By Kayla Sosa
In an effort to support each other and the entrepreneurial community, four sisters came together in 2017 to form the organization, Sisters in Business.
Nicole Parker, Alisa Parker, Tiffany Parker and Teleshia Parker are four biological sisters, businesswomen and cofounders of Sisters in Business, a Kalamazoo-based organization focused on supporting entrepreneurs that are also women of color.
Nicole Parker studied social entrepreneurship at George Mason University and did her thesis research on black women as the fastest growing demographic of entrepreneurs.
“But also looking at that from a historical standpoint and how black women throughout history have been very innovative and entrepreneurial,” said Nicole Parker. “But that story often isn’t connected.”
When she came home, Nicole realized there wasn’t a space of support in Kalamazoo to support her and her sisters and other entrepreneurs like them.
Nicole and Alisa own a consulting firm, A&P Consulting, Teleshia owns a cosmetology and hair business and Tiffany owns a graphic design business.
“One day I texted my sisters, ‘Hey, what would it look like if we had a brunch in Kalamazoo to bring together women of color in the community?’” Parker said. “What we recognize is not only do black women not have a space, but women of color in general didn’t have that space.”
In December 2017, the Parker sisters thought maybe 20 people or so would show up to their event.
“We had 50 women who came, and from there it kind of took off,” Parker said. “By our second brunch, we had over 100 women.”
Many of the women said they needed support and money for their startups and existing businesses. Sisters in Business began hosting quarterly brunches to not only connect the women to each other, but to address additional needs and resources. They began workshops in Kalamazoo and Battle Creek.
“There’s a huge gap in the ecosystem as it relates to entrepreneurship and support for women of color so we find ourselves in a space of advocacy as well,” Parker said. “Sitting at some of these tables to say hey, you want to change some of your practices when you’re talking about how you’re engaging people of color, how are you engaging women, what are the funding opportunities that are out there for women and women of color.”
Because of the lack of capital resources for women of color entrepreneurs, Sisters in Business has shifted to advocating for pitch competitions and funding opportunities hosting the events themselves.
“There aren’t a lot of funding opportunities for women of color to have low barrier access to capital,” Parker said. “There are a lot of statistics in venture capital that’s invested in women of color, you have almost triple the rate of return on your investment in comparison to a white male. Yet it’s still that women of color are the least invested in when it comes to venture capital.”
In the Sisters in Business community, additional organizations have been formed by women who met at a brunch networking event. For example, Nicole R. Triplett found Black Wall Street Kalamazoo, a collective space to showcase black owned businesses and a place for business owners and consumers to network and interact.
Little Sisters in Business is another organization born out of SIB, meant to provide support for young girls of color as early stage entrepreneurs. Nicole said her nieces have been part of SIB from the beginning, one of them starting her own business. Girls in 6th-12th grade were invited to brunch networking events, had a youth section in the pitch competition, and a mentorship program is in the works.
“To be more intentional about how we bring those young ladies and women of color who either have their own business or are really career-minded (and) how do we teach young ladies to be business-minded in life?” Parker said.
The broader goal behind SIB, Parker said, is to shift the narrative of who is and can be an entrepreneur and create more economic opportunities for those who are least invested in.
“For women of color in particular, entrepreneurship in our community tends not to just be about us making money, but… to make some kind of contribution to family and community,” Parker said. “What you’re really talking about is a ripple effect into the community, a ripple effect of stabilizing our families from an economic standpoint, so when you’re supporting a woman of color in business, you’re supporting a community. You’re supporting shifting economic opportunities.”
The effect of intentional spending and investing expands to those business owners then hiring staff from their own community and their children being able to have a more stable financial future, and the creation of generational wealth in families and communities.