5 inspiring entrepreneurs share challenges they overcame as women in business

By: Suzanne Guillette

From chocolates and skincare to event management and luxury travel, these tenacious women have leveraged Verizon Small Business Digital Ready to forge ahead.

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Kamilah Sanders helps social-impact businesses and creatives achieve their goals. Photo credit: Joseph Ross/Courtesy of Kamilah Sanders

Nearly 13 million small businesses in the U.S. are women-owned. These businesses employ approximately 10 million people and generate around $1.8 trillion in annual revenue. In recent years, women entrepreneurs created about half of all new businesses. Of that group, Black women have led the charge — establishing businesses at nearly twice the rate of women in general.

Yet, for all the remarkable strides women entrepreneurs have made, being a woman business owner still comes with specific challenges, including raising capital, encountering bias, and balancing work with family responsibilities. With support from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, the women entrepreneurs featured here found creative ways to overcome these challenges and thrive.

Kamilah Sanders

Founder and CEO, Greater Than Equal, Nashville, Tennessee

As founder and CEO of Greater Than Equal, a Nashville-based consulting and event management firm, Kamilah Sanders focuses on causes and industries that she is passionate about, including art, racial and climate justice, and fashion. Her firm helps social-impact businesses and creatives connect with their audiences. “The more passionate you are, the better work you do,” she says.

Yet as a Black woman, Sanders has not always felt welcome in startup and venture capital spaces, which tend to be predominantly white and male-dominated. “In some spaces, people look at you like your head is on backward. You can tell by the expression on their face they are asking, ‘Why are you here?’” Sanders explains.

Facing this challenge head-on, Sanders has embraced the idea of taking up space — that is, by continuing to attend events “that are full of people who don’t look like me and don’t always welcome me, with hopes that soon I will not be the only one in the room that looks like me,” she says.

As she seeks a more even playing field, Sanders has found critical support from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. A course on financial projections helped Sanders improve her business model and revenue streams. She was able to channel her efforts into consistent sources of income, including year-long contracts. The results have been dramatic. In 2023, her business had a 78% increase in sales; she projects a 300% increase in sales in 2024.

With this strong financial foundation, Sanders says she now has more time and attention to help others make their creative and cause-driven dreams a reality. As she puts it, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Photo credit: Courtesy Mirna Hamade

Mirna Hamade

Founder, Meero’s Rich Bite, Canton, Michigan

In Lebanese culture, it’s customary to give beautifully decorated chocolates on special occasions, such as graduations, weddings and births. For Mirna Hamade, who lives in Michigan but is originally from Lebanon, these unique chocolates were hard to find. So in 2020 she launched Meero’s Rich Bite, a bespoke chocolate company that imports high-quality products from her native country. “My goal in creating this business is to be part of people’s happiest moments,” she says.

Hamade faced steep obstacles to launching her business, including securing the capital necessary to import chocolate to the United States. When she lived in Lebanon, she could easily buy chocolates — Belgian chocolate with flavored fillings that give them a Lebanese twist — and decorate them for friends and family. But operating out of the U.S., Hamade discovered that getting FDA clearance and the cost of shipping was prohibitively expensive.

With her numbers savvy, Hamade has been able to make her personal savings and financial support from family members go a long way, but the challenge of raising capital remains. Most recently, she secured a microloan to help pay for a packaging rebrand.

Hamade says her experience with Verizon Small Business Digital Ready has been a game-changer. Prior to discovering the program, she felt entrepreneurship “was like swimming in darkness, trying to survive and hoping the sunlight would come up soon.”

The platform helped Hamade explore social media, digital marketing and digital tools to optimize key operations. Through the program, she also realized the importance of branding and received guidance on hiring a branding contractor. She then spent six months working on a branding strategy, which also led to redesigning her packaging.

But what Hamade most appreciates is how welcoming and encouraging the Digital Ready coaches are. “Digital Ready brought the light to me, showing me I could do it, and it wasn’t that complicated,” she says. 

Photo credit: Bénédicte Desrus and Michael Le Brecht II

Lucia Cossio, Maria Cossio and Ana Cossio

Founders, Avanza Skin, Atlanta, Georgia

In early 2020, the Cossio sisters — Lucia, a chemical engineer, Maria, a finance professional, and Ana, a retired dermatologist — launched Avanza Skin, a dermatological skincare line “for skin that moves.” Avanza Skin was born of their shared love of running and the common skincare problems that accompany an athletic lifestyle, such as acne, chafing and calluses.

When the pandemic shifted the retail landscape, the sisters quickly pivoted from in-store sales to e-commerce — a move that has paid off. In a handful of years, Avanza Skin has achieved an impressive return customer rate of 41%, well above the 23% average in the beauty industry.

Still, Avanza Skin faces its share of challenges. One of those challenges has been securing funding, which is why Avanza Skin was thrilled to receive a $10,000 grant from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready.

Avanza Skin has broken through the stereotype that men don’t need skin care. Through new online marketing channels, which were identified through their work with Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, Avanza Skin now has a customer base that is 58% male, up from 42% when they started the program.

“Through the online courses, we’ve been able to implement targeted digital strategies, SEO website and blog implementation,” Lucia says. This, she adds, has led to significant growth in both social media followers and online sales. Since starting the program, their average website visits have doubled, and the number of visits that end in a purchase has grown 20%.

“We created something in which we believe, and people are seeing results,” says Lucia. “That’s very gratifying.”

Photo credit: Courtesy of Senoirae Ventura

Senoirae Ventura

Founder and CEO, Senoirae: Life’s Travel Designer, Dallas, Texas

The seed for Senoirae Ventura’s luxury travel and lifestyle business was planted more than two decades ago when she was a reservist in the U.S. Navy. Ventura was selected for the hospitality committee, which was responsible for welcoming a nuclear aircraft carrier home from a tour. This entailed getting security clearances for 50,000 officers and crew, Ventura says, and arranging food and entertainment for the celebration.

Today, as founder and CEO of Senoirae: Life’s Travel Designer, Senoirae Ventura creates immersive travel opportunities. Key to Ventura’s success is believing in herself. “Confidence isn’t arrogance. It’s belief in your capabilities,” she says.

As an African American and American Indian, she says, she has come up against a false perception that Black travel agents don’t have the clientele that seek elite properties for their vacations. To ensure that all of her clients will feel welcome, she always makes a point, when visiting properties, to ask how staff are being trained in relation to understanding different cultures.

Discovering the courses and 1:1 instruction available from Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, Ventura enhanced her business in many ways. She has consulted with other Digital Ready participants on future client offerings.and implemented new business management software after taking a course on it on the platform. The software has helped improve client management, providing more modern features and an overall ease of navigation.

During a 1:1 website review, a Verizon Small Business Digital Ready instructor encouraged Ventura to share more of her personal story, including her military experience. “The Verizon [Small Business] Digital Ready program has helped me speak up and say, ‘This is who I am. This is my story,” Ventura says.

Photo credit: Courtesy of Shelly Wilson

Shelly Wilson

Founder, Nomobo Salon, Chicago, Illinois

For six years, Shelly Wilson had been running her business, Nomobo Salon, while also working as a color educator for a global hair care brand.

In 2020, however, two factors prompted Wilson to change up her business model: the birth of her daughter and pandemic-related changes in her industry. Stylists were more and more seeking independence as contractors, rather than being full-time employees in salons. Meanwhile, motherhood inspired Wilson to become more discerning about how she spent her time and money.

Wilson saw an opportunity: She changed her business model, shifting from employing stylists to hiring independent contractors. She began renting out chairs in her salon, effectively making her more of a landlord and less of an administrator. Wilson felt confident in making the move thanks to new learnings she acquired through Verizon Small Business Digital Ready. She now focuses her marketing efforts on attracting stylists, who bring their own customer bases. She also integrated texting tools to improve customer experience, lower overhead and give her more flexibility in client communication. Texting with clients has supported her goal of having more freedom, while also improving communication efficiency.

“This shift [in my business model] has opened up more time for me to go in and be with clients and not worry about payroll, inventory or managing the schedule,” Wilson says. It also allows her more time for other creative aspects of her work, such as doing photoshoots to highlight new trends and creating content for social media.

Verizon Small Business Digital Ready is part of Verizon’s goal to support 1 million small businesses by 2030 with the resources to thrive in the digital economy. Visit CitizenVerizon.com to learn more about the company’s responsible business efforts. To sign up for Verizon Small Business Digital Ready, visit digitalready.verizonwireless.com. An individual user's experience may vary and results are not guaranteed.

About the author:

Suzanne Guillette has previously written about technology for Verizon and her work has appeared in O Magazine, Quartz and the Rumpus. She lives in New York City.

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