We are starting a new series to put an uplifting twist on having a #WCW! This series will feature women leaders, mentors, inspirations, and business owners in the Raleigh community. If you know of woman innovating in your life or you are one, send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let’s Dive In…
Our crush this week is Christina Noel who is the Founder/CEO of Arc Benders. We asked her some questions, and WOW she gave us some amazing answers and insights!
Q: Tell me a little about yourself: college, previous jobs (what you liked/disliked about them), struggles/happy moments, and some hobbies you have?
I was born & raised in North Carolina. I grew up in Greenville, NC until I was 10 years old and then we moved to the Triangle. Following that, I went to UNC-Chapel Hill and was a Music Performance and Economics double major. Turned out, I wasn’t very athletic growing up, so I became a total band nerd. I played flute and I was the drum major in the marching band at Green Hope High School. My parents were always very supportive of me pursuing music, but my father always encouraged me to have a backup plan in case I decided I wanted to pursue other things. It turned out to be great advice because otherwise I might have never discovered that I actually really enjoyed studying Economics.
The Beginning of a Career…
My first job out of college was at a Healthcare Consulting firm with a great reputation in Atlanta, GA. The company specialized in identifying insurance underpayments for hospital, which helped bring needed cash into organizations. I felt that helping support a hospital’s mission to heal people was a worthy cause. The company also boasted about its work-life balance and fun-loving culture. I was hired for a role that wasn’t creative entrepreneurial. So, it was a constant struggle for me to meet expectations. It also bothered me to work in healthcare and not be tackling the root cause of the many systemic issues facing the industry. I managed to land a promotion, but I wasn’t happy.
The one thing that I was very passionate about was the company’s Corporate Social Responsibility efforts. I managed our relationship with Medshare, a non-profit that shipped surplus medical supplies to developing countries. Helping them save lives was so inspiring that, over time, I began to wish that I could spend more than a few days a month helping support a mission that brought purpose to my life.
I finally had the epiphany that I wanted to dedicate my life to helping others.
I decided that I wanted to learn how to lead a social impact organization and I felt that, for me, the best way to do that was to get an MBA. My goal was to explore the most impactful way to change the world and to study entrepreneurship. In the process of researching different MBA programs, I discovered the B Corp movement, which truly changed my life.
While getting my MBA at the University of Georgia, I landed a dream internship with B Lab, the non-profit behind the B Corp movement. I was hired to audit 10 different companies that were using business to solve social and environmental problems. After that experience, I was sold on the power of social entrepreneurship. It was so inspiring to see the impact mission-driven businesses could have on their community.
For example, I got to perform an on-site visit with Ben & Jerry’s. Ben & Jerry’s paid its employees a living wage, it sourced as many ingredients as possible locally, and it really lived its values in all aspects of its operations. After completing my MBA, I was thrilled to land a job at The Redwoods Group. It’s a Certified B Corp on a mission to create safe communities for all.
Q: Tell me about Arc Benders: what led you to starting it, its mission, etc
Deep down, for the last 7 years I knew I eventually wanted to become a social entrepreneur.
Arc Benders’ mission is to inspire more people to change the world and to equip them with the tools they need to be successful. We decided to start achieving this mission by interviewing Arc Benders that are already using their talent to change the world. Our hope is that these stories will show people what’s possible, while giving them practical advice on what it takes to succeed in driving change. We’re also gathering resources to support people that want to have a career with purpose.
“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
This quote is often attributed to MLK Jr, famously stated during his 1965 “We Shall Overcome” sermon. What we must realize is the moral arc doesn’t bend on its own, we have to be the ones to bend it. Our goal is to bring together Arc Benders – people that are passionate about using their talent to change the world in some way – through their career, through volunteerism, or through philanthropy. We hope to foster more authentic conversations and connections between people that want to make an impact.
Q: What are some struggles being a woman in business and the CEO/Founder of your own business that you have encountered?
In many ways I’ve been mentally preparing for this over the last 7 years, but realistically, I’m at the very beginning of this process. I formed my LLC in January. It has only been a little over 3 months since I left my full-time job to be able to fully focus on Arc Benders.
I’ve definitely found that as a solopreneur I have a lot less time to be strategic than I expected because it takes a lot of time to manage all aspects of a business. Another challenge is that I’m making strategic investments and my business is in the red… and, to be frank, that feels daunting at times. To mitigate this, my goal is to find enough freelance marketing strategy projects and photography gigs to breakeven by the end of the year. Currently, I am working to build this business and gaining insight into how to best serve “Arc Benders” that are working to change the world.
The amount of time it takes to build a profitable business has probably been the most surprising thing to me.
I’ve now heard anecdotally from a handful of people that it can take as long as 2-3 years to really grow an organization into a profitable business when starting from scratch. Things typically take longer and are more expensive than you expect them to be. Given this, I’m really trying to take the time to understand the business model I want to pursue because my goal is to create jobs and scale over time.
I’ve found myself thinking a lot about how few people likely have the financial resources to navigate these years of unprofitability.
Before venturing out on my own I had a well-paying job that allowed me to save for this and I have a husband that is supportive of my entrepreneurial goals. I’m one of the few people in a position to take this type of risk. These days it’s so ‘sexy’ to be an entrepreneur and the media loves to celebrate the people who have ‘made it.’ However, entrepreneurship is a risk and it requires years of investment, not to mention opportunity costs.
Now don’t get me wrong – I still believe that creating a business that drives positive change is one of the best ways to change the world and we have to inspire people to pursue entrepreneurship. We need to counsel people earlier on about the financial resources launching a business requires. Also, decisions including the amount of student debt, mortgages if applicable, and amount of savings you need, should all be factored into planning.
Q: What are some things that the Raleigh community could do to better serve female/minority owned businesses?
I am still discovering how lonely entrepreneurship can be. The biggest support system I’ve found is the relationships I’ve developed with other early-stage female entrepreneurs. Most of my business referrals have come from friends and mentors at early stages in their own businesses.
I think the more we can create opportunities for women entrepreneurs to build relationships with each other and hold each other accountable to our goals, the better. HQ hosted the Women Innovator’s Day, and these efforts need to be continued. We need more events like this to bring entrepreneurial women together.
Q: What are some ways that other women and men could do to support female owned businesses, and to promote more women to break the glass ceiling in business?
If you want to support female-owned businesses, the biggest way you can help them is to hire them, invest in them, and sponsor them, if you believe in what they are doing. When you’re planning to hire a contractor, at least consider one female-owned business for the task and give them a fair shot at the job. If you’re an investor, recognize that women’s projections might be more realistic and less aggressive than their male counterparts. Research suggests investing in women-owned business pays off. If you know and admire women-owned businesses, help get them connected to other leaders in the community that might have the ability to take their business to the next level.
For me, my biggest support system has come from learning alongside other female entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurship is tough and there are so many moments that the thought ‘man, it’d be so much easier to go get a job’ can flash across your mind. I’m definitely going to be working to lean on coaching and pulling together an advisory board to challenge me to dream big and to be strategic.
Q: How do we strike the balance with “leveling the playing field” for women in business without overcompensating by hiring women or funding female businesses instead of men solely based upon gender?
When it comes to hiring or funding women, I think the biggest thing is to acknowledge that everyone has unconscious biases. I certainly don’t recommend making any investment or hiring decision solely based on gender. However, the research on what it’s going to take to level the playing field fascinates me. According to The 2017 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report, Commissioned by American Express, women owned firms (defined as owning 51% or more) are on the rise and account for 39% of all privately held firms. They contribute to 8% of employment and 4.2% of revenues.
However, only 4.2% of all women-owned firms have revenues of 1 million or more. More women are starting their own businesses, but we are clearly struggling to reach the $1 million mark. To get to this mark, women-owned businesses need to generate a certain amount of revenue, which empowers them to seek the funding and support needed to hire a team.
According to a recent 2018 study by SCORE, over the last year, a larger proportion of men-owned businesses (30%) saw an increase in hiring compared to women-owned businesses (27%). Some of the women entrepreneurs responded that they would like to hire more full-time employees. However, they feel they have to stick with interns, contractors, or part-time employees because funds are low in their business.
When asked why they sought out financing, a nearly equal proportion of men and women responded that they needed financing to hire a new employee. The statistics show that 34% of men compared to 25% of women search out financing, and that 38% of men versus 31% of women who apply for financing actually obtain it.
Part of this challenge is due to disparities in investing.
According to a recent study by Boston Consulting Group, investments in companies founded or cofounded by women averaged $935,000, which is less than half the average $2.1 million invested in companies founded by male entrepreneurs.
Despite this disparity, startups founded and co founded by women actually performed better over time, generating 10% more in cumulative revenue over a five-year period.
Women-owned businesses need to get hired to truly level the playing field. This way, they can get to a position where they can afford to hire their own employees and scale up their team. Also, they need to strategically seek investment when it makes sense and we need investment funds to actually choose to invest in women. It’s easy to point out the importance of seeking investment and to consider these research studies. Yet, when it’s your livelihood on the line for your business, the risk can be real.
I was talking to a friend recently that hasn’t paid herself in a few months because she’s in a tricky growth phase with her business.
Not only has she not been paying herself, but her and her husband had to loan her business money to meet payroll for the month. Now, she is worried about generating enough work to pay the money back, and getting back to having a paycheck. That financial stress hits really close to home, especially if you have a family depending on you.
I definitely find myself wondering whether I can figure out a business model that will truly allow me to have a business that scales. I want to really make an impact and grow a company well past the $1 million mark. For me, it’s worth the risk to take the time to figure it out and I’m excited to see where this journey will take me. And, in the meantime… if anyone needs marketing strategy support or photography, you know where to find me!
To learn more about Arc Benders