At 15 years old, Chauncey Holloman Pettis launched her greeting card company and called it Harlem Lyrics. She was looking to buy a birthday card for her friend, but found nothing representing her or her friend’s age, gender or race. Pettis is a fourth-generation entrepreneur, and, like the generations before her, she saw a need and filled it in abundance.
Within just a few years, Harlem Lyrics expanded from cards into clothing, school supplies and a line of stationery items that would come to be sold in major, U.S.-wide retail chains including Kroger, Walgreens and Macy’s. Her mom encouraged her, helping her to draft her first business plan and providing funds to get the business up and running. It was in part that early support, from someone with experience, know-how and a stake in her future, that meant all the difference in the early going.
As the long-time director of Winrock’s now 14-year-old Arkansas Women’s Business Center, Pettis is bringing her own generational entrepreneurial experience to the table in support of other visionary, Arkansas-based businesswomen.
In Arkansas, 1 in 4 small businesses are women owned. These businesses contribute a staggering $10 billion annually to Arkansas’ economy, according to a study by the Arkansas Asset Funders Network. Despite their impressive contributions, AWBC reports that women-owned businesses receive nearly 50% less funding and have fewer opportunities for training and business consulting services than male-owned enterprises. The disparities are compounded when comparing minority women entrepreneurs to male-owned businesses.
AWBC is celebrating 14 years of support to women-owned enterprises at any development stage, ranging from start-up to expansion. Funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, Winrock’s AWBC is part of a nationwide network of 152 women’s business centers across the country. The AWBC, located in El Dorado, Arkansas, serves women-owned businesses across Arkansas and is currently supporting businesses in 90% of the state.
AWBC’s goal is to elevate women-owned businesses through technical advice, mentorship, training. Staff help with planning, launching, and expanding enterprises. Clients receive one-on-one consultations or tailored training programs, as well as assistance connecting women business owners to networks offering guidance, information about successful approaches, and resources.
“I know first-hand how complex it is to start a new business,” Pettis said. “From major considerations like accessing capital to the seemingly small details like choosing the best business name, the stress of each of these activities can seem overwhelming. Working together we can share the stress, remove barriers, and see incredible achievements.”
The AWBC helps women business owners with everything from crafting sound business plans and identifying funding sources to expanding to new locations, exploring mergers and acquisitions, and the pros and cons of federal contracting.
The AWBC also has expertise in connecting minority-owned, military spouse and/or veteran-owned businesses to assistance and access to business growth and expansion tools, educational opportunities and federal programs that create business or funding opportunities through contracts, grants and job training.
While AWBC does not provide grant funding or direct financial assistance, it does provide professional business advisory services and works to connect women entrepreneurs with services across communities, such as local banks and Community Development Finance Institutions.
Access to the information and resources offered through AWBC can be vital to boosting an entrepreneur’s confidence. Brandy Kyle, the owner of an eyelash bar and day spa in El Dorado, Arkansas says the advice she received from AWBC pushed her to start her own business. It all began when she attended an AWBC informational workshop at her local Chamber of Commerce in September 2022.
At the time, Kyle had dreamed of establishing her own studio to offer eyelash extensions, cosmetics, skincare services, spray tans and massages. But she just wasn’t sure how to get started until she attended the AWBC workshop.
Within nine months of opening, Kyle & Co. managed an expansion of her studio that tripled their available space from 1,500 to 5,000 square feet. This expansion allowed the studio to increase Kyle’s staff from three to nine women and serve a larger customer base. From one informational meeting to a business expansion has created employment in a rural community and increased services available to residents.
AWBC offers cohort-based trainings that provides important technical knowledge while building communities for small business owners.
“In 2020, we immediately saw that many women-owned businesses were suffering economically because of the COVID slowdown,” said Pettis. “Business who had been successful for three to five years were struggling to stay online, so we developed a cohort training built for their specific needs that also created a space for ever-more-important community.”
Ascend is a 10-week program that supports Arkansas women-owned business owners looking to improve budgeting, marketing, and business development skills or who wanted legal consulting on matters related to their businesses.
Through training, participants identify individual business needs, and Ascend helps them access specific support. Some choose to work on expanding their contracts, while others want to learn QuickBooks or marketing and branding. Ascend also intentionally develops a support community of business owners within and outside the cohort. Participants receive contact information to outside resources willing to continue to engage individually and help them through the longer journey.
Quenna Borders worked at various children’s daycares for more than 30 years before opening her own business specializing in infant and toddler care in Jonesboro, Arkansas.
Borders was a first-time entrepreneur when she started exploring the option of opening her own business and learned about the important support the AWBC provides.
She identified the need for accounting training, particularly on taxes and bookkeeping. Previously, she relied on others to keep track of her accounting needs, but she knew she wanted to take ownership of her business’s finances and expenses.
With Ascend training, Borders became adept at QuickBooks and is now deeply engaged in all business finances.
“When you have a class of people that you’re working with that are designated as disenfranchised, or those who are not white males, having mentors or successful entrepreneurs as examples is pivotal,” Pettis said. “It’s what I call ‘like-looked mentorship,’ so other women can see the people that have done this successfully.”
That’s why AWBC offers another cohort called Momentum, aimed at building collaboration between minority, woman-owned startups. The five-week program involves 10 aspiring small businesses – each with under $100,000 in revenue. Participants receive connections to a peer network, enabling participants to learn and explore innovative ideas in a safe, supportive environment.
Momentum participants receive training on social media and marketing, digital commerce, financial statements, balance sheets, cash flow and income statements.
Brittany Roy is a certified pastry chef who opened her Sweet Stuffed cheesecake shop, vending machine and catering business more than six years ago in Little Rock, Arkansas. She experienced firsthand how AWBC’s Momentum program consultation can be transformational. During the training, she identified a need and desire to expand her contracts.
Roy started with an initial AWBC consultation, quickly launching into mentorship support and began linking up with other businesses participating in Momentum. She says the cohort taught her how to separate her personal and business expenses for taxes and recordkeeping and enabled her to establish an LLC, or Limited Liability Company, which is essential to protect business owners’ income in case of a lawsuit.
With consultation from Pettis, Roy gained a business identification number needed for companies interested in government contracts. It helps legitimize businesses seeking to become a vendor or supplier, or when bidding on local or international contracts.
“What I believe the AWBC does uniquely well is create these ecosystems of support and safe spaces,” Pettis said. “You can learn how to get an LLC from anywhere. What we do is to try to make you feel comfortable as an entrepreneur, learning and growing together and building an ecosystem of empowered women-owned businesses in the state.”