a size 12. She went through this experience when she was shopping for her own wedding dress and did some research and realized other places around us have these curvy bridal boutiques and Nashville.
Well, she just didn’t have her finances in order. She just wasn’t lender ready. Concept was great, her drive and her ambition, but when you go to ask for money there’s a lot of paperwork you need to do.
So, Pathway Lending worked with Pathway WBC and we got our into one of our cohorts which is a seven-week class. And we partner you with a entrepreneurs that are in a similar stage of business with you. We have facilitators and experts come in and guide you through the whole process. So she went through our Discover Cohort. She won the pitch competition. So there’s a huge pitch competition at the end of every for seven weeks. She went into the next cohort of ours, which is called Embark. We also got her a mentor, an amazing woman named Ashley Ammons. She started a technology company with her mother.
Five months after she started working with Ashley, she opened the doors to her boutique and that was [a few] weeks ago. So, she has the first curvy bridal boutique. It’s body inclusive and body positive. It’s in Linux Village.
She is young. She has too young girls — one and three. Her husband was there it was a family effort. I get Goose Bumps talking about so it. She’s the perfect example. A lot of other places, especially a traditional lending arm like a bank probably would have just said no and best of luck to you.
Do you have a couple of other stories that you’d like to share like that?
They’re quite a few people doing this in our space, which is wonderful because we’re in Nashville — the IT city. Everybody is new here. The Entrepreneur Center has really turned into a great partner of ours. They have a program called Navigate. And people come in and they’re kind of in the same early stage businesses, but if they’re not quite a fit for the services that The Entrepreneur Center provides then they come over to us. So this woman was connected to us. She makes her own soaps. Has this really old family recipe that she’s perfected and she wanted to know, “What’s the next step? I want to start selling these online and hopefully one day get a brick-and-mortar.”
So she came to one of our introduction classes. She was a perfect fit for that discover cohort that I was talking about. She went into the Discover cohort. Pitched her picture business one of the pitch competition. She is now selling in the Farmers Market online and is looking to open up a brick and wild within the next six months.
So it really comes down to — people they know what they need. It’s just where in the world do I go to get this information? And we have we have the resources here, but if we don’t, we can also send them somewhere else. We also have a great pool of mentors.
Can you talk a bit about the different programs you offer?
At Pathway WBC, we want everybody who wants to come learn about us and see what we do to come to what’s called a Blue Sky class. We teach those twice a month. It’s two hours and it’s over lunch and you come in and it doesn’t matter if you’re at the beginning stages or even if you’re post-revenue. We want to introduce you to what it is that we can do from there.
We have three different cohorts. We have our Discover Cohort, which is a 7-week cohort. You start and finish with the same group of entrepreneurs. We meet after hours because a lot of these folks are starting a side hustle. So they still have their 9 to 5.
Our other cohort is called Embark and that is seven weeks — same concept, but these are for folks that are post-revenue. They are selling their product or their service.
Then we have Ignite 360 Cohort. Ignite 360 is specifically for a company to join on their own and we build a team of mentors around them to help them with very growth related problems. For example, we just launched a cohort [a few] weeks ago with a woman who owns an acupuncture company in East Nashville. Her goal is to open up a new location —somewhere not in East Nashville, and she realized she’s profitable.
She’s doing great work. She has a great team, but there’s a lot when it comes to opening up a new story — especially in a very different part of town. So she realized she needed help. We have a team of six mentors around her that are very specifically focused on what it takes to grow business.
We also have what we like to call “one-off” classes. We have a lot of financial classes, QuickBooks, social media, etc. . We partner with another SBA resource and two weeks ago we came in and did a website class where everybody built their website there. We plugged in their URL on a big screen and we went through and did a website audit so you potentially could sign up for one of these one-off classes if you wanted to improve your business.
We meet entrepreneurs at any stage of business.
What is what something that often surprises people when they discover Pathway?
Well, we’re going into our fifth year. So we’re pretty new in this space. I’m still hearing a lot of “wow, I didn’t know this existed.” And then I hear, “oh my gosh, I cannot believe how much you’re doing.” Especially as a non-profit. I think people are surprised at the deep knowledge that we can offer and the hands-on workshops we offer.
I mean if you need a lawyer to walk you through signing contracts and negotiating a lease, we can find a mentor who has done that. So it’s very personalized.
What would you say to women who are looking to start a new business, but they’re unsure of the risk?
I would say take the risk.
It’s scary. We’re having an event today talking about failure and the power of failure. I think as women we are a bit more timid when it comes to taking that first step in doing something that might be scary. And I think that goes back to how we were raised. You don’t always see little girls in the classroom raising their hand, especially if you’re in a science class or a math class … Girls were taught just to kind of hold back and be a little bit more timid and that stays with us. As we grow up, unless we break that cycle, it stays with us.
We also like to make very educated decisions. I will say there’s a ton of information out there … I would say talk to others who have done it women. We are nurturing. We like to help other people and share our experiences to make it easier for you … Ask the question. Do your research but don’t be afraid to ask somebody for help. That’s another thing that we’re not great at.
We don’t want to burden people with problems. No, I say that’s what that’s why [Pathway] exists … We exist to help women and minority business owners succeed. So call me. Just look up Pathway WBC. If we can’t help you, we’ll find somebody who who can.
Why do you think it’s important for for women to seek a little guidance during this process?
When you’re starting a business, there are so many aspects that can pull you down rabbit holes to where you might end up focusing on something that’s not even relevant to you.
So ask an expert. You know ask somebody who’s done it before so you don’t waste your time. We’re all busy. We’re all over our calendars are too full were being moms and volunteers and doing all the things that we want to do with our time. Don’t waste your precious time. Going down a rabbit hole — that could ultimately lead you nowhere.
What if it’s just an idea? Is that an instance when we could just call you up to explore it?
Absolutely. That’s really what our Blue Sky classes are for, because after two hours, a lot of questions will be asked to you to help validate your concept. It’s the best time to figure out if your concept isn’t going to work is early … Come in and share your ideas and then you’ll be asked a lot of questions and probably have to do some research and you’ll figure out if you’re really on to something.
[You’ll learn if] someone already had that idea and if it’s completely trademarked and patented.
So what types of businesses is it that women are coming in here to start? Are they developing organizations, nonprofits?
Yeah, that’s why we say we can meet you at any stage of business.
I don’t see a lot of folks coming here to start nonprofits, not saying that we can’t help with that. We absolutely can. We are seeing a lot of retail. Tech — the tech space is coming up for sure. We had a woman who came through here last year or the year before who has a medical coding company and she’s just incredibly successful now. She just needed that structure and a mentor.
We had a lot of folks trying to consult and they want to differentiate themselves as a consultant. … We have a woman who is a personal trainer, but she’s very focused on older women and older women that have these very specific diseases. She’s extremely successful.
So I would say it’s we’re seeing all sorts all sorts of companies being formed out of here.
What inspires you most about the work that you do here?
Listening to someone who has this dream and they’ve really been thinking about it and being able to look at them and say “we can help you do that.” You’re gonna have to do a lot of the work on your own right, but we’re going to guide you through that process and we’re going to put people in your path who can help you. When you start to wander, we’re going to put somebody else on your path that can get you back. We’re going to connect you with other entrepreneurs who have done something similar … We are changing people’s lives and it’s absolutely inspirational.
Tell us about the event you’re hosting today.
So every quarter we have a networking event and it’s called a Power Surge. The idea is to bring in a client or just a small business owner from the area who has an inspirational story and then folks come mingle and network…so when I started in August, one of the things I wanted to do was. Dig deeper into the already incredible programming that we have and have some more honest transparent conversations. Specifically, around topics that we don’t like to talk about as women — one of them is failure. So I came up with the idea and ran it by the team of having a Power Surge on failure.
We are bringing one of our clients who’s going to tell the story about how we helped her and she didn’t necessarily fail, but she realized she needed help immensely. She got a group of mentors and as just succeeded drastically….We are going to tell real stories about failure and talk about how important it is to not be afraid to fail as an entrepreneur. Ultimately, if you don’t try, you’ll never know if you’re going to succeed or fail. It’s an hour and a half long. I
It’s after work. So we don’t want people to come and mingle and say hello, but we’re going to talk about some some really important topics. It might make you a little uncomfortable. You don’t want to talk about failures. Women don’t want to talk about money, but you got to talk about money.
Yeah, you got to hear these stories, but also share some some great stories some positive success stories as well. Yeah, they’re just made me think like what what. How how would you encourage someone even at the risk of failure to just go for it? You know how like, what is I mean, I guess we’ve kind of touched on that a little bit today, but it’s kind of like just start.
That’s easier said than done. It goes back to my Girl’s to the Moon story. We had talked about doing it for years. Probably three years. We would say, “it’d be really cool if when we were younger, we were talking about loving yourself and being inclusive.” Then, one day my best friend and I were talking about it once again, and we both just said “let’s do it.” And so we started Google names and URLs to see if they were available. Then we found Girls to the Moon. So [we got the] Facebook page … the Twitter handle, built out a WordPress landing page and we were done by two o’clock in the morning.
We didn’t know what was gonna come of that. We just did it. We have definitely failed along the way and we’ve definitely succeeded along the way.
If you want to open a bakery, start baking and selling stuff. If you want to start a walking tour through Historic downtown Nashville, just start doing it. You’ll very quickly figure out if it’s validated or not. Understand that they’re the risk of failure is high. But if you are excited to do what it is that you want to do and you fail, you’ll find another way to succeed.
Are there other women in business that you really admire that inspire you?
Yes. So Pathway WBC has an advisory board. When I started researching this position to see who was on the board and Minyan Francois is one of those women and I know her through my girls to the Moon work just through Community work, but Minyan is one of those entrepreneurs who is so selfless and is willing to help anybody … She has worked really, really hard for where she is, but she doesn’t want to just keep that success to herself. She’s always looking at different ways that she can be helpful, especially to women and minority business owners.
And I think she’s just a beautiful soul and if more successful entrepreneurs treated people like she did, I think the world would be an even better place.
Another one of our board members is Sherry Deutsch. She started Letter Logic and sold it. She is really fired up about investing in businesses, and that is something that really excites me.
Men very freely and easily invest in companies and most of the Venture capitalists or Angel Investors that you go to our are men or their companies are run by males. So I love seeing that space really open up and her saying to women hey, it’s our responsibility to invest in each other.
So just from a Pathway perspective, they’re two really great entrepreneurs and business owners that I look up to. I’ve been really lucky to be mentored. I don’t think I realized I was being mentored until I looked back on it but a woman named Jamie Dunham owns a company named Brandwise we got to know each other through the marketing world, and when I was consulting, she would bring me on projects and I learned a lot from her about client relationship … I think a lot of my communication skills were were very refined because of of Jamie’s insight and advice to me and she’s another one of one of those women who’s always willing to help other people.
It’s so important for women to empower and help other women, because until we get through the glass ceiling, no one’s up there helping us up yet. So we have to build each other up. When I get when I get to the next stage, I need to lean back and grab the hands of the the women who are coming up under me.
We absolutely must. Help our fellow women, especially when it comes to business.