Michigan women sure have come a long way when it comes to our careers. From a pioneering woman named Magdelaine Laframboise, who was our state’s first female fur mogul to current General Motors CEO Mary Barra, the first women to ever lead a major automotive company. While both of those women may have had to carve out their own paths in male dominated fields, there are plenty of resources and support available to entrepreneurs lacking a Y chromosome, who wish to chart their own course. While we see women portrayed in the media as being caddy or conniving with one another, especially when it comes to business, my personal experience could not be further from the truth. I have found that every time I have needed help, women have offered, often without even being asked. The best support and guidance I have gotten throughout my career has consistently come from women.
In fact, when I first launched Buy Michigan Now, one of the first things I did was host a brunch for a bunch of my female friends. It was a celebration, but also a chance for me to ask them for ideas on how to build the concept and spread the word. Almost every woman who attended has volunteered at some point. Without fail they have all listened when I needed to vent, made me laugh, offered insight, celebrated the successes, and provided comfort in the tough times.
I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of incredible female friends, yet that did not stop me from seeking out more feminine support through a variety of organizations. It is especially necessary as an entrepreneur. Meeting the women who came before you can be inspirational, those on a similar path to your own can provide great kinship, and the youngest are often the most creative and tech-savvy. Fortunately, Michigan has several professional organizations to which one can turn for that kind of support. Here are a 6 of the best options.
Great Lakes Women’s Business Council
We are currently living in a time when being a woman business owner can be an advantage. There are additional resources available for funding and education. Having your business certified as women-owned can also help in competing for contracts. Great Lakes Women’s Business Council is an invaluable resource for all of the above. Once known as Center for Empowerment and Economic Development (CEED), this nonprofit entity provides business development training, supplier certification, business-to-business networking and accessible capital assistance programs. Most of the resources are available online at www.MIwomen.com so they are accessible regardless of where you live or work.
Michigan Women Forward (MWF)
This unique organization is the only public, statewide foundation specifically devoted to the economic self-sufficiency and personal well-being of the state’s women and girls. It provides financial and leadership education to girls and women beginning as early as middle school. MWF also has a microloan program that provides loans in amounts ranging from $2500 to $50,000. It is perhaps best known for its The WomanUp & Pitch Business Plan and Pitch Competitions, which are a funding opportunity for women who wish to start or grow an existing for-profit business. The top prize is $10,000. The organization also takes great pride in highlighting accomplishments of local women both present and past including managing the nomination and induction process for the Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame.
National Association of Women Business Greater Detroit
Affectionately known as NAWBO, this organization came into existence in 1975 when a group of women in our nation’s capital gathered together in need of a professional community of their own and ways to strengthen their entrepreneurial spirit. Today the organization has over 5,000 members and 60 chapters around the country. It provides training, resources, advocacy, and events to honor accomplishments. Membership is available online or through a local chapter. Michigan’s chapter is in Greater Detroit. It is a vibrant group of women that are very supportive of one another. One of the coolest aspects is that it includes a program called NAWBO/EXCEL, which is designed to mentor teenage girls toward Purpose, Passion, Power, and Profit. Volunteers run the program, and it’s an excellent way to support the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
It may be hard for young generations to even grasp, but as recently as the 1960s women were not allowed to join business organizations. In response, in 1962, the Women’s Economic Club served as a pioneer, offering education and support. Today it’s known as Inforum, and it is for all working women, not just business owners. It has a variety of what it calls Affinity Groups in both Southeastern and West Michigan. These are groups often based on common interests like philanthropy, small business ownership, and even wine. They also have industry-based groups in automotive, finance, manufacturing, healthcare, and technology. With so many sub-groups, there are a wide variety of events available for networking and educational opportunities, most of which have continued online during the pandemic.
Michigan Association of Female Entrepreneurs
Commonly known as MAFE, this nonprofit focuses on helping women overcome barriers to business success by providing access to education, information, resources, and opportunities focused on business growth and advancement. MAFE supports entrepreneurial development among women at all levels of entrepreneurship – from startup to mature businesses. Events typically take place in a variety of geographic locations around the state, though most are currently online. This group has also been known to organize international networking opportunities around the world.
American Business Women’s Association
Like most of the organizations above, the American Business Women’s Association seeks to provide professional advantages to women through education and networking opportunities. What makes it unique is the presence of eight existing chapters around the state: Ann Arbor, Auburn Hills, Clarkston, Flint, Frankenmuth, Novi, Southfield, and Utica. There’s even an opportunity to create a chapter near you if one does not yet exist.
Before choosing any organization and forking over dues, make sure the association shares your business goals. Get a feel for the spirit of the entity by attending an event or two. If you cannot find a fit, or there isn’t anything near you, consider starting a small support group of your own. The experience of tapping into the creativity, support, and experience of other women is truly invaluable. Plus, there are typically a lot of laughs along the way.
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