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'Women are more strategic, men quicker to action': How women small business owners can grow - USA TODAY

'Women are more strategic, men quicker to action': How women small business owners can grow - USA TODAY

'Women are more strategic, men quicker to action': How women small business owners can grow - USA TODAY

Posted: 10 Mar 2021 12:00 AM PST

Rhonda Abrams, Special to USA TODAY Published 7:02 a.m. ET March 10, 2021


March is Women's History Month, so it's an appropriate time to ponder: what can women entrepreneurs do to get ahead?

I've worked with entrepreneurs for nearly three decades, both women and men, in small towns and big cities. In most respects, male and female business owners – whether running small businesses or launching visionary ventures – are pretty similar.  On the whole they're competitive, smart, risk takers, collaborative, leaders.

But there are differences. I am a frequent public speaker to groups of entrepreneurs on how to take their business to the next level, and when I speak to women's groups, my message is somewhat different. Where I often see male entrepreneurs stride into rooms confident of their ideas and themselves, I often see women more hesitant. Where I see women tentative about growth, I see many men eager – often beyond their capabilities – to expand.

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Yes, yes, I know. These are generalizations. I can point to legions of women or men who don't fit these generalizations. Nevertheless, there are some things women entrepreneurs and small business owners can learn from men that can help them grow bigger companies if they want:

Concentrate on what you have, not what you lack. Male entrepreneurs tend to be confident (if not cocky) about their capabilities, while women tend to downplay their  accomplishments. A friend who was a hiring manager told me: "If there are 10 qualifications for a job, a man will apply if he has one; a woman won't apply if she's missing one." Every group of entrepreneurs – both men and women – have agreed with that.

Toot your own horn. Women have a hard time promoting themselves, especially in one-on-one or small group settings. It's tough to do this gracefully, but work on it! As Sheila Ronning, founder of Women in the Boardroom, once said, "I've called dozens of men and women for comment on newsworthy events within their expertise. More than half of the ridiculously highly qualified women I spoke with told me they weren't expert enough to comment. No man has ever said that to me even when he was far less qualified."

Charge more. Even when women set their own fees, they tend to make less money than men for the same work. A 2017 study by the accounting firm FreshBooks showed that self-employed females set their own rates as freelancers, they made 28% less than their male counterparts. Some of this is due to the fact that women in some cases rightly know they can't charge as much as their male competitors and land the client. But it's also partially due to women undervaluing their own worth.

Move faster. In my experience, women are more strategic; men quicker to action. For example, I once hired two social media interns at the same time. The male intern immediately started posting on social media sites. The female first determined the best audience and most relevant topics. He got us higher numbers; she brought us more valuable targets. Women often go "Ready, aim, aim, aim, fire." While men are firing away. Sometimes, you just have to pull the trigger.

Go for the gold, not for the glamour. Women, generally, want their businesses to have intrinsic value – to accomplish something important, that they have an emotional connection to. Men are far more willing to just make money. Often that means following opportunities that seem, well, boring. Of course, I'm not saying you're your work shouldn't have meaning or that women should only care about making money, but there are plenty of non-glamorous businesses that both make a contribution to society and make you money.

There's also a long list of attributes male entrepreneurs could emulate from women. They can listen and learn more; seek others' advice; be better at multi-tasking; give more priority to work/life balance, both for themselves and their employees. They can be more strategic and less rash. And, guys, you could be a bit more humble.   

What do you think? Are men and women entrepreneurs different from one another? And if so, how? Or do you think I'm way off base? Let me know.

Rhonda Abrams' newest book "The Sh*t's Hit the Fan: Now What, 99 Recession-Proof Tips for Small Business Success" has just been released. Rhonda was named a "Top 30 Global Guru" for Startups. Connect with Rhonda on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Register for Rhonda's free business tips newsletter at

The views and opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect those of USA TODAY.

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Can Small Businesses Solve Big Problems? - Entrepreneur

Posted: 18 Mar 2021 07:00 AM PDT

11 min read

This story appears in the March 2021 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

"Software and snacks seems like a crazy combination," Julia Collins admits.

But in truth, it's just the beginning of a crazy-big idea.

Collins is the founder and CEO of Planet FWD. Its focus on software and snacks can be seen in two ways — the practical, and the philosophical. The practical is straightforward: Planet FWD sells a line of climate-friendly crackers and is developing software to connect farmers and suppliers with food brands.

Philosophically, "software and snacks" is a strategy for how a tiny startup can scale up to massive change. Collins has built big ideas before — she helped grow a big, buzzy startup that raised $375 million in capital and achieved a valuation of more than $1 billion. It was supposed to revolutionize the food industry. Instead, after Collins' departure, it burned through that capital and burned out on its original goals, too. It's a lesson that even with the best intentions and a powerful network of support, creating change is very hard — and it must be approached with delicate precision.

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Now she's building that lesson into Planet FWD, the actual goal of which is to revolutionize agriculture and food production to help stop climate change. But with a goal that big, where do you even begin? It's too much. So Collins approaches problems with patience — she baby-steps her way up the mountain.

"One thing that makes it easy for me to digest huge issues," she says, "is to start with something tangible that I can build around."

And so, she started out with what's reasonable: software that helps create more eco-friendly foods, and a snack to prove that it's possible. Software and snacks.

Now, as Collins sets out to build this company in a methodical way, Planet FWD serves as a test case for big-thinking entrepreneurs. Is slow and steady the right way forward?

"The first thing for us is imagining one climate-­friendly snack," Collins says. "From there we can multiply — and multiply impact."

Planet FWD began with a problem: Globally, nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions come from food production. At the current rate of soil degradation, caused by reliance on fertilizers, scientists suggest that we could actually run out of topsoil in the next 60 years.

Collins became interested in a potential solution called regenerative agriculture, a practice that's gaining increasing attention from scientists and activists. In simplest terms, it describes a farming system that prioritizes soil health and water management, and can actually sequester carbon. But of the 930 million acres of farmland in America, just about 5 percent is managed this way.

As Collins dug into why that might be, she learned that communication played a big role. Murky, varying definitions of regenerative agriculture had left growers without any finite guidelines or metrics to track.

"It wasn't only hard to understand what was already available from suppliers, but what might be available," she says. "The information just wasn't there."

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That's a common story when startups try to tackle giant problems, says Dawn Lippert, CEO of Elemental Excelerator, a growth accelerator that has funded and supported more than 100 businesses that focus on addressing climate change. (Planet FWD is one of its portfolio companies.) "The beauty of working with startups is that you get to see the entire system, and where the barriers are to creating real change," Lippert says. One of those barriers is information; as an entrepreneur tries to understand a marketplace that's in need of change, they often discover a massive information gap, and therefore don't know where to begin in solving a problem.

That's why she advises founders: Before doing anything else, fill in that gap.

"You have to step back and build that research if it's not there," says Lippert. "Create structured market intelligence work. Learn what brands need from suppliers. Learn what suppliers need from brands."

Starting in 2019, Collins did just that. She discovered that food producers and regenerative agriculture farmers wanted to work together but did not know how. Farmers might not know what information about their growth practices to share with brands, and brands didn't know what to ask for to help them reach their sustainability goals, either.

To solve this, Collins assembled a brain trust of agronomists, climate scientists, and farmers, and built a list of metrics to collect from growers — ­facts and figures that would help potential brand partners understand their agricultural practices and benefits.

"Moving forward on a big idea is really process-­driven, and you need to build a stable of coaches with a lot of really specific experience," Lippert says. "Talking to the right person at the right time when you're building an ambitious company can save you six to 18 months of work." With input from that stable of experts, Collins readied her game plan.

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Snacks came first. She wanted to produce a provable model, where ingredients from a regenerative farm made their way through a factory and onto store shelves. She created a brand called Moonshot Snacks, which would begin with three flavors of crackers. In December 2020, Moonshot launched with D2C sales and through specialty retailers; Collins plans to increase distribution and offerings in the future, moving beyond crackers into, say, bars or cookies. Simultaneously, she got moving on her bigger idea — software! — by building a digital marketplace for brands and farmers to connect. 

Planet FWD's software is now being piloted with seven brands, giving Collins a chance to observe and adjust its matchmaking abilities. If it works, it will push her closer to creating real impact. If not, she'll adapt as needed.

"It is very difficult to build a business with these two very different verticals," Collins says. "But the automation and adoption of regenerative practices is what Planet FWD can do, and what Moonshot can do is use consumer demand to accelerate that adoption."

Collins became obsessed with the health of the planet after having her son, Mosi.

Image Credit: Courtesy of Planet FWD

Collins' obsession with food started as a child, growing up in a family that welcomed its community around the table. She attended Stanford's business school and, after graduation, traveled to Southern Italy to live on a water buffalo ranch. The region struggles with poverty and access to resources, but unlike in the United States, where poor communities increasingly rely on cheap, processed foods, it used a different approach.

"There's something called la cucina povera — poor people's food, essentially," Collins says. "I saw all these people eating well and locally and with joy without spending a lot of money, all while there are very low incidences of diabetes and obesity, and residents live well into their 90s." It planted a seed of curiosity in her mind — are Americans approaching food all wrong?

Back in the States, she built a career at food brands like Shake Shack, Mexicue, and Murray's Cheese. In 2015, she met Alex Garden, an entrepreneur who'd spent years working on a patent for en route cooking — ­basically, a pizza delivery van that would cook your pizza on its way to your home. To Collins, it was a game-changing idea.

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"It would certainly create a better customer experience than how food is currently delivered," she says. "But we also saw ways to improve efficiency, safety, and sustainability."

That same year, the duo founded Zume Pizza. Soon, pizza-making robots were cooking pies in mobile kitchens, delivering them throughout the Bay Area. Zume became a darling of the tech world, and in late 2018, the company raised a stunning $375 million. Zume was valued at more than $1 billion.

But within weeks, Collins exited. It was an unusual time for a cofounder to leave, though she insists it was coincidental — she was a new parent at the time and says she'd become obsessed with climate change. Still, it turned out to be a bad omen for Zume. The company has severely declined since then, having to cut more than half its workforce in January 2020. It is now pivoting to a B2B model, creating efficiencies for other food-delivery companies.

Collins seems to have learned from Zume's mistakes. With Planet FWD, her approach to business building is starkly different.

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Zume's primary funding came from SoftBank's Vision Fund, which famously invested in WeWork, Uber, and Brandless, pushed them to grow quickly, and suffered from multiple collapses or deflated valuations.

Now Collins is intentionally choosing to grow slowly. She has raised just more than $5 million and created a network of investors made up primarily of women and people of color. It signals a more deliberate approach to growth, one Collins says is grounded in trust.

"In the past, I really felt that I had to perform, and I think that's true for so many underrepresented people," she says. "This time around, I feel so much more trust, and that allows me to be vulnerable and really turn to my investors for guidance. And that doesn't just mean I'm a happier founder but that the company will be more successful."

Solving big problems one step at a time can help founders create a reliable road map for building — but it also means that every moment of success begets a new, bigger challenge.

Getting Moonshot Snacks into shoppers' carts and the Planet FWD platform into the hands of brands and farmers are two big wins for Collins. But now she must pursue wider adoption, getting more brands and bigger suppliers onto her platform.

Brands may be the easier sell. In 2019, General Mills announced plans to work with farmers and suppliers with the goal of transitioning one million acres of farmland to regenerative practices by 2030.

"Companies used to think talking about climate could alienate their customer base, but no one is afraid anymore," says Michael Wironen, a senior scientist of agriculture and food services at The Nature Conservancy, which works in part to help businesses like General Mills embrace better agriculture practices. Sustainable products once were novel. Today, consumers expect them.

For farmers, it's a different story.

"Producers are constantly asked to adapt to demands that are set by people who don't farm," Wironen says. "Farmers have to manage time and labor. Changing those practices, even if they'll lead to payoffs, is a risk."

Related: Designing for Sustainability to Address Climate Change

It doesn't help that the true meaning of regenerative agriculture can depend on whom you ask — some experts take a strict approach, and some are more lax as a way to encourage adoption — and the science on its impact is still early. This all creates hesitation within the industry, where growers have already been squeezed economically and feel disconnected from the end user they're feeding.

"We often hear from farmers that they want the reality of their work to be closer to consumers," Collins says. So she's using the playful packaging of Moonshot Snacks to entice customers to learn more about the folks growing our food. Simple explanations about what "climate-friendly" means as it relates to food are presented in bold, graphic fashion on the Moonshot box. Shoppers are encouraged to learn more on the brand's website, where the full mission is detailed along with tips on zero-waste living, and explainers on regenerative agriculture and shorter supply chains.

Alone, that move may feel insignificant. But turning Planet FWD into a success — as a business, and as a potentially impactful idea — requires relationship building with multiple communities, unprecedented levels of trust from the agriculture industry, a mix of speed and caution, and what can feel like countless moving parts chipping away at a shared goal.

"There's certainly pressure to deliver, but we see a clear path," Collins says. "Our entrance to the market is well-timed. The groundwork has been laid by scientists and other entrepreneurs, and there's going to continue to be increased attention and investment to create actual change."

And she'll work to build it, one step at a time.


Turning roadblocks into building blocks for women-owned businesses -

Posted: 21 Mar 2021 02:35 PM PDT

Val Jones,

Wells Fargo Texas Small Business Leader

Today, there are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses, which represents 42% of all U.S. businesses. These businesses employ 9.4 million workers and earn $1.9 trillion in revenue. Over the past five years, the number of women owned small businesses increased by 21% while comparatively, all new businesses increased only 9%.[1] Despite their successes, women entrepreneurs still face many challenges to obtaining funding for their enterprise and building a support network to ensure their business stands out and is positioned for success. As these business owners navigate these challenges – as well as ongoing difficulties of the COVID-19 pandemic- here are some steps that can help to turn these roadblocks into building blocks for their success:

Continue to explore funding options – Women-owned small businesses have been more heavily impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, with 71 percent reporting a loss in revenues or sales according to a Wells Fargo/Gallup study completed last year. As business owners continue to feel the impact of these unprecedented times, there are many assistance options to help businesses and non-profits continue their road to recovery. The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a great starting point to learn about available federal resources and programs. Traditional lending products such as 7(a) loans, 504 loans and SBA express loans can provide access to capital, as well as specific relief programs such as the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). There are also many free resources and tools to help educate women business-owners on other credit and financing options. Additionally, when choosing a lender, consider financial institutions that have demonstrated a commitment and track record of working with minority and women-owned businesses, as well as a lender who may have implemented programs focused on women-owned businesses.

Identify your support network – Having a support system to lean on is a huge asset for any business owner, but it's especially important for women. While COVID has created many unique challenges to in person networking and meeting face-to-face, it's important as ever to seek virtual ways to get involved with organizations dedicated to supporting women business owners. For example, the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) and the Women's Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) have chapters and regional partners across the country that offer peer-to-peer professional development programs for members. These organizations are dedicated to helping women find the right financial tools to successfully run and grow their businesses. Another great resource for women business owners is SCORE, which offers online newsletters and webinars in addition to an extensive database of female mentors.

Business owners should also consider the immense value of having an assigned relationship manager at their primary bank. According to a recent Barlow survey, 70% of small businesses who interact with a dedicated Account Officer are very satisfied with their bank compared to those who don't. [2]

Be you and set measurable goals – Every business owner needs to consider market saturation and how to make their particular offerings stand out and get noticed. When thinking about starting a business and establishing goals, women business owners should consider both their personal and business objectives, and see where they align. What's motivating you to establish your business and what makes your business unique? One of the most important things women entrepreneurs can do to stand out is to be their authentic selves, while planning and setting measurable goals along the way. One way to organize is to get ideas down on paper by creating a written business plan to shape your strategy. It will also be important to check-out competitive intelligence tools that can help you map your business against competitors and inform your path forward. Your business plan should reflect changes in your business, the industry or the market. With COVID-19 impacts, it is equally important to incorporate the changing needs of customers and economic conditions in order to keep your plan current and respond to the ever-changing environment.

No matter which sources you choose to fund your business, build a network, and establish a plan, remember that knowledge is power. By taking the time to arm yourself appropriately, you can confidently navigate potential roadblocks and pave the path for your business success.

[1] The 2019 State of Women Owned Small Businesses Report (American Express)

[2] Barlow Small Business Rolling 4 Quarter Data (4Q2019-3Q2020) SBO $100k-$10MM; Q: Overall, how satisfied are you with your company's primary bank?

Val Jones is Wells Fargo Texas Small Business Leader

Entrepreneur Connect seeks to link students in business - Binghamton University Pipe Dream

Posted: 21 Mar 2021 09:41 PM PDT

Club aims to help students find business-driven peers, take advantage of the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator

The new Entrepreneur Connect club is creating a collaborative space for students in Broome County to share ideas, forge partnerships and push themselves in the world of business.

Open to both Binghamton University and Broome Community College (BCC) students, Entrepreneur Connect helps students connect and collaborate on their business ideas and strategies. The club serves as a connective arm between students and the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, a local hub for growing entrepreneurs directed through BU and managed by BU's Office of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Partnerships.

Founding members include Jaiden Price, vice president of membership recruitment and retention and an undeclared freshman, Mallory Fowler, vice president of marketing and a sophomore majoring in business administration, Chinomso Eyegheleme, vice president of culture and community and a first-year electrical engineering graduate student, and Thomas Miller, president of Entrepreneur Connect and a junior majoring in business administration.

The team started the club to connect innovative students with each other, as well as with alumni and the resources of the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, to prepare them to launch their business ideas.

Miller decided to start Entrepreneur Connect after having trouble finding other entrepreneurial students to collaborate on a product idea.

"I searched around for resources around campus to put me in touch with other entrepreneurial students who had the technical skills I required to no avail," Miller wrote in an email. "This led me to contact [Laura Holmes, director of operations at the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator], who mentioned [BU] lacking an entrepreneur club in general. This initial message from [Holmes] is what led me to my interest in starting an organization."

The Koffman Southern Tier Incubator is located at 120 Hawley St. in Downtown Binghamton. It offers areas for testing and pitching ideas and products, including wet and dry labs, event presentation spaces, offices and co-working spaces. They host various programs, such as the Southern Tier Clean Energy Incubator Program, which fosters clean-energy startups. Cory Kimmell, marketing communications specialist for the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator, spoke to the wealth of resources that it offers.

"The Koffman Southern Tier Incubator is the best-kept secret on the [BU] campus with programs, space and an ecosystem of entrepreneurs ready to support growth," Kimmell wrote in an email.

Laura Holmes also spoke of it as a hidden gem for students. Holmes led the effort to support entrepreneurship in students before the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator opened in April 2017. Before then, she noted, there wasn't much support for students interested in entrepreneurship. Now, the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator creates a web of connections for students to take advantage of, including partnerships with the Binghamton Small Business Development Center, the Coughlin & Gerhart law firm and internships with various startup companies.

Even with its wealth of opportunities, Holmes said many students remain unaware of the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator.

"We just can't seem to reach students," Holmes said. "When students do find us they're like, 'Oh my gosh, this is such a great resource, why didn't I know about it?' And we just don't know what the answer to that is."

Holmes said she believes this is why Entrepreneur Connect is so important, as it is a direct line from students to the resources that the Koffman Southern Tier Incubator offers.

According to the club's Instagram page, @entrepreneurconnectbinghamton, the club recently held a virtual "Co-Founder Meet-Up," where students were placed into teams to discuss and collaborate on problem-solving activities.

On Thursday, March 25, at 5 p.m., Entrepreneur Connect will be hosting a pitch event. At the moment, the club is holding icebreaker events and short research workshops for members to learn and get to know each other. By the fall semester, they plan to have weekly or biweekly meetings in a hybrid format with both virtual and in-person components. They are currently developing a program to initiate partnerships with local and e-commerce businesses.

Eyegheleme is looking forward to the evolution and growth of entrepreneur connect.

"I hope this group accomplishes a sustainable culture whereby students that are interested in entrepreneurship can enjoy the network, resources and camaraderie of the group," Eyegheleme wrote.


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