Ever wonder what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur? You might learn a thing or two from Monica Delores Hooks, Executive Director of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative (WEI). In this edition of our Client Spotlight, Monica shares with us her own entrepreneurial journey, as well as the important work that WEI is doing to lift and support women entrepreneurs throughout Atlanta to help them find success.
Q: Tell us about your background and what led you to your current role with WEI?
I like to tell people that I got into entrepreneurship and the start-up space by being an entrepreneur – jumping out into the “wild wild west of startups” after a 15-year career with Sony Music Entertainment. Sony provided me with an expertise in influencer marketing and digital media distribution. Music was the first type of media to be affected by digital media distribution, and we saw many models emerge from that in advertising, influencer marketing, etc. So, I left Sony equipped with this competitive edge to succeed in entrepreneurship.
With that said, I made every mistake an entrepreneur could make. When I left my corporate career there were no women’s entrepreneurship initiatives like WEI. There were no co-working spaces or pitch competitions like there are now. And even though I had confidence and credentials, I quickly realized that was not enough! Entrepreneurs need more than ego. They need a lot of support because there are as many opportunities to succeed, as there are opportunities for failure.
I was in business as a solopreneur before being admitted into the WEI program – doing a lot of consulting. It was far from what I thought I entrepreneurship would be. In my mind, entrepreneurship meant building an enterprise business or a global agency with several employees. I wasn’t doing that. So, coming back to Atlanta to become part of the inaugural WEI cohort was a critical step. The experience gave me perspective on my journey. It exposed me to new resources and people around the city. It also allowed me to be vulnerable and understand that I just didn’t know everything. I was not prepared the way that I thought I was.
When I put my hat in the ring for this position, I told Mayor Bottoms that I know exactly what to tell women NOT to do, having learned some hard entrepreneurship lessons through my “failures.” My experience is a common one, and represents my entrepreneurship journey. Being able to pivot and apply the lessons is how I became Executive Director for WEI.
Q: What advice would you give other women aspiring to become entrepreneurs?
The only way to it is through it. You must do the work. It’s not the work you hear about in the “pop culture narrative” that shows an entrepreneur on television or in a magazine. It’s the work – having purpose, developing your plan, engaging in vulnerable processes to iterate and improve, and accepting feedback. It’s also the work that a lot of people don’t do. But if you do it in earnest, you will always reach your goal.
The only way to it is through it.
– Monica Delores Hooks
Q: How does the Women’s Entrepreneurs Initiative of Atlanta help prepare and support women in their entrepreneurial journey?
Guidance, resources, and networking. The first piece is coaching. Everyone needs a great coach. Everyone can benefit from that, and entrepreneurs need multiple coaches. There are lots of traps out there – it can be dicey. We try to provide that guidance through coaching. We do our best to get to know their business and introduce them to mentors who understand their space, mentors who can help them get to their next goal or milestone. We couple that guidance with resources.
The second piece of that is informational resources. I recently did some work under the guidance of The Mayor’s Office of International Affairs with the Carter Center’s “Inform Women, Transform Lives” campaign. The thesis is that when women have good information, they use it to make good decisions. A lot of women don’t get good information about entrepreneurship, business basics at the dinner table. WEI fills that gap by exposing them to the right information and resources.
The third piece is networking. I don’t think I can put a value on our network for women. There’s nothing more valuable than being with like-minded people that have similar goals to help you get where you want to go. That is an intentional, strategic, and tactical way to operate.
Q: TLG has been a leadership development partner of WEI for many years. What kind of impact has working with TLG had on WEI participants?
It’s been tremendous because the tools and frameworks TLG shares help provide our entrepreneurs with perspective. TLG helps them understand where they are as leaders in the context of their entrepreneurial journey. TLG helps them understand why a leadership approach did not work out and how to improve it.
This dovetails nicely with one of the Four Pillars in our core curriculum, Business Analysis, which is all about strategy. I think all women should have a strategy, and the women that go through our program have every opportunity to build one. It’s a way to gain a competitive advantage and be intentional. TLG tools help WEI women become intentional leaders. TLG helps them drill down to come up with new outcomes. I am thrilled to work with TLG because I have seen and heard how impactful the workshops are for women.
Q: How has exposing these women entrepreneurs to the Leadership Character Model made a difference in their journeys?
I think it helps not only as a practical tool, but also as a tactical framework to help identify the type of leader you are and what type of company you want to build. It allows you to align your business with your mission. I think it is a great resource that we can share with our entrepreneurs.
Q: How can individuals and organizations get into action and support women entrepreneurs or WEI?
I encourage all organizations to become WEI Community Partners. This is a way to mentor in the form of virtual or in person workshops where partners can share their expertise and insights. I’d also say advocacy – getting to know the WEI businesses through our programming and events, then advocating for them. I’m a huge fan of advocacy. Speaking up or vouching for someone when they are not in the room is everything. Advocacy really sets the foundation for entrepreneurs to make major strides. Women need more intentional advocates.
One last thing. We are always seeking capital to make sure the program keeps going and is impactful. One way WEI has been impactful is by providing our entrepreneurs with microgrants; something we’re really proud to have done for the last two years thanks to a generous grant from the Atlanta Hawks Foundation. We award microgrants around a particular product feature, startup milestone, or customer acquisition goal. We’ve got great stories and testimonials about how the grants have helped entrepreneurs scale their businesses and create traction. And we are always looking for additional partners to do more of this good work.
Q: What impact has TLG’s Women in Leadership (WIL) program had on your career?
I think that WIL helped create accountability for me as a leader. To be exposed to other women who are doing incredible things and having them in your network is the foundation for success. It’s a level of accountability to do more good work.
We’d like to give a special thank you to Monica for sharing her time with us in this spotlight. Want to be part of our monthly client spotlight? Reach out to us by contacting Jonathan Palombo, Marketing Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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