A central part of the YWCA mission is to empower women. As a result, we work tirelessly to ensure that women have access to resources such as child care, housing, economic empowerment, and professional development opportunities that level the playing field, allowing women and their families to thrive.
According to the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), more than 11.6 million business in the U.S. are owned by women. While we are proud of the entrepreneurial spirit displayed by these women, many – and particularly women of color – lack the resources necessary to continue operating and maintain financial security.
Women’s Empowerment 360 (WE360) is a national YWCA program designed to support women and women of color in becoming entrepreneurs, incorporate wrap-around economic development services designed to create jobs, increase the number of women- and BIPOC-owned businesses, and advocate and assist with the incubation of new businesses.
As part of the WE360 program, we hosted the YWomen Start It Up Pitch Competition, which provided the opportunity for six incredible women entrepreneurs to pitch their businesses to an expert panel of judges. Each of the finalists—Dianne Thomas, Ankhacia Enterprises; Rhona Vega, Parent Matterz; Sheilisa McNeal Burgess, Fria LLC; Shanequa Gray, Pretty Girl Fitness; Lisa Freeman-Williamson, WTF Weigh The Facts; and Cassandra King, Eat Drink Ride—had the opportunity to pitch their business concepts and models, the solutions their businesses provide, and how an infusion of capital from the competition would positively impact their business to our qualified judges: Melissa Palacios, Senior Manager, Stakeholder Partnerships, Coca-Cola Company; Nancy Santiago, Co-founder, Powerup Fund; and Phil Reeves, Founding Partner, A&H Capital Partners.
While the judges deliberated, we hosted a discussion with three local YWCAs about the impact and challenges of the WE360 program. WE360 is a national empowerment and economic advancement program funded by the Coca-Cola Foundation that has supported over 25 YWCAs and their entrepreneurial women for over 2 years! By partnering with Ureeka, we are able the provide entrepreneurs with online programs and coaching that allow them to grow and scale their business.
To spotlight all of the remarkable work program managers have done ensuring that their entrepreneurs receive the resources and support required to run and grow a successful business, our discussion included the voices of Angela Abdur-Rasheed, YWCA Central Alabama; Veronica Sanders and Sagrario Ortega, YWCA San Antonio; as well as Amy Schaefer and Deanna Woodall, YWCA Quad Cities, who spoke about the numerous lessons learned by entrepreneurs on the WE360 platform, the role digital equity plays for women of color entrepreneurs, and the current Shecession and the crucial role women’s entrepreneurship plays in lifting us out of it.
After careful deliberation, the YWomen Start It Up Pitch Competition winners were announced:
- Rhona Vega, Parent Matterz won $10,000
- Cassandra King, Eat Drink Ride won $7,000
- Dianne Thomas, Ankhacia Enterprises; Lisa Freeman-Williamson, WTF Weigh The Facts; Sheilisa McNeal Burgess, Fria LLC; and Shanequa Gray, Pretty Girl Fitness each won $2,000
Congratulations to all of our entrepreneurs for becoming finalists in the YWomen Start It Up Pitch Competition! We also congratulate the runners-up who were all awarded $2,000 to continue to grow their businesses.
We are so proud to have been a catalyst in the movement to empower women to gain economic empowerment. As Deanna Woodall said, “yes, you can,” and that is the statement we carry and hope to instill in every woman. It is through these types of programs and events that we move closer to creating a more equitable world that sees women the way we do: Equal. Powerful. Unstoppable.