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In June 2019, I made the bold decision of opening up and running my small marketing and communications consultancy, The Sophia Consulting Firm. I had no idea that the world would literally halt to a stop six months later, forcing me to rethink and refresh my business model for amplifying scientific innovation. I’m a scientist by training and an ambivert by nature–almost equally as comfortable in group scenarios as I am by myself. Yet, I never thought I would be a podcaster with a YouTube channel talking to senior executives in the life science industry. But the pandemic forced me to get outside of my comfort zone and ask myself about what truly inspires me at this stage of my career.
Fast forward a little over two years later and 4.5 million people in America have quit their jobs in November 2021, the most in two decades of tracking despite record high job openings. This is indicative of what I’ve always known, which is the simple fact that careers are ultimately defined by experiences. Many people, particularly African Americans, are standing up and speaking against toxicity in the workplace and microaggressions. We will no longer suppress our authenticity in an effort to fit into the ideals and morals of any organization. Hence, entrepreneurship holds tremendous appeal based on its promise of enhanced autonomy, flexibility, innovation and societal impact.
However, entrepreneurship is often a lonely, circuitous journey, particularly in the beginning. It is well established that women and minorities, particularly African Americans and Hispanics, struggle with securing investment dollars for building, maintaining and elevating their small businesses. For example, at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic in 2020, more than 440,000 Black small businesses shut down due to low demand. Small business ownership is also risky and highly demanding, particularly for entrepreneurs with young children who may be impacted by the long hours and financial constraints associated with building a business from the ground up.
So, in many ways, budding entrepreneurs must proceed with caution. It is much harder to build a business by yourself, as I have done. Thus, many people choose to find co-founders, venture capitalists, angel investors and others who may be able to support their entrepreneurial dreams strategically and operationally. For me, I methodically planned for my new business for almost two years prior to launch by focusing on business model optimization, and, most importantly, financial planning that will ensure at least a 6-month financial leeway. Additionally, when the pandemic struck, I also had to find creative ways to build my business as we could no longer travel to medical conferences and other industry events as we used to. So, there is no doubt that social media, particularly LinkedIn and Twitter, played a role in building my business. Honestly, I was initially reluctant to put myself out there but once I find the motivation or fundamental need to do something, I will commit myself to it. So true to form, I committed myself to building synergies with a wide range of people, most of whom I have never actually met in person. Moreover, there is no doubt that virtual work and social environments are here to stay. At the very least, the current and future workplace will be hybrid working environments and many of the people who have quit their jobs recently may have done so because their work environments may not be as flexible.
But one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned thus far is the concept of offering a complimentary, value-added service to potential clients versus the cold call/email route. I do this primarily through my firm’s Amplifying Scientific Innovation® Video Podcast that has featured several luminaries in the life science industry who have showcased their support for my small business through endorsements, referrals and direct client engagements. Volunteering is also critical for organic relationship building and supporting relevant causes. For me, economic empowerment for women has always been a cause stemming from my childhood in Nigeria where women often have limited opportunities for advanced education and careers. Consequently, I secured volunteer leadership opportunities at the Healthcare Businesswomen’s Association (HBA), Cartier Women’s Initiative (WCI) and the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network (DWEN). I was able to lean in and tap into shared passions with other women and men in the life science industry on science advocacy, health equity and influential leadership.
Perhaps, most importantly, I have also learned the importance of patience. For many small businesses, it may take at least two years to break even and perhaps even longer to consistently make profits. Calls and emails may often go unanswered as well social media requests/follows/invitations. It may take some time to secure executive visibility and credibility within local communities not to mention media opportunities and speaking engagement. This is why true entrepreneurship has to be fueled by genuine passion that goes beyond capitalism, profitability or financial metrics. You also have to be self-motivated while learning the delicate task of self-management and work-life balance. Virtual work has definitely made it easier—and more convenient—to integrate work and life, but often with no clear breaks between either. For women with young children like me, working from home is a blessing but also a challenge in many ways. Commuting to and from work previously offered that clear break between home and the office, laboratory or other workspace. These days, I’m tasking myself with compartmentalization and setting clear boundaries so that I can practice better self-care and be more mindful of my capacity and limits.
In closing, one of my favorite inspirational quotes is by Abraham Lincoln where he states, “I will prepare and someday my chance will come.” As we usher in 2022, I’m truly excited for the budding entrepreneurs, particularly Black women like me, who will boldly rise to insurmountable challenges and will never give up because they are fueled by the desire to make an impact and to establish a legacy that is bigger than any one individual.
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