Businesswomen engage in conversation. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)
Businesswomen engage in conversation. (Brigette Squire/The Washington Informer)

Nearly 100 women braved torrential rain, parking issues and construction work to attend the recent inaugural HERImpactDC summit at Georgetown University.

HERImpactDC is a collaboration between the Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, and 1863 Ventures, a business accelerator initiative that supports diverse innovators within the D.C. region during their early growth stage.

“HERImpactDC and everything associated with it expands the women’s initiatives of the Ford Fund,” said Pamela Alexander, the fund’s director of community development. “We did something similar in Michigan, but we saw the community of social entrepreneurship is very strong in D.C. We want women to know this program is out here.”

Attendees at the Nov. 5 summit got free expert advice on how to grow a business, as well as the opportunity to enter their concepts in a $50,000 pitch competition focusing on female social entrepreneurs who run for-profit businesses.

The aim of the competition is to provide winners with capital that will make their ventures attractive for funding from other sources. With the Ford Fund attached to the competition, the winners can be considered a viable and credible business.

“People don’t understand what social entrepreneurship means,” said Melissa Bradley, 1863 Ventures managing partner and a professor at the Georgetown University Global Social Enterprise Initiative. “They automatically assume it is a money-losing venture, but we have heard that many are doing extremely well financially, while also having significant impact.”

Teresa Hodge, one of the event’s speakers, started her company, R3 Score, two years ago to help banks and other businesses assess the risk and financial capability of potential customers who have criminal records. Her company created an evaluation process that goes beyond a standard background check for those with a criminal background.

Research showed that 1 in 3 Americans, or 70 million people, have an arrest or criminal conviction record, a number is expected to grow to 100 million by 2030.

Hodge also has personal insight because she served 72 months at Alderson Federal Prison Camp in West Virginia as a first-time, white-collar, nonviolent offender. She saw firsthand what incarceration did to the women she met in prison.

“I would not have created R3 Score if it were not for the fact that I went to prison,” said Hodge of her Baltimore-based business venture. “Through my own commitment, I wasn’t going to allow that to ruin the rest of my life. That’s what gets me up every morning to do the rest of the work.”

The daylong summit exposed a diverse group of women to the ins and outs of starting and sustaining a business. Topics included creating a business model, financing, branding, identifying mentors and leveraging strategic partnerships.

Attendee Ola Alghazzouli said she desires to create a business that will help women to stay holistically fit before, during and after Ramadan, the month of religious fasting observed by Muslims worldwide during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

“I’m a new entrepreneur so I hope to learn how build my network, how to build a team and how to move forward with the vision of my business,” Alghazzouli said. “I hope to learn how to pitch my business, while making an impact.”

Beyond the intensive summit, the 100 attendees and more than 200 registrants on the wait list for HERImpactDC are eligible to access coaching and master classes on how to pitch a business. The deadline for that group to submit business pitches is January. Winning companies will be announced in March.

“We will have a panel of judges who are investors and experienced entrepreneurs that will review the pitches,” Bradley said. “After we finish this first experience, we will take a break, evaluate what took place and look forward to doing this again.”

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Brenda Siler is an award-winning journalist and public relations strategist. Her communications career began in college as an advertising copywriter, a news reporter, public affairs producer/host and a...

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