Female Entrepreneurs Are Staking Their Claim in Detroit
These three women-owned businesses are unstacking the deck
National studies report women generally start their businesses with half as much capital as men, hold less than 20 percent of all patents, and are paid about 80 cents to the dollar. Yet, despite the difficulties that they may face, a new batch of female entrepreneurs in Detroit is showing that they can thrive in the city. Here are just a few.
It's mid-November, and Detroit Blows co-founder Nia Batts is eager to surprise her business partner, Katy Cockrel, with an impromptu anniversary celebration for the blow-dry bar they launched just one month prior.
“Celebrating the tiny victories is important,” she says as she stages a jelly doughnut with a single birthday candle on the salon’s front table. In walks Cockrel a few minutes later. Excited to see the sweet treat from Dilla’s Delights, she and Batts each grab an end of the plate and blow out the candle.
Despite the salon’s brick-and-mortar space only being open for a short time, there are years’ worth of history behind its conception. Batts and Cockrel are childhood friends who met while studying at the Detroit-Windsor Dance Academy. The two eventually grew up to become successful in their chosen fields — Batts was previously an executive at Viacom, and Cockrel has been a publicist for over a decade in New York and Chicago. A few years ago, they reconnected while working together on attendance challenge campaigns through their respective jobs. When Batts, who at the time was living in New York, would fly into town for meetings, she was often confronted with the same issue: there was nowhere to get a blowout in Detroit.
“I had to tell her, ‘We can’t just do that here. You have to call, you have to make an appointment, we’ve got to drive to Royal Oak.’ It’s a whole process,” Cockrel says. “We had that conversation enough to realize there was opportunity to be had in creating the experience we were looking for.”
What followed was several years of researching the market, creating business plans — and running said plans by their moms — generating funding, and working on branding and build-out.
Standing shiny and new in downtown Detroit, guests can now utilize the salon’s menu of services, which includes non-toxic blowout options as well as waxing, nails, and makeup application. A number of items, including home and beauty goods from socially conscious brands, are also available for purchase.
Inspired by their own experience working on social impact projects and participating in local funding competitions (they were a Hatch Detroit finalist last year), Batts and Cockrel decided to launch a charitable component of Detroit Blows as well. Called Detroit Grows, the philanthropic arm receives $1 from every blowout, as well as a portion of profits from merchandise sold, to create microgrants. That money is then awarded to entrepreneurs, many of which may be women.
“As [women] moving through the world, especially in this building process, we’re lucky that we’ve really had people who have been supportive from the outset,” Cockrel says. “But there are a lot of female entrepreneurs who don’t necessarily have the access.”
With one month down, and many more to go, the two women are looking forward to eventual growth. But, for now, they’re taking it day by day, and relying on each other to get through both small stressors and larger challenges.
“Find a good partner that shares your vision,” Batts says. “I can’t imagine doing this without Katy. There’s going to be a lot of times where you want to quit, but don’t.
“Take a shower, go to sleep, and try again. That’s just what we have to do over and over again.”
Taking a Leap
Twenty-seven-year-old Meagan Ward believes in female collaboration so much that last summer she opened a co-working space for women entrepreneurs called Femology near the Renaissance Center.
“I think entrepreneurship is so important, because you get to create your own lane,” says Ward, who experienced this for the first time as a student at Western Michigan University when she taught herself coding and graphic design to earn extra income.
Following her graduation in 2013, she started working at a commercial real estate firm and discovered what she considered to be red flags in corporate America, like how few women occupy executive roles. When the company declined to give her a yearly raise, she was faced with a decision.
“You can either have someone determine your worth, or you can decide your worth,” says Ward, who quit the job two weeks later. “It was like I was pushed into my purpose.”
In 2014, she launched Creatively Flawless, a company that specializes in branding for female entrepreneurs. After experiencing the benefits of collaborating with other women, she was then inspired to open Femology nearly three years later. She finds it rewarding to have created a place for Detroit women to grow their businesses, attend workshops pertinent to being female entrepreneurs, and discuss topics like wage disparity, health care, and funding.
“The past decades you haven’t seen women work together like they do now,” Ward says. “We want that to become common culture.”
By the end of 2017, Femology had 40 members, and this spring, the co-working concept will move to a new space downtown that will accommodate more than double that.
“Just from [opening Femology] it made a decision for a lot of other women who may be scared to do something out of the norm,” Ward says. “We have to take leaps.”
Believing in Your Vision
When Natasha Fernandez-Silber opens Bar Botanica —possibly this spring in Detroit’s Jefferson-Chalmers or Southwest neighborhood — the speakeasy will be a safe space for the LGBTQ community, serve plant-based cuisine and craft cocktails, and pay homage to her and her wife’s Puerto Rican heritage. Until then though, Fernandez-Silber is busy finding a location for the build-out of the space, and she’s facing her fair share of challenges.
In particular, she recalls a time last year when she was scoping out a potential location with a male architect friend and noticed that the contractors — most of whom are men — were interacting with her differently.
“You can see this level of respect that any random man is given that women kind of have to fight for,” Fernandez-Silber says. “The construction workers at this early stage play such an important role, [and] they assume that you can’t possibly understand anything about screws or tools.”
Fernandez-Silber has found collaborating with the local entrepreneur community to be crucial. She has a network she often reaches out to for business advice and has entered Bar Botanica into several funding competitions.
“You’ve got to ask for help, and you’ve got to ask for money,” Fernandez-Silber says. “I personally struggle with that, and I think maybe a lot of women do. I don’t want to generalize, but I think: ‘I’ll just put my head down and work very hard.’ But there comes a point where you need help.”
Cutting through the “bullsh*t” — something Fernandez-Silber considers herself to be skillful at because of her background as a corporate lawyer — also helps.
“You have to believe in your vision. If you want to do something creative and that’s your thing, that’s valuable,” she says. “You have to hang onto that, because there’s no shortage of opinions to the contrary.”