Each week women entrepreneurs from across Winston-Salem come together as a coworking community at vibrant “pop-up” locations provided by local businesses and organizations that volunteer to repurpose their underutilized space. Those who participate in Womenpreneur Wednesdays, sponsored by HUSTLE Winston-Salem, can seek advice from on-site mentors and access various resources designed to help them achieve success.
It’s all about equitable access.
“We know that running a business can be expensive and that women already struggle with the gender-wage gap,” Magalie Yacinthe, the interim director of HUSTLE, told ArtsFwd. “We want to level the playing field by providing a free and supportive environment where women entrepreneurs can advance their pursuits, learn and build community together.”
HUSTLE Winston-Salem has been creating solutions to level the playing field ever since its founding members took part in the Community Innovation Lab, convened in 2015 by the Thomas S. Kenan Institute for the Arts at UNCSA, the Winston-Salem Foundation and the Arts Council of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County. The Lab, facilitated by EmcArts, brought together a diverse group of people to dissect one of the city’s most deep-seated problems: a system of haves and have-nots that persists along the lines of race and class. Through a new approach informed by artists and artistic practices, members formed small groups to focus on possible solutions.
Originally called Inclusive Entrepreneurship, HUSTLE is a prime example of an idea that took root during the Lab and quickly gained momentum. The group used prototype funding from the Lab to create a brand and launch an integrated marketing campaign focused on growing the local economy through support for underrepresented entrepreneurs.
“At that time there was a lot of change happening in Winston-Salem — change for the good — but a lot of people who are entrepreneurs of color and women felt like they weren’t included in that change,” Yacinthe said.
“HUSTLE came at a time when we were saying, ‘Hey, you matter — you black person, you brown person, you woman.’ We said, ‘Hey, there is an entire community on the other side of Highway 52.’ ”
The group’s ideas resonated because its members had walked the same path as the marginalized entrepreneurs they sought to empower.
“We were all people of color and we were all entrepreneurs, so we related to the group of people that we wanted to touch. We were building HUSTLE from our experience for entrepreneurs of color in our community,” Yacinthe explained. “The majority of our team were women. We were out there hustling every day. We were able to say — these are the pain points, now let’s get out in the community and see what we can do about it. It made it real.”
Today HUSTLE Winston-Salem, which has since become a nonprofit organization, is a driving force for connecting entrepreneurs who are women and people of color to the services, resources and networks they need to successfully develop their businesses.
Here are some of the other ways HUSTLE is fulfilling its mission:
- Marketing Outside the Box: At these weekly lunchtime sessions on Wednesdays entrepreneurs are invited to explore innovative ideas for marketing their businesses. These cutting-edge strategies focus on attracting, retaining and increasing revenue from customers and can be easily put into action.
- HUSTLE Night: These monthly gatherings on the third Monday of each month at the Small Business Center at Forsyth Technical Community College offer an interactive workshop on a relevant business topic, as well as networking and community-building.
A recent report commissioned by HUSTLE and prepared by Easton Reid Group makes a compelling case for the creation of a small business incubator devoted solely to supporting entrepreneurs of color. Such an incubator, developed in conjunction with the city’s Office of Business Inclusion, could go a long way toward providing equitable resources and services to this underrepresented segment of our business community. And that, in turn, would grow the local economy.
Leaders of HUSTLE hope the report will deepen understanding of the inequalities faced by many entrepreneurs of color.
“Just having a richer understanding of the inequalities gives us a starting point for imagining what the solutions can be,” HUSTLE board member Matt Williams told ArtsFwd.
“People can step up to the plate in ways that they didn’t realize for entrepreneurs of color. They may be more likely to be a connector or create access in a new and different way. If you are an investor and you support a particular industry, you may start thinking, how can I build bridges and extend opportunities into other parts of the community?”
During Black History Month in February, HUSTLE hosted an Entrepreneurial Think Tank at Venture Cafe to discuss black entrepreneurship in Winston-Salem. The group plans to organize a similar roundtable discussion during National Hispanic Heritage Month later this year.
“We are advocating for the support that we needed to see our own ventures take off,” said Williams, who was a Wake Forest University graduate student when he got involved with the Community Innovation Lab. He recently moved to New York City to work in leadership training but remains quite active with HUSTLE.
“The folks who are closest to the issue often have the solution.”
Learn more about HUSTLE Winston-Salem here.