Welcome to DePaul Download. I'm your host Linda Blakely, vice president for
University Marketing and Communications. Supply chain disruption, worker
shortages and inflation are impacting businesses. On this episode of DePaul
Download, we'll talk with a Chicago entrepreneur and the director of
DePaul's women and entrepreneurship Institute, about how businesses are
coping with these challenges. We'll also hear how the institute is
supporting women entrepreneurs in helping their businesses thrive even in a
Joining us today are Abigail Ingram and Joan Hannant. Abigail is the
inaugural director of the women and entrepreneurship Institute and an
instructor at the Driehaus College of Business. Joan is founder and CEO of
the Soma Institute, the only school in the U.S. offering a diploma in
Clinical Massage Therapy. She's also board chair for the entrepreneurship
institute. Welcome, Joan and Abigail.
Thank you, Linda. Nice to be here.
Yes, thank you.
Joan, I mentioned some of today's economic challenges. For the Soma
Institute, what's the biggest challenge you face?
Well, do we have an hour or two for that question, Linda? I think our
biggest challenge right now is worker shortage. And on the flip side of
that is our greatest opportunity is we have a flood of students wanting to
be retrained in an area where they're making a positive difference in the
community. So we're kind of stealing the workers to retrain them. And yet,
for our staffing, that has been a challenge to get not our instructors, but
our support staff has been really difficult too, especially because we are
not hybrid, or online. We are in person. So that's been our biggest
And I think that is a challenge for many businesses. We're feeling it as
well in my division and across the university as people are looking for
challenge but also for opportunities. The pandemic has given people a
reason to re-examine and look for ways to live their best lives. Business
owners engaged with the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute are involved in
a wide range of industries, from professional services to food and beverage
to production. Abigail, what are you hearing from them about the state of
the economy and the state of their businesses?
Well, every company during the pandemic had to become a tech company, or at
least a tech enabled company. So access to tech services, actually being
able to reach their customers online where we all lived for at least a few
months, and many of us continue to live, has been a huge challenge, but
also a huge opportunity for us to provide those types of services for the
companies that we work with. As far as other changes in consumer behavior
beyond simply needing to be able to find someone online and having a
digital presence. Customers are changing, the shared frustrations of the
pandemic have led to a lot of our companies meetings are really trained
themselves and their staff and customer service in a different way. People
are running out of patience. And so that means that companies have to have
even more grace. They have to be ready for customers who are bringing those
frustrations, and really be able to serve them. If we think about it, and
really let's be clear, the stats for women business owners pre-pandemic
were not great. Challenges were already present. And the pandemic led to
the need for things like paycheck protection loans, and other programs that
women had a harder time accessing than men-founded businesses. So not only
are women-owned businesses going through the exact same challenges that
every business is going through during the pandemic, but we're still facing
obstacles that were present even before it hit.
Could you provide some more information about specific services the
We have a pre-accelerator program and an accelerator program, and we're
providing direct training for women to gain business acumen that they might
not have had an opportunity to learn, topics like finance and sales
strategy, marketing access to funding. But we're also providing a network
of women entrepreneurs, and that is our truly incredible board, to not only
teach those mechanics of business but also to create a community of women
business owners. So during our programs, we require hours a week of the
women who are who are in the programs to go ahead and get that training.
There are many deliverables. Women need to come out of our program being
able to name their differentiators, to have their messaging and their
marketing together, to have their P&L and also their financial
projections. There are a lot of different pieces that we require of women
going through the program, all for the benefit of being able to
meaningfully grow and scale their businesses.
So are you able to share with us today a success story?
We can share many, many. We haven't had a single business close during the
pandemic. We've had 49 women business owners go through our accelerator
program in under three years that we've been in existence as an institute.
So of those companies, over two-thirds of them are actually making more
money during the pandemic than they were beforehand. Which means not only
are they surviving, but they're also still growing. And I completely credit
the tenacity of the the women in the program, as well as the help from our
board for those successes. So let's see, yesterday I saw one of our
business owners products being enjoyed by Al Roker on national television.
So that's a good one. But truly, we haven't seen a single company close. So we have
nothing but success stories. Now it's just a matter of continuing to
support the women in our programs so they can truly scale.
It's working. Joan, why is it important to start an institute focus solely
on women entrepreneurs instead of business owners in general?
Well, that's such an important question. So my experience as a female
founder was that so many programs that were gender neutral, the women that
were in the programs were not staying to the end of the program, they would
leave for reasons that sometimes it wasn't the reason that was stated.
Often we think that was because they would didn't feel comfortable in a
male-dominated environment, and feel comfortable really being able to
identify and problem solve around their particular issues. So that seeing
that the dropout rate really struck me. Why are women leaving? And do we
need a program that will support women, so that they're comfortable in
raising their issues and solving their problems in an environment that's
run by other women business owners who've already been there and
experienced some of those same issues? So we did make a very concerted
decision to have a female, and and there was some pushback on this, but to
have female-founded only business owners participating, including, even if
they're co founders or partners that the woman founder had to have a 51%
minimum ownership in order to qualify to enter the program. And what we
found right away was where there was a 30 to 40% dropout rate in
traditional programs, we had 100% retention rate in all of our programs
thus far, for the whole, almost three years now. Nobody has dropped out
from the program. They've all stayed to completion. That's huge.
That is huge. And wonderful. Abigail, you talk about the institute's work
as a business accelerator. Other programs are incubators. What's the
difference? And why is that significant?
So in order to access the resources and the services that we have put
together that really comprise the institute, women will at first go through
our accelerator program. So this is historically been a couple months of
intensive training. We've now added again, this pre-accelerator, which
applications are always welcome, you can simply go to our website, which is
go.depaul.edu/WEI to take a look at those programs and go ahead and apply.
After completing that program, women business owners can access a range of
resources. Most recently we have a program with the masters of writing and
publishing program right here at DePaul, where women business owners can
have their websites reviewed and have content suggested. Again right now is
more important than ever, how we present ourselves in the digital world. We
want to make sure that we can help women business owners do that. Women
become eligible to apply for the Business Law Clinic. This provides them
with legal services for a year or two. They essentially have in house
counsel to handle either contracts issues or intellectual property. They
have a team of students and supervising attorneys who work on their legal
issues with them. And they're paying for what they would spend on an hour
or two of legal services elsewhere for that year or two. So once women go
through our program, and we want to make sure that they complete it
successfully, as Joan mentioned, 100% of them have. So at that point, they
go on and become eligible to participate in different programs at DePaul.
They remain part of our network forever. We have an alumni program with
monthly meetings. So at that point, it's more about what we've all learned
a baseline level of knowledge; everyone has completed the program
successfully. Now we can see what resources are needed for specific
businesses and make sure that we continue to incubate them, that we
continue to provide them that support so that they can go on and be
I know partnerships are important for the institute, and you are continuing
your partnership with the YWCA of Chicago. Tell me a little bit about that
The YWCA has been an incredible partner. Dorri McWhorter was one of the
women who stepped forward and helped us launch when we were first getting
started. Of course, she's gone on to the YMCA now. And we can't wait to see
what she does there. But we were having a conversation about what more we
could do for women entrepreneurs and specifically at the SBDC that sits at
the YWCA. And generally, what more can we do for women business owners on
the south side of Chicago. So we decided that we would run a dedicated
cohort for those business owners, most of them around half a million
dollars in annual revenue, and provide them with the same resources,
services, knowledge and network that we've been providing for women in
previous programs. So that program was the very first accelerator for Black
women in the city of Chicago. And that ran successfully in 2021. With our
next cohort to begin, also populated with some of the YWCA amazing women
business owners early next year.
So I'd like to end our conversation on a more positive note than we started
with. We're starting a new year. So what opportunities do you both see for
women entrepreneurs you work with?
So entrepreneurs we're eternal optimists and problem solvers. So every day
is a new opportunity. Those sessions are run by board members. So we're not
using outside consultants or instructors. We're using women that are
teaching the classes own successful businesses. It's just so exciting to
see somebody launching a company. This may sound odd, but it's exciting to
see somebody stuck, and then trying to work with them to help get them
unstuck. That's my biggest, those "a-ha" moments. When you get a group of
women that have done a lot of heavy lifting, often without a sense of
community. And somehow some of us survived. We want to impart that
enthusiasm, and that resilience. And really, whatever the goal is of our
participants, whether they want to scale internationally, or they just want
to begin to hire a staff and have a company that supports their families.
Seeing that growth and development, 2022 and the pandemic or just more
I have to say Joan is the queen of leading entrepreneurs to their "a-ha"
moments. It is no wonder that her business has become the largest in its
industry under her leadership. We've seen a lot of women leaving the
workforce. This has been on the news quite a lot. In December of 2020, I
think the number was 140,000 women in the month, every job lost that month,
had belonged to women. Some of those have come back. But if we look at how
many women are realizing that the corporate environment has not been built
for them, is sometimes not friendly to them, we're going to see more and
more women who are opting into taking the control over their lives that is
becoming an entrepreneur. Our job is to help them go into it with open
eyes. The old cliche is that an entrepreneur is someone who would rather
work 80 hours a week for themselves than 40 hours for someone else. It
certainly isn't an easier path, but there is an element of control, of
respect that you can build within a culture when you run your own
organization that more and more women are realizing is within their reach.
And so we are here to help them reach it.
Well, we certainly hope to hear plenty more success stories in the year to
come. Thank you both so much for joining us today.
Thank you, Linda. Thanks for having us on your show.
Thank you, Linda.
For more about the Women in Entrepreneurship Institute visit
go.depaul.edu/WEI. I'm your host Linda Blakely. Thank you for listening to
the DePaul Download presented by DePaul's Division of University Marketing