Transform #2: How to Support Black Female Entrepreneurship

Blake and David interviewed Dr. Cameka Smith, founder of The Boss Network at Sage Transform 2022. They discussed the challenges that Black female entrepreneurs face, how they can improve their chances of success, and how accountants or bookkeepers can better support them.

Attention: This is a machine-generated transcript. As such, there may be spelling, grammar, and accuracy errors throughout. Thank you for your understanding!

Blake Oliver: [00:00:00] This episode of The Cloud Accounting Podcast was recorded at the Sage Transform Conference in October of 2022. Because it's a little shorter than our usual episodes, this episode does not qualify for free CPE on the Earmark app. However, it's a great interview. I hope you listen and I hope you enjoy.

David Leary: [00:00:20] Welcome to The Cloud Accounting Podcast, live at Sage Transform. I'm David Leary.

Blake Oliver: [00:00:26] I'm Blake Oliver.

David Leary: [00:00:27] And Blake, we have our second interview today. This is Dr. Cameka Smith. She's the founder of The Boss Network.

Blake Oliver: [00:00:34] The Boss Network.

David Leary: [00:00:34] Boss Network. Cameka, please.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:00:36] Yes.

David Leary: [00:00:37] Welcome to the podcast.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:00:38] Thank you. Thank you so much.

David Leary: [00:00:40] So what is the Boss Network?

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:00:42] Oh, wow. So the Boss Network is actually a digital platform for black women in business. So I tell people, think of Facebook for women in business, you know, our community, we created this space so that women could essentially network beyond the events. I started my first entrepreneurial journey and event marketing and event planning. And so I was creating these events for women to come together and talk about entrepreneurship and also careers. And a lot of the women were like, How do we join? And I was like, Well, this is just events. And that gave me the idea.

David Leary: [00:01:15] So it's a community. It's a community. Okay, Got it. Because, yeah, the in-person is just not enough. You go to a session for an hour and you leave and Absolutely so. So it's a community now. Is it a free website.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:01:24] For people to join? So we have aspects. It is a membership based platform, but there are aspects of our platform that are open to all of our subscribers, like our newsletter, you know, our blog. It's, you know, accessible. But the core of what we do is membership based because we're really working with these entrepreneurs to help them, you know, grow and scale their businesses.

David Leary: [00:01:44] So you when you're on stage. So you had some stats on my stats about black women entrepreneurs. Absolutely shocking. Like, can you do you know them better than I can?

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:01:54] Yeah, absolutely. So there's nearly about 2.7 million businesses nationwide, but they still face disparities financially when it comes to growing their business. Less than 1% get access to venture capital. And so 61% of black women self-fund their startups because they can't get access to loans through traditional financial institutions.

Blake Oliver: [00:02:13] I think that varies worth repeating. You said less than 1%.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:02:17] Yeah, less than one for capital. Yeah. And it's very alarming. And I was telling my team today that I kind of did some recent research and I saw that it was 2%, so it was like, Oh, moving on up there, that's not the case. But yeah, it's still alarming that we have so far to go. And 2022 and the pandemic, you know, just created so many more entrepreneurs and these businesses are still, you know, struggling. So kind of make it financially because, you know, they don't have access to the traditional loans and VC funding like other businesses.

Blake Oliver: [00:02:50] Please continue. I didn't mean to say you had some other stats that you were going to bring up.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:02:54] I mean, yes, that's really the most alarming part. You know, not being able to get access to the funding, not being able to get loans. And then we saw, you know, with a payment protection program with a PPP loan that was supposed to be for the, you know, people who are struggling the most, that those are entrepreneurs in that first round and even get access to it, you know. So that was a lot. Yeah. Yeah. It was just alarming and it's such a shock. And so for me as a founder and a small business owner myself, I was just like, okay, what can I do to help? Because you only can inspire people so much. You know, the only going to say you can do it, you know, And it's like, what? I need resources, I need tools, I need financial capital. And that's where, you know, I wanted to kind of level up even my business just to figure out how to help these women.

Blake Oliver: [00:03:34] Yeah. So when that program happened, you were helping your entrepreneurs in your community figure out how to get those PPP loans. And because the banks, a lot of the big banks were not helping.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:03:45] New customers or not. Yeah, we really went through like just more kind of like an educational component where we were like, you know, hosting trainings and workshops on how to actually apply for these loans. And so, you know, get a relationship with banks that were actually, you know, talk to these entrepreneurs. There's a lot of times it's based on relationships. And most of our, you know, small businesses, you know, either, you know, kind of maybe just got a business account or not even, you know, have a business account because they're, you know, operating as like solo entrepreneurs or sole proprietors. And so not having that relationship made it really hard because now you're just you're just see an application, you don't see a person don't have a personal banker, you know, And so just teaching them the things that they need to learn to even position themselves for these opportunities is a part of, you know, the growth process.

Blake Oliver: [00:04:27] So, Cameka, do you what do you think is the cause of this lack of investment in black female entrepreneurs, like the rate of 2% or less? Is it? Yeah. Is it because they don't have the network? Yeah. Or is it because, like when you go pitch to a VC, they are not receptive because of race or well.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:04:47] Like to be honest, it's a combination of all those things. The racial inequality is rampant in so many different areas. And so this is not, you know, one that, you know, it's not touching as well. So the racial disparity comes from, you know, just our country not really supporting minorities in general. So it just trickled down and said all these different areas and this main one of them. So, you know, you have a situation where black women are the fastest group of entrepreneurs, growing businesses, but then 60% of those businesses are not even thriving because they don't have the financial support or backing. And again, I think what you're talking about with resources and access, that's a big part of it, because most of me sees they're looking at businesses that, you know, they can see themselves in. And I always tell people that, you know, if you're a ball white male, you might not really understand, you know, the benefits and the billion dollar industry that a black haircare company can offer. Right. Because it's just not something that you're, you know, used to seeing. So I think understanding and even having an interest to understand these industries is important.

Blake Oliver: [00:05:47] For understanding the market. If you're not part of that, if you're not part of that group or that culture, yeah, it's tough to understand it.

David Leary: [00:05:55] Yeah. And so then you raise the fund so you can invest.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:05:59] Absolutely.

David Leary: [00:06:00] And that's why you're you're partnering up with Sage.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:06:02] Yes. Yeah. So I'm the type of person where I lost my community this platform 14 years ago, and I launched it for myself because I was a black woman that was looking to grow a business and didn't really know where to go. I didn't know how to get started. And so as I started to talk to entrepreneurs, because I'm an educator, I started my career in education. And so I knew the power of community just from, you know, when you work in a school system, you got to bring all the resources together to support the children. And so I knew I wanted to bring that into my business. And I said, okay, if I'm learning about growing a business, I need to bring this back to my community. And I created the Boss Network platform to be able to share my resources with other women. So as I saw what was happening around the pandemic in all these companies that were, you know, folding essentially because of COVID, I said, okay, what can I do as a founder? If if nobody's going to invest in my community, then I'm going to invest in them. I mean, I started my business at a time where, you know, black women and also mentorship wasn't even a thing. I mean, I literally had people telling me like, that's not going to work. Like, nobody's interested in that. But I was listed very early. I think my second year in business and Forbes is one of the top ten websites for women in entrepreneurship. And so that validation motivated me, like this is actually important. And I saw a trend that was going to happen way before it actually happened.

Blake Oliver: [00:07:14] So the accounting profession has a diversity problem. This is something that we know we have and the professions acknowledge this at the highest levels. Yeah, and has been.

David Leary: [00:07:25] And the numbers are similar.

Blake Oliver: [00:07:26] Like, well, it's like so let's just take the female equation, right? Yeah. Partners at accounting firms like especially at big ones, it's like less than 30%, less than 20% women. Yeah. So we're not even close to half, Right? And then black accountants, I mean, I think like less than 1% of CPAs are.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:07:45] Black, right?

Blake Oliver: [00:07:46] Yeah.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:07:46] So, so it kind of the racial inequality is rap in a lot of different industries. You know, particularly, I would say, more financial, lucrative industries. Right. And so what I feel I have always felt is, you know, companies and, you know, organizations, the best ways to help change that is through mentorship is through education, you know, awareness. If we're creating, you know, programs starting in grammar school or high school, you know, exposing young people to these different career opportunities, if we're in college, giving minorities an opportunity to actually intern, and if we see someone that has potential talent at our firm, you know, why not put that person under your wing and say, Hey, let me show you how to really grow in this career? So I think we all have a stake in changing, you know, the issues around diversity.

Blake Oliver: [00:08:38] How can accountants and accounting firms support your community and what you're doing? What can we be doing better?

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:08:44] Yeah, well, you know, I think that, you know, one of the biggest issues, as you know, with entrepreneurship is, you know, financials like being able to actually understand your financials. Most businesses fail because, you know, sometimes you get lucky, right? You start a business and you get lucky. How do you actually scale, Right? How do you actually learn your bookkeeping, your tax preparation? How do you get those skills? So I think it's important for the accounting industry to say, hey, how can we support, you know, these these small businesses through mentorship or coaching or actually teaching them? And that's why the program that we have with Sage, our embossed impact fund and investment programs Grant, is so unique because we're not only investing financially in these brands, but we're also giving them a one year scholarship to our Boston Business University. And within that university we have like trainings every single month on different topics around business development, right? So that's accounting, that's financial literacy, that's digital marketing, and that's, you know, customer service. So we in sages offered their executives and their leadership team to be some of the mentors. So yeah, it's been great.

David Leary: [00:09:44] That's great. So outside of mentorship and just lack of exposure to business, what are some of the other issues that black female entrepreneurs have that maybe we're naive on being the two, like due to the podcast? Like what other issues do they face outside of exposure and mentorship or not getting.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:10:02] Well outside of exposure to mentorship? The funding is going to always be an issue, right? That's going to always be the biggest issue because we can, you know, give people mentorship and coaching and if we're not giving them financial support, I mean, you're really just setting them up, setting them up for failure because they're not going to. They're not. So you have all this information and it's like, what do I do with it? You know, if I can't even, you know, pay for some accounting software because I don't have the, you know, the funding to do so, I can't scale in a team member to my team to help me. I don't have that financial support. And it's going to really be limited as far as how I can grow our business.

David Leary: [00:10:38] And so if if I'm an accountant, bookkeeper, and I have a female entrepreneur, and it's very clear if I'm looking at her books that she needs more money. Yeah. Like, do I send her to you? Like, do I send her to the Boss Network and tell her to go join this? I mean, that is not a way for accountants to support this effort, I guess.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:10:58] I mean, yeah, I think that finding resources for your clients is important, right? There are a lot of programs out there right now that are doing grant programs, and Boss Network is just one of them. And I actually created it because I saw a lot of businesses launching them, especially prior, you know, after George Floyd happened. A lot of companies say, you know, we want to do more to help support the black community. A lot of it was, you know, lip service, in my opinion. I didn't really see it trickle down into those communities that needed the most. And so if, you know, I feel like, you know, being advocates and allies is important. You know, it's like you guys are doing right now, Right. Having the conversation because, you know, we think about in corporate culture sometimes we are not aware of certain things that are happening. You know, I had so many people walk up to me after the stage presentation with Steve Hair, the CEO, saying, you know, I didn't even know this was an issue. Like, of course we know there's inequalities, but we didn't know that, you know, it was still less than 1%. Less than 100 black women have received $1,000,000 in investments for their companies. When you have, you know, you know, other companies that are receiving multiple millions of dollars for just an idea, you know, not even a formulated business. So, you know, yeah.

David Leary: [00:12:05] What's the success story, somebody that you've mentored or is there maybe any brands or successes that we might our listeners might have heard us?

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:12:12] Yeah, Well, you know, we have with the launch of our first Invest in Progress grant, we launched it with a $1.5 million investment. And so this first round we were able to invest in 35 black women entrepreneurs. We actually got over 15,000 applications in 30 days. So it was incredibly overwhelming, but also show the huge need.

Blake Oliver: [00:12:33] 15,000 applications.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:12:35] And 30 days.

Blake Oliver: [00:12:36] Wow. And 35 spots.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:12:38] Yes.

Blake Oliver: [00:12:39] How did you how did you go through it? Well, I mean.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:12:41] I didn't you know, like any good business person, you you hire partners. And that's another thing that entrepreneurs need to understand. You know, you can't do everything you the biggest way to grow is in collaboration. You know, if you're a small business and there are certain things that you need for your business, collaborate with another small business and figure out how to support each other. So I partner with a company called Hello Atlas, and there are Grants Management Company, and so they managed all the grants. They went through the entire, you know, cycle of actually reading the applications and they sent us the top 100. Thank God. So from there, we were able to look at those 100 entrepreneurs and look at their businesses and look at look at them as founders, because that's important to also. Why is this a founder that's committed? Is this a founder that has already had some skin in the game? Right. And those are the type of people that I want to work with, right? Because it's easy to start pushing nowadays. Everybody starting a business. Right. But you know, who's actually really committed to the process Because it sounds good. It looks great on social media, but when you get in the skin of it and the thick of it, it is not easy, as you all, I'm sure know, right? It's a lot of work. I tell people it's the hardest job you'll ever have working for yourself.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:13:42] So you've got to have real committed people. And we have had so many great success stories on one of our founders. She is an which is another industry that's very much lacking in diversity. She's a female architect in Chicago. And so we just did a for Black History Black Business Month, which was an August. We did a feature with her and CBS News because she was able to as a, you know, limited, you know, African American female architect and designer, she was able to actually get her own office space. Right. And hire staff. I mean, we actually went to her office. It was stunning. I'm like, wow, this is amazing what she's been able to do. And she's like, this is because of the funding that I was able to get. You know, everybody wants to scale, you know, everybody wants to hire a staff. But if you don't have the support, they're financially helping you do it. So that was a really great opportunity to see that. And then we have another company called Von Sell Eyewear, who just recently partnered with Disney to create eyeglasses for children of different cartoon characters. So like, they've only been in business two years, right? Went through the support in this mentorship. They've been able to figure out, okay, how do I leverage my business to get customers and partnerships?

David Leary: [00:14:48] So and then without your network, without the Boss Network, there's no way somebody is going to go get a deal with Disney or they wouldn't even get a meeting or just absolutely anything that makes a lot of sense.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:15:00] So a lot of what we're giving these women, it might sound cheesy, but it's confidence, right? Because a lot of times you feel, you know, as a solo entrepreneur, you feel like it's just me in it or, you know, I can't do this. But when you have, you know, a group of 35 other black women that are on the same path as you, and now you have this community and this support and then this, you know, even more smaller cohort that you can lean on and say, hey, I'm struggling in this era, what are you doing? You know, And when we have these powwows, they're having conversations or asking questions and they don't feel so alone, like, Oh, I didn't want to say anything. But yeah, I feel that way too. Like, I literally had one of my entrepreneurs who told me that after she got the. She literally had anxiety because now all eyes were on her and before she was like on and on and on it. But now she has a funniness. Like, people are expecting me to be great. And I told her, it's not about great. You get some good and then you move to great, you know, So just being able to have those conversations, it's important.

David Leary: [00:15:56] How if people want to get a hold in contact with you, if people want to go to the bus network, how do they find it? What's the way the best way to contact you?

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:16:03] Yeah. So we are a digital platform, of course, where all over social media, they can follow us at the Boston Network on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, clubhouse, everywhere.

Blake Oliver: [00:16:14] Cameka, thanks so much for joining us.

Dr. Cameka Smith: [00:16:15] Thank you, Blake. David, I appreciate it.

David Leary: [00:16:17] Thank you.

Creators and Guests

David Leary
David Leary
President and Founder, Sombrero Apps Company
Dr. Cameka Smith
Dr. Cameka Smith
Believer, Investor, Speaker, @Adweek Brand Star & @Forbes Next 1000. Founder of award-winning platform @TheBOSSNetwork 💻@BOSSOnCampus 👩🏾‍🎓#BOSSImpactFund 💰
Transform #2: How to Support Black Female Entrepreneurship
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