‘Wonder’ women entrepreneurs talk business at DSU event
DOVER — Women and entrepreneurs of color are driving new business creation since 2020, and three Delaware women business owners spoke with Delaware State University students in hopes of continuing the momentum in the years to come.
Led by the DSU’s College of Business, young women spent Tuesday morning at the Celebrating Wonder Women event to network as well as learn from the struggles and triumphs of working on their own, authentic businesses.
“Don’t let anybody put you in a box – be out of the box. Be who you are and figure out how to get there,” Devona Williams, president and CEO of corporate consultancy Goeins-Williams Associates and chair of the DSU board, told the crowd. “Don’t let fear control you. Dream big and keep pushing.”
Women in traditional corporate and business settings are still dramatically underrepresented in leadership, with a LeanIn.org and McKinsey study showing that between 26% and 28% of women held senior or C-suite level roles. Women of color in particular fell between 5% and 6%.
But as workers are quitting their jobs, many are considering starting their own business. A survey from human resource management firm Gusto found that 49% of new business owners were women in 2021, and the rate of Black entrepreneurs has tripled to 9%.
Decades earlier, Williams found herself in a similar position during her time as a mid-level executive at DuPont, facing what she called “the brick wall” stopping Black women from advancing. She launched her own consulting firm with the “silver parachute” money offered, and thrived working for herself.
“For me, it’s about how people think about me and being authentic. I am who I am. That’s why I started my own company — I couldn’t be who I was working for myself,” Williams said. “If you have your own business, you will always be able to set your own values for where you are.”
Williams founded her firm in 1986 to guide companies to achieve greater productivity and strategic work in the workplace. Over the years, she worked with 50,000 people at companies like McDonald’s,YMCA of USA, Coca-Cola, MBNA and more.
She advised students to not get bogged down by mistakes — see them as opportunities, and remind yourself that the hard times will pass. She also credited her success to thinking beyond limits others set for her.
“Colleagues used to tell me I was making them look bad because of how hard I worked. I didn’t worry about that, because I was worried about doing the job at a point where I could be proud of,” Williams said. “Don’t worry about what other people are doing. Do your job, make yourself available and make your value known.”
Nicole Homer, the co-founder and CEO of HX Innovations, also encouraged attendees to always keep an open mind and learn from any environment. HX Innovations uses biomechanics and neuroergonomics — her husband’s field of work — to develop a sensor-laden system to help athletes find the right footwear.
“I have a MBA and a curious mind. If I see something that needs to be done, I do it, and I don’t hesitate,” she said. “In the business world, being curious is the best thing you can be because there’s so much information you can learn. And I want to know everything I can. You can innovate in business, you just have to find that angle.”
When her husband, Von Homer, was discussing a neuromuscular algorithm he created with his friends, Nicole listened in and started thinking about a market for injury prediction. That opened a world of possibilities from elder care to physical therapy to fall prevention, as well as studying movement disorders. From there, she weighed the barriers of entry, and found sports technology was the fastest to push through.
As a self-described introvert, Nicole Homer advised young entrepreneurs to get comfortable with being uncomfortable, and learn quickly to communicate with a wider crowd.
“There’s probably about 2% neuroscientists in America that are Black men, so there wasn’t a large audience I could talk to about this,” she said. “I’ve had to teach myself [to speak out]. I’ve been in so many rooms where I’m uncomfortable. What am I going to do, sit there and let no one know my name? Then what’s the point of being in the room?”
Representing the next generation of entrepreneurs, Jada Robinson, a DSU MBA candidate, spoke about combining her interest in chemistry and cosmetics when she launched Aquarius Cosmetics. She often tests out lip gloss herself, and then offers it to coworkers and friends, on the condition of reviews.
Juggling her studies and work while launching her own company is difficult, and Robinson joked her personal life “could use some work.” But she works on planning weeks ahead, ensuring she has time to move the company forward.
“I make sure I have two hours to work on my business. For me, this is bigger than lip gloss. I feel like I have to go forward,” she said. “My advice is keep your ideas and your dreams close to you, and keep your next three steps planned.”