It’s been over two decades since I first realized just how much I love entrepreneurs and their spirit.
I began my career working at a small, Texas-based regional bank that had a rich history in business and commercial banking. In my first management role I was responsible for both expanding our banking portfolio by finding new business clients and deepening our relationships with our existing customers.
This role exposed me to all kinds of entrepreneurs, giving me a deep understanding of what drives them and what they need to be successful. Eight years ago, that love for entrepreneurs brought me to California, where it was my job to help expand small business in Los Angeles, a city brimming with creative entrepreneurial energy.
One of the things you notice when working with entrepreneurs for as long as I have, is how similar they are. Entrepreneurs, no matter what kind of businesses they start or how big those businesses get, all have that same grit, commitment, and passion. They take risks, even when it’s easier to play it safe. And, most important, they’re patient and play the long game.
But, while I admire the independent spirit of small business owners, my years of working with them revealed a nearly universal truth: even the most self-reliant entrepreneurs still need a network for advice and support. This is why I believe that, in addition to capital, one of best things that financial institutions can offer entrepreneurs is connections to strong networks of similar entrepreneurs who can help them along. Here’s why:
Networks provide a source of inspiration and support
When you work in a traditional company role and you hit a setback, it’s easy to turn to your colleagues for guidance and support. For entrepreneurs in the early days of running their businesses, that’s often not possible. This is why networks are so vital. Being in a community with other entrepreneurs who have also faced and overcome business obstacles, and who can offer you advice, is extremely valuable.
I think this is particularly important for women, who are a rapidly growing segment of business owners. As of 2015, 20.8% of US businesses with employees are owned by women, according to the Institute of Women’s Policy Research. That’s up from 16.8% in 1997.¹
Those numbers are encouraging, but if we want to grow them further we need to give women more support. I’ve seen the importance of this time and time again at our various cross-industry networking event series such as the intimate Women of Color Founders and Investors Dinner, where underserved small business owners get connected with capital, targeted assistance and support networks. We also hosted a women business owner symposium featuring a female motivational speaker. For women, just being able to engage and network with other women is incredibly valuable. Seeing other women who are thriving encourages them, inspires them, and motivates them to keep going.
That’s why JPMorgan Chase is expanding Women on the Move, our program focused on empowering women in their finances, careers, and businesses. As part of this global program, we expect to extend $10 billion in credit to women-owned businesses over the next three years.
Networks offer education and guidance
Entrepreneurs often share stories about the things they wish they knew when they started their businesses. Over the past few years, many of the most common questions we hear from new business owners have centered on access to capital. More people are asking smart questions about how to attract funding, how to get meetings with investors, and how to know the right time to look for outside money.
This is one area where networks can be critical. Experienced entrepreneurs can help educate and guide first-time business owners before they make major financial decisions or meet with investors. Having a network of support means having people who can help guide you through pivotal moments and processes, giving you the kind of education you need to make the smartest possible decisions about your company’s future. The last thing an entrepreneur wants to do is gain access to investors, only to give away their business. This, for me, is why it’s so important for us (and the business community overall) to shepherd and mentor new small business owners, instead of simply giving them capital and leaving them to their own devices.
Learning from Beverly Johnson
For example, one of the entrepreneurs we work with here in Los Angeles you might recognize as she is the first African-American female to grace the cover of Vogue in the States, Beverly Johnson. Beverly had obviously had a very successful modeling career, and she did well by partnering with companies that wanted to license her name. But, after the death of a close friend who was a business owner, Beverly was inspired to fulfill her lifelong dream of becoming an entrepreneur. So she did. Over the years her business has sold everything from high-quality hair extensions and hair products to makeup and handbags.
I like to use Beverly as an example because her story shows that, even when you’re someone who has had the kind of professional success that she has, if you haven’t been a business owner yourself, you still face the same issues that other business owners do. She came to us because she needed help improving her business acumen, accessing resources, connecting with other entrepreneurs — all of which we were able to help out with. That assistance fueled her success, and she has paid it forward by speaking with and advocating for other women entrepreneurs. Everyone needs that kind of support, whether it be through networking or one-on-one relationships with fellow business owners.
Finding your network
There is no shortage of local organizations that provide resources to small businesses. In the United States, a great place to get started is with the Small Business Administration (SBA)², a government organization that offers a variety of assistance services to small business, such as counseling, training, networking, and even advocacy. Our bankers partner with local and regional SBA offices to host community events such as roundtables an informal lunches. The SBA’s event directory³ can help you find opportunities in your community.
Many states, such as New York and California, also run their own entrepreneur hubs, which offer educational programs, operational support, and other local resources.
Last, there are also many small business groups such as the non-profit Entrepreneurs’ Organization, The National Federation of Independent Business, and the Forum for Women Entrepreneurs, which offer members a variety of ways to meet and network with other organizations.
It’s hard to understate the importance of this kind of support. While entrepreneurs thrive on being independent, having networks of people who they can turn to for support ensures that they’re never alone.
As senior vice president of government and manager of non-profit banking at JPMorgan Chase, Diedra Porche has over 20 years of experience working with small businesses, giving them the guidance, resources, and connections they need to help their businesses thrive.