BY ANN BROWN
We all know how difficult it is to get a business idea off the ground, especially for women of color who have very little access to outside capital. This is one reason why Linda Spradley Dunn, CEO and founder of Odyssey Media launched Odyssey Media’s 2017 pitch competition through her Keys to Success program.
Keys to Success is a digital workshop series and pitch competition designed to help solve the number one issue facing African-American, female, small business owners: access to capital. Not long ago, Dunn created Keys To Success: Access to Capital competition with The Coca-Cola Company’s 5By20 initiative.
Dunn discusses the details with TNJ.com.
TNJ.com: Linda, what made you start this competition?
Linda Spradley Dunn: As an African-American female entrepreneur, I know first-hand the challenges that we face when it comes to expanding our businesses. We all need expansion capital at some time or another, and if you don’t have your financials in order, your business plan in place and your pitch presentation on point, traditional lenders are not going to invest in you or provide you with a loan. Over the past 20 years, I have managed to successfully grow Odyssey Media into the multi-million-dollar company that it is today, but it wasn’t easy. There were times when I struggled for expansion capital and wasn’t able to secure that line of credit or business loan. So, I started the Keys To Success: Access to Capital competition with The Coca-Cola Company’s 5By20 initiative to make it easier for other Black women business owners to get funds at the critical stage when it is needed most – during the pivotal point of expansion.
TNJ.com: How does it work?
L.S.D.: The program is simple. We have partnered with the Coca-Cola Company’s 5By20 initiative and created a series of digital, business workshops for contestants to watch. The online programs, sponsored by the Coca-Cola Company, address areas that minority-women business owners need to focus on when pitching for capital–finances, expansion and marketing. All three workshops can be viewed for only $30. You don’t have to enter our $25,000 expansion capital pitch competition after viewing the series, but we do encourage all to apply. Simply go to our website, www.odyssey .media/event/keystosuccess/register, and register for the workshops, watch all three and apply. The top three finalists will be flown to our annual, invitation-only business networking retreat in Amelia Island, Florida where they will receive individual coaching and support from some of the top business advisors in the nation. Finalists will pitch to our Odyssey judges and the winner will receive $25,000 to grow her business.
TNJ.com: Why do you feel it is necessary?
L.S.D.: The workshops and pitch competition are critical in helping minority-women entrepreneurs overcome some of the fears that we often have when asking for money. We have been raised to not incur debt or ask others for financial support. However, all successful business owners and CEOs will tell you that investment is the key to expansion. And, by having a pitch competition by us and for us, all participants know that the playing field is a level one.
TNJ.com: Why is this idea close to your heart?
L.S.D.: It’s easy. I am an African-American female business owner. I live this every day. I understand the fear of sitting in front of a banker and thinking that you may be judged by your gender or the color of your skin before they look at your business plan. I understand what it means to almost fail, and get back up. And I understand what it means not to come from a family or community that’s used to loaning businesses money. So, I decided that if I could share my experiences–if I could make it just a little bit easier for another woman like me–and say, “You are not alone, we all face the issues when it comes to access to capital. And, guess what–we get through it, and we’re here for each other, let’s collaborate.” That’s really my passion.
TNJ.com: With your own business, what are your plans for 2017?
L.S.D.: I will run Keys to Success again this fall. The public response to our event has been off the charts. I am getting calls from women saying, ‘Thank you. Finally there is something for us!’ We have corporate sponsors that want to join the program. I have unleashed something that says, ‘We are tired of begging others. So, I am going to put my money where my mouth is and lift up another sister.’