By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN — Phala Mire, President and CEO of Women’s Business Enterprise Council South, is providing another opportunity for women business owners to connect with each other and grow opportunities with the development of a co-working space created in Nashville called the WB Collective.
Established in 1994, WBEC South’s mission is “to advance and enhance business opportunities between corporations and women-owned businesses through a reputable certification program, education and professional growth opportunities,” its website states.
“I truly love working with women entrepreneurs,” Mire said, adding that watching women in traditionally male-dominated industries thrive
makes her proud. “Every time we see women get together in that space they feed off each other and amazing things happen,” she remarked. “The bonding is amazing.”
In 2019, WBEC South launched an online marketplace to connect corporate buyers with suppliers called WB Marketplace. Mire said the WB Marketplace is a woman-owned ecosystem featuring nearly 800 businesses and is growing every day, with lifestyle, beauty and fashion providing huge online opportunities. “We have other women who can support solopreneurs and help with packaging, printing, and websites,” she added.
WBEC South’s strategy is to meet women where they are to support them and grow their business from startup to billion-dollar enterprises, she said. “We represent and reflect these women, and that translates to the hiring of more women contributing to the economy.”
Starting out in nonprofit work, Mire didn’t expect to go down the path of CEO. Born in the south but raised in Maryland, her original intention was to attend law school. She ended up in New Orleans where she built a family, but ow her three kids are grown and she’s putting her efforts into creating avenues of opportunity for others.
“Coming back to work that now spans across the southern region has really been a good fit for me, what I want to do and who I want to serve,” she said.
Mire lamented a lack of minority business women nationally and in the southern region, which she estimates is less than 20 percent. Last year, WBEC South received a $1 million grant to assist minority women with procurement opportunities and launched the Enterprising Women of Color program.
Many southern cities have majority minority populations, and minority women are the fastest-growing segment of women entrepreneurs, Mire noted, yet these women experience a gap in certifications and narrow networks.
The organization has certified over 900 women and an additional 200 aren’t certified but are connected through one of its programs.
Mire explained that she’s been able to engage in ‘intrapreneurship’ to create other ways of funding so it’s not just about sponsorships.
WBEC South’s Nashville workspace is a true co-working space of women with successful businesses or those with a firm foundation, she said. Resources are provided on-site and participants have access to tech support and guidance.
“It’s been a really great environment. We’re able to program every day of the week,” Mire said of adjustments due to the pandemic. “COVID has shown what we already know–women are super resourceful,” said Mire.
Many businesses are thriving more than they were before the pandemic, with the boom in the online marketplace shifting the focus to internet traffic.
Mire said WBEC South is working to bring others back full-force out of the pandemic by providing access to what they need for podcasting, videos, blogging and more.
For women who are or are considering the entrepreneurial path, “there’s no better time,” she said.
“Everybody knows the likelihood of success is less than the likelihood of failure when you first start,” Mire said.
WBEC South will be opening a Memphis office for a women’s business center targeting startup and smaller enterprises with finance coaches.
“I love watching people grow their business,” Mire said. She’s been doing work with small businesses over the last 25 years. “I love what I do now just as I did when I started.”
If you’re on the fence about starting your business, Mire said, take the opportunity and engage in the process. “Stop thinking; just do. This is the best time to start a business. You have never had more support and opportunities.”
To learn more about the opportunities WBEC South can provide, visit wbecsouth.org. For information on the working space, visit wbcollective.com. To find and support women-owned businesses visit wbmarketplace.com.