Women helping women in business

By: Kristyne E. Demske | C&G Newspapers | Published November 6, 2019

 Michigan Association for Female Entrepreneurs  founder Tonya McNeal-Weary, left, stands with Carolyn Cassin, the president and CEO of Michigan Women Forward,  at a MAFE forum in March.

Michigan Association for Female Entrepreneurs founder Tonya McNeal-Weary, left, stands with Carolyn Cassin, the president and CEO of Michigan Women Forward, at a MAFE forum in March.

Photo provided by Tonya McNeal-Weary

 Women network at the March 2019 Women’s Leadership Forum.

Women network at the March 2019 Women’s Leadership Forum.

Photo provided by Tonya McNeal-Weary

METRO DETROIT — It’s always difficult to start a business, but women can face different challenges than men when they’re trying to get their company off the ground, whether it be access to funding or access to networking, training and other opportunities.

Tonya McNeal-Weary discovered that for herself when she moved to Detroit from Chicago and was looking to get her own business started.

With no connections or networks in place, she tried joining some business groups and groups for women in business, but she found a lack of places to help someone like her — a female entrepreneur just getting her business off the ground.

“Where I saw a need was for an organization that was geared to women at all levels of entrepreneurship,” she said. “Women who have an idea, aspiring women entrepreneurs, women who maybe just started a business. I wanted an organization that could cater to all of those women, no matter where they were.”

That’s why McNeal-Weary founded the Michigan Association for Female Entrepreneurs in 2003. She wanted to provide support and inspiration for women who had a great business idea but didn’t know where to start.

“Since 2003, we’ve grown,” she said. “We’ve added a number of new programs ... meant to cater to women at all levels: startup, emerging and professional.

“Regardless of where you are, we have something for you to help you get to that next level.”

MAFE offers workshops, educational programs, seminars, conferences and even overseas trips to help women build networks that will help them with global trade.

“Women are faced with greater challenges,” McNeal-Weary said. “Funding, access to funding, getting government contracts.

“Two years ago, we were celebrating women getting 5% of government contracts. Where’s the other 95? (We’re) really working to level that playing field and seeing what we can do to make it more balanced.”

While corporate businesswomen have access to professional training, entrepreneurs don’t necessarily have that in place, so MAFE provides educational programs for its members geared toward winning contracts, hiring, leadership training, communications and more.

“One of the things I realized as a global entrepreneur (was) I was the only female (and), in a lot of cases, I was the only African American female,” said McNeal-Weary, who runs a global management consulting firm, IBS Global Consulting Inc. “There is a lack of women that (are) involved in international trade.”

That’s why MAFE has taken a delegation of 14 women over the past three years to visit Dubai, Thailand and in, 2020, Egypt to expose them to international trade opportunities.

Nicole Farmer, the owner of LifeLine Business Consulting Services and the president of the nonprofit Grand Innovation in Detroit, said that connecting with MAFE and traveling to Bangkok to learn about international trade changed her life.

“Since I’ve been a part of the organization, it has transformed my thinking,” she said. “Tonya brings professionals to the table that help us continually develop our business. You’re not going to be stuck.”

Farmer said that training through MAFE has included a seminar on sales skills, from what to say to what kind of body language is effective, and training from a representative at Google on how to effectively use Google ad services to optimize the reach of their business.

“She also brings individuals that we’re able to connect with to fund our business,” she said.

Having women collaborate and work together helps all of their businesses, Farmer said.

“We’re able to cross-pollinate each other in terms of sales and doing business with each other,” she explained. “It’s really a work-together source.

“I’m not just here in the community, but I’m also a person who supports others in this ecosystem too.”

McNeal-Weary said that MAFE offers various memberships at www.mafedetroit.org. The only requirement for membership is that a woman must own her own business — not part of a multilevel marketing organization.

MAFE has about 100 members across metro Detroit and the state, but McNeal-Weary said that she prefers to keep the organization small on purpose.

“We are not about the numbers. We are about the results,” she said. “It’s really a sisterhood (where members can) share our challenges, share some solutions to those challenges.”

There may be plenty of resources for female entrepreneurs, but if women don’t know about the resources, “it’s like it doesn’t exist,” she said.

MAFE will hold its 2019 Women Entrepreneurs Conference in Southfield Nov. 23, where it will recognize its 2019 Female Entrepreneur of the Year. This year, the honor is going to Farmer.

“She is an amazing entrepreneur,” McNeal-Weary said. “She’s the perfect example of overcoming adversity.”

But Farmer said that women have to work together to create their own opportunities.

“We have to take advantage of these types of resources, because then we cannot be stuck in our mindset of thinking that no one is there for us,” she said. “We can no longer buy into the glass ceiling effect.

“If we’re able to create our own (opportunities), there is no glass ceiling.”

To learn more, visit mafedetroit.org.