On April 20, 2020, YWCA Greater Charleston graduated the inaugural class of women entrepreneurs of color from its new WE 360° program.
The name of this free six-week workshop series, created by YWCA USA and sponsored by McDonald’s Black & Positively Golden program, stands for “Women’s Empowerment 360 Degrees.” The program was specifically designed to help women of color overcome barriers in entrepreneurship, and to provide them with tools to start, grow, or sustain their businesses.
The new program, which began on February 24, sold out within one day and generated a waiting list.
When the coronavirus pandemic intervened midway through the program, workshop facilitator Keisha Smith moved the group online using Zoom. In the end, eight women entrepreneurs attended the April 20 virtual graduation ceremony, holding up their graduation certificates and smiling.
Local entrepreneur Carolyn Hunter, the nonprofit’s 2018 #WhatWomenBring entrepreneurship award winner, gave the commencement address. The retired founder of C&A Unlimited, Inc., owner of three McDonald’s franchises in the Charleston region, candidly shared her experiences and challenges in entrepreneurship with the graduating class.
“We really enjoyed Carolyn Hunter’s commencement speech,” said LaVanda Brown, executive director of YWCA Greater Charleston, who also took part in the ceremony. “Hearing about her real-life experiences in entrepreneurship right here in the Lowcountry truly benefitted these women.”
Participating in the program were Charleston tri-county residents Ifetayo Ayodele Bey of North Charleston, Shakira Black of Summerville, Carolyn Blake of Johns Island, Dr. Shavonna Coakley of Charleston, Chaela Moore-Clark of North Charleston, Monica Moore-Clark of North Charleston, Katrina Page of Ladson, and April Richardson of North Charleston.
A colleague recommended the WE 360° program to Ayodele Bey, a full-time business owner and manager of a hair salon and school and a nonprofit organization. Despite her many years in business, she had never created a business plan. “I enjoyed being ‘stretched’ and updated on all things business and marketing,” she said, adding that the series inspired and enabled her to create a larger vision for her business and for herself.
Black, a schoolteacher, plans to start a business offering creative marketing. She enrolled in the WE 360° program and used the knowledge she obtained to work on her business plan, restructure her business concept, begin to rebrand it, and redesign her website. “I’ve always had big dreams,” she said, noting that she had sought help before to get her business going, but without results. “But now I can see the ways to achieve them. It hasn’t been until now that I have a true level of confidence with what I have to offer.”
During the workshop series, Blake, a motivational speaker, business owner, and respiratory therapist, was considered an essential pandemic employee. Despite the challenges of that, during the program she focused on building and growing her business, and also on making her business much more visible on social media.
After Dr. Coakley created her limited liability company Know Your Power, she registered to attend WE 360°. The series helped her decide to re-establish it as a nonprofit. During the program she established a business plan, website, social media accounts, and partnerships, and began the process of applying to become a 501(c)3 entity.
Monica Moore-Clark, a ministry leader and full-time business owner, owns and manages Mo Faith Solutions, a firm providing financial solutions to individuals and corporations. Realizing that her lack of business planning had made her business stagnant, she enrolled in the WE 360° program… and advised her daughter to do the same. That daughter, recent high school graduate Chaela Moore-Clark, became the youngest student in the program. During the course, she created a business name and description for the beauty business she plans to launch. Monica Moore-Clark, meanwhile, discovered during the course that she needed support with organizing and structuring her business, and set to work on that. “Keisha made us think inside and outside the box for our businesses,” she said.
Page, who owns and operates a full-time branding business, enrolled in the program because she wanted to grow her company. She said the course pushed her outside her comfort zone: “Keisha supported us, gave us extra business tips, and held us accountable. The support of the other entrepreneurs in the course was also very valuable.”
Richardson, who holds a full-time job with a demanding schedule, had earlier decided to transform her idea into a business: one so unique that it could create its own industry. During WE 360°, she began building her business plan as her new company’s foundation.
Business growth coach Keisha Smith led the workshops. The founder and CEO of The Business Office of South Carolina, she specializes in helping companies and nonprofits launch, sustain themselves, or improve. For more than 19 years she has designed processes and methods that have been used by organizations to better serve their communities and customers. She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Virginia College, where she also teaches college-level business courses.
“These lady bosses were eager to learn, and absorbed every nugget shared,” Smith said. “It was rewarding to lead such group, because they were committed and added so much value to each workshop.”
YWCA Greater Charleston’s next WE 360° program will be held virtually and will begin on May 11. Space will again be limited. Female entrepreneurs of color should register at www.ywcagc.org/we360.