Female Founders Series Part 1: Building Social Capital and Community

Teia Collier, Stephanie Smith, Kathy Austin, Alina Bachman, and Maria Motta share their Block Advisors Scholars experience.

To foster the spirit of entrepreneurship and build connections among female entrepreneurs, Block Advisors recently partnered with Selfmade, a 10-week (virtual) business course offered through Brit+Co, helping female founders create and grow their businesses. Our sponsorship provided 200 scholarships for women to take the course at no cost. This is the first in a series of posts telling the stories of select Block Advisors scholars.

Entrepreneurship, while incredibly rewarding, comes with many challenges.

These challenges extend beyond just the obvious, like bookkeeping, invoicing and time management, to deeper rooted personal obstacles—such as loneliness and a lack of support.

“Before Selfmade, I wasn’t part of any professional mentorship groups to assist me in growing my business. I didn’t really have anyone to reach out to for advice,” said Block Advisors scholar Kathy Austin, owner of Bits of Joy, a small business featuring handmade polymer clay products. “Being a small business owner can be very isolating, even more so during the pandemic. But having a weekly accountability group that included inspirational entrepreneurs and founders really helped me feel less alone in this journey.”

Female entrepreneurs are often disproportionately affected by these feelings of isolation. According to a study from Guidant Financial, female business owners are twice as likely as their male counterparts to cite a lack of a support system as a hurdle to business ownership. Additionally, female business owners who do have access to mentors are proven more likely to start a business that ultimately becomes successful.

Block Advisors’ ongoing “Small Business Recovery Series” study of the effects of the pandemic on small business owners further supports this reality. We found that female business owners are more likely than males to believe the following are important to their business: one-to-one business advice (46% vs. 40%) and career development coaching (33% vs. 26%).

It’s clear that a network of relationships with others in the field, or social capital, is a key component of business success.  And with the continued rise in female-owned small businesses – currently 31% of all small business or franchise owners are women, up 27% from 2019 – it’s more important than ever to recognize the unique challenges they face.

Since 2019, H&R Block has been tackling social isolation by fostering conversations and building sustainable connections in our communities, as well as increasing support for small businesses through our Make Every Block Better community impact platform.

Partnering with Selfmade is an important part of this effort, as it not only arms female founders with fundamental business skills, but also gives them access to building vital social capital and networking through powerful role models, mentors, and peers who will teach, support, and empower them on the road to success.

Community as social capital

In fact, the promise of a powerful network was one of the main draws to the Selfmade program according to our scholarship recipients.

“I was looking to learn from other small business owners as well as CEOs and experts across fields.” – Kathy Austin, Owner, Bits of Joy, small business featuring handmade polymer clay products

“You don’t realize what you’re missing until you get into it. It’s literally like a group of cheerleaders cheering for you and inspiring you and staying connected with you. It’s like having a group behind your back and ahead of you, and people who want to see you grow while you’re going through it.” – Teia Collier, Founder, Dallas Single Mom, a blog and online resource to help single parents lead their best lives

“I joined Selfmade because of the support and community aspect, where I could connect with others walking similar paths, plus get advice and feedback from leaders who have walked the path already.” – Alina Bachman, Creator, Brain Gardening, online mental health resources rooted in neuroplasticity

Cultivating confidence for women in business

Another key draw of the program was the tools to help cultivate confidence. Over the course of 10 weeks, scholars participated in intensive workshops—covering topics ranging from building the right mindset, to branding and social media, to small business taxes, legal and finance—plus live (virtual) group sessions and private coaching sessions. As a result, these entrepreneurs discovered newfound confidence to grow their businesses.

“I’m ready for my business to expand, I’m working on a second collection, my idea shifted a little bit after the course, so I’m eager to keep working on it. It’s more aligned with what I believe. It’s more ‘me.'” – Maria Motta, Founder, Twibbles, gender-neutral baby and children’s apparel

“I learned so much and worked with an amazing coach! I grew my team and contracted another Selfmader to help me grow my brand. I’m currently working on an online course for resilience strategies to support people experiencing mental health challenges, especially anxiety or fear.” – Alina Bachman

“I became more receptive to asking for help and I’m taking steps to hiring my first employee. I also rented a small office in town so I can grow. My mindset change is allowing me to take risks, knowing that I am fully capable of living out my dream.” – Kathy Austin

“I’m a ‘numbers girl’ but I feel like finances is a completely different type of number so really homing in on what my financial model should look like was a huge milestone for me and my business.” – Stephanie Smith, Founder, Digital Insomnia, a digital advertising consultancy

While building social capital and networking doesn’t happen overnight, starting the foundation of community by sharing experiences and resources is well worth any entrepreneur’s time. We’re looking forward to following and sharing our Selfmade scholars’ stories as they keep each other accountable and lift each other up on their own journeys.  

In our next post, we’ll share more about Stephanie Smith’s small business story. SiMMY, her prototype of a digital ads simulator that teaches users how to create and manage digital ads without spending real money, earned her top honors and a cash grant of $5,000 at the end of the Selfmade course.


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