Demarra Gardner has long coached people about success, but what she realized was that even with coaching and mentoring, what was really needed was more of a “how-to” guide for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially women looking to start their own businesses. So Michigan-based Gardner, President and Founder of Change Agent Consulting, a 10-year-old full-service organizational development consulting firm, decided to create a program that would be a business tutorial for women.
Black Women About Business (BWAB) will launch on December 4 as a year-long, virtual/retreat business support program for aspiring, novice, and seasoned entrepreneurs. Gardner, who holds a Masters of Arts in clinical mental health from Western Michigan University and a Bachelors of Arts in family life education from Spring Arbor University, is also founding director of Educating for Freedom in Schools, a youth development organization that provides youth and summer enrichment, culturally relevant mentorship, and youth and parent leadership development opportunities. Gardner told MadameNoire how and why she’s starting BWAB.
MadameNoire (MN): What made you create Black Women About Business?
Demarra Gardner (DG): Mid-January 2017, I woke up in the wee hours of the morning with an idea to start a business support program for women of color to make sure they had what they needed to be successful in their business venture. After conducting research, I discovered that there were existing programs targeting women of color, but none that were comprehensive in nature for Black women. The market reflected that there were mentorship and networking groups, but not a comprehensive, one-stop shop for learning how to start, run, and effectively scale a business. That’s when I decided to focus strictly on serving Black women.
MN: Since this is a new organization, can you tell us some of the challenges you have faced in starting from scratch?
DG: Balancing existing work while creating a new body of work has been the biggest challenge that I have been faced with. I have to be intentional about allocating planning time to expand my business model while delivering quality work that my clients have come to know. Identifying the right talent has helped me navigate through this. I have amazing support from my team. I also had to be okay with the investment required to pull something like BWAB off. When you are starting something new, there is immense risk involved, especially when it requires your own funding. Lastly, the thought of failure–that can cripple you. I had to embrace this fear as part of the journey. We have to be able to decipher between fear that is valid and fear that will keep us from growing.
MN: What will the organization do?
DG: Black Women About Business (BWAB) is a signature program of Change Agent Consulting that will provide Black women with a platform to discuss issues unique to them in business while gaining critical resources to help ensure their success. There are two tracks: one for aspiring and novice entrepreneurs, and one for seasoned entrepreneurs. Business education, mentorship, leadership development, and funding will be the focal point of the program. There will also be an optional in-person retreat offered [in addition to the virtual program] roughly midway through BWAB. Black Women About Business is for us, by us which means that more than 90 percent of all business supports will be provided by Black women in business. That’s our unique value proposition.
MN: Will there be a membership process?
DG: There is an online application process that will be available by mid-October 2017. This application will help us get to know how best to support each woman during the year-long BWAB experience. The retreat will be available to anyone who registers, whether they are a ‘BWABer’ or not. Registration will be open for the retreat by mid-March 2018.
MN: What were the first steps you took to start the organization?
DG: I conducted market research to identify market need, potential competitors, and collaborators. I also wanted to know what were the most pressing issues facing Black women in business so the program could address those issues. I then started to reach out to industry experts to share my vision for the program and whether or not they’d be interested in serving as a facilitator, mentor, or coach.
MN: What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the process?
DG: Every Black woman I know has shared how much something like BWAB is needed. Although I had come across countless Black women of the years eager for culturally relevant business support, I had no idea that what I was creating would resonate with so many people. More importantly, I have learned that Black Girl Magic is everywhere. That we want to support one another, and we often will support one another if given the opportunity.