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“Women entrepreneurs are making a tremendous impact on the economy here in the U.S. and around the world. Enterprising Women provides them with a voice and a community that helps them share best practices and grow their businesses to the next level.”

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As the editor and publisher of Enterprising Women, Monica Smiley has spent the last decade-plus building the national — and now global — magazine she leads into a leading voice for women entrepreneurs. Enterprising Women, with headquarters in Cary, N.C., is the only U.S. and global woman-owned magazine published exclusively for women business owners that chronicles the growing political, economic and social influence and power of entrepreneurial women.

Monica and her team have crafted a magazine that is like a reunion with an old friend. Under her leadership, Enterprising Women has become a friendly meeting place, an open public forum and a national stage for the critical issues confronting women’s businesses and daily lives. She leads a team of writers who share the unique perspectives and experiences of entrepreneurial women — women who dare to think big, make the leap and follow their dreams. The print and digital editions of the magazine now reach more than 1 million women entrepreneurs in 185 countries around the world.

MO: Can you talk about the journey of purchasing the trademark rights to Enterprising Women and re-launching the magazine in May 2000? How did your background and experience help contribute to the vision and direction of the magazine?

Monica: My husband and I started a publishing company in 1984 and have worked in various industries and on numerous projects. When my 40th birthday rolled around, I decided that I really wanted my next project to be something I cared deeply about. My work to that point had been interesting, but I knew that I had not yet encountered a project that I wanted to devote the rest of my life to pursuing.

During the 1990s, it became clear that there was a significant need for a publication specifically targeted at women in business. There were mainstream business magazines, but nothing that reflected women’s voices, and profiles on women business owners were conspicuously missing from these publications. The women’s business community was starting to emerge, and the publishing industry simply had not caught up with it yet.

As a life-long feminist, I have always been very vocal about women’s rights. During the early 1980s, I served as the president of the National Organization for Women (NOW) in Michigan and spent a lot of time traveling, speaking and advocating for women’s rights. As a small business owner since the early 80s, I began to understand that while women’s rights had made tremendous strides, the next critical step was the economic empowerment of women. I began seriously researching whether there was a need for a business magazine targeted to entrepreneurial women. Through my research, I came across Enterprising Women, which had been started by a man working closely with the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in the mid 1990s. He had since turned ownership of the magazine over to three women on his staff. Their hearts were in the right place, but the magazine had not succeeded. It may have been a little ahead of its time. I reached out to the women to learn more about their journey, traveling to California to meet with them. Shortly thereafter, we purchased the trademark rights to the publication and re-launched Enterprising Women in May 2000.

MO: Can you expand on how Enterprising Women operates with a different business model than previous publications that you’ve been a part of throughout your career?

Monica: One of the original investors in the magazine lost a great deal of money in the tech bust in the late 90s, so we had to go back to the drawing board and think outside the box to fund the publication’s start-up. Several women business owners put dollars on the line within the first two years of starting the magazine. By year three, we decided to build a strong Advisory Board and worked closely with Marsha Firestone, the president of the Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO), to start a board that could help financially sustain the magazine. That board has grown to more than 140 members today. For an annual membership fee, Advisory Board members receive ad space in the magazine and exposure for their businesses, as well as the chance to share best practices with our readers. We rely heavily on our board of advisors – they are truly the backbone of our magazine. They contribute heavily to our editorial content. Board members write as one business owner to another, and add a great deal of knowledge and expertise to the pages of our publication. Our readers really connect with the content produced by Board members.

MO: What unique advantages do you think that female entrepreneurs have within the current start-up landscape?

Monica: One of the great advantages for women in business is that they typically take a different approach to entrepreneurship and business than do men. Most women are used to multi-tasking and problem solving, are resourceful, good at juggling a variety of responsibilities, and used to “doing it all.” They are also naturally skilled at handling problems and developing relationships. Women are seen to be more understanding about the need for flexible work time or time off, as well as the need for good health care and other benefits that are so important to families. Focusing on these strengths, they excel at building strong teams and growing businesses.

MO: Can you share some examples of how you’ve helped build bridges and alliances to strengthen the business community for women?

Monica: The Enterprising Women Advisory Board has been one of the greatest and most important bridges that we could have ever built in terms of strengthening the women’s business community. When it was first established, we invited the president or executive director of every organization that supports the growth of women’s entrepreneurship within the United States to join. Now, of course, Advisory Board memberships are open to and filled by women entrepreneurs and business leaders from around the globe. At our annual Enterprising Women of the Year Awards, we hold our official annual meeting of the board – we gather informally at other events throughout the year. The board members use this time to network and share valuable advice with the magazine staff. They also have an opportunity to get to know the award winners from around the world who attend this event.

One of the greatest assets of this board is that everyone on it understands the importance of working together to build the women’s business community. There are no competing interests and the magazine is like Switzerland – we have no enemies. Enterprising Women has become much more than a magazine. We bring people together and have helped build a strong community of women who believe in mentoring and giving back to other women to support the growth of women’s entrepreneurship here in the U.S. and around the world.

MO: What are some great resources that you think are underused or that could be of use to our readers?

Monica: There are more than 100 women’s business centers around the country. These are easy to access and can be very helpful in providing advice or resources prior to the start and in the early stages of a new business. In addition, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) is a great place to learn more about starting and managing a business, and can also help business owners understand how to obtain the funding they need to meet their business goals. The Women Presidents’ Organization (WPO) and the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) are excellent organizations that play an important role in helping women grow their businesses.

Women Impacting Public Policy (WIPP) is an organization that is committed to helping women have a seat at the table in Washington. It helps women-owned businesses secure government contracts, find access to needed capital and increase their financial literacy. Count Me In is another very important organization that is working with women’s businesses to help them reach $1 million in annual revenue, through its initiative “Make Mine A Million $ Business”. SCORE is a group of retired business executives who volunteer their time and expertise to mentor other business owners. With a presence in more than 800 communities, these mentors help entrepreneurs look closely at and analyze business plans and financials, helping them grow their businesses. The Center for Women’s Business Research also provides the statistics we need to document the strength of the women’s business community and makes a case for addressing the challenges we face. The Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) helps connect certified women’s business enterprises (WBEs) with major corporations ready to do business with them. There are many more excellent resources.

MO: Can you talk about ways that women can find and create mentoring relationships within the business community and the advantages they could provide?

Monica: In addition to the aforementioned groups, I would encourage women business owners to get involved with our Enterprising Women Foundation. Our focus for this upcoming year is on mentoring. We have already partnered with the Girl Scouts of the USA and STEM Connector, and have planned a series of luncheons to be held around the country which will raise money and awareness for mentorship initiatives. We are encouraging all attendees to bring a young woman with them to show how important it is to establish relationships with other women who can serve as teachers, mentors and advisors.

We feel strongly that women at every level need mentors. Even some of our own Enterprising Women Award winners come back to us as they are reaching new levels in their business, seeking advice and mentorship from someone that has already done the very things they hope to accomplish. We recognize that there is a need for strong mentors at all stages, from the Girl Scouts working on their entrepreneurship merit badges, to women enrolled in business school, to leaders of successful global companies. The Enterprising Women Foundation is developing a program to promote mentorship, match mentors with mentees, and explore other ways we can support the growth of women’s entrepreneurship in the U.S. and around the globe.

MO: Can you expand on the significance of last year celebrating the 10th anniversary of the Enterprising Women of the Year Awards?

Monica: The 10th anniversary of the Enterprising Women of the Year Awards is a huge milestone for Enterprising Women. When we started this program, our original thought was to feature 20 women in the magazine for their outstanding achievements. But we decided that these women should really receive more of an honor, which led us to create the Enterprising Women of the Year Awards, as a more high-profile recognition. As we came up with ideas for this awards evening, I contacted a woman I had worked with and who had been featured on the cover of a recent edition of the magazine. She was the owner of the largest catering company in New York at the time, and offered to provide the catering services for our first event, which we decided to hold in New York City.

At the time we were planning the event, we were made aware that Harvard University was sponsoring a traveling exhibit, showcasing the contributions of “Enterprising Women.” We partnered with them as one of their sponsors and the night of our awards event, as the exhibit was also taking place in New York, our award recipients and guests were able to visit the exhibit before continuing on to the reception to celebrate the honorees.

Two years after the awards began, the Walt Disney Company offered to provide sponsorship support and we moved the event to the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. We have continued to hold the awards in various Florida destinations since that time with Office Depot now serving as the lead sponsor. The Enterprising Women of the Year Awards Celebration typically honors 50 winners each year, and we have watched the number of nominations grow exponentially over the past decade. It has been very exciting to witness the way that women’s businesses have grown since the original awards event. Our winners come from every industry – not just those thought to be traditional industries for women-owned businesses, and their annual revenues span from under $1 million to over $1 billion.

The last two years have seen a push for global nominations, and eight of last year’s winners were international business owners, hailing from China, Switzerland, Turkey, Ireland and the United Arab Emirates, with one finalist from Afghanistan. The celebration has grown from an evening reception to a two-day gathering where award winners, corporate supporters, board members, VIPs in the women’s business community and Enterprising Women readers are invited to celebrate as we shine the spotlight on some of the finest women entrepreneurs in the world.

Reaching our 10 year anniversary of this award is a significant achievement, not only for us at Enterprising Women, but for any woman who is interested in entrepreneurship. This is the type of work, driven by passion, that I was seeking when I told myself at age 40 that my next project would be something I could spend the rest of my life doing. This is important work for anyone who cares about the growth of women’s businesses. Women are making an enormous contribution to the U.S. and global economy. Their businesses employ more workers than all of the Fortune 500 companies combined. Enterprising Women is giving women a voice and helping them grow their businesses to the next level. I am proud of the role we have played and look forward to continuing to build this community in the years to come.


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