According to Inc.com, “African-American entrepreneurs own more than 2.6 million firms and are building some of the nation’s fastest-growing companies.” Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. With so many African-Americans killing the entrepreneurial game, it would seem that access and resources would be easy to come by. Not so.
Afenya Montgomery learned first hand about the challenges for budding entrepreneurs while seeking information to start a health care consultancy company. Montgomery, a registered nurse and hospital administrator, was surprised by the lack of available information, funding and mentorship for entrepreneurs of color. Over the next few months, she began collaborating with family and friends to find what she needed; but quickly realized that there were others who might share her experience and that she “needed to do something about it.”
Inspired to help others, Montgomery organized a pilot panel discussion aimed at potential entrepreneurs. “Leveraging Your Network to Create Impact” was held in Chicago’s Woodlawn neighborhood in June 2017- a location that was chosen with intention. “I wanted to engage the South and West sides of Chicago, and to change the narrative of Chicago,” Montgomery shares. With 130 attendees and positive feedback, the iCAN Collective was officially born. Over the last year, the iCan Collective has hosted over 600 people at its events and connected with over 1,000 people worldwide.
We spoke with the busy entrepreneur about her brainchild, the iCan Collective.
What is the iCAN Collective?
“iCAN is the Innovation Collaboration Accountability Network. It’s all about pairing diverse entrepreneurs to resources, information and each other in order to level up. I want people to build collaborations at events, not just network. Not just ‘here’s my card’ and never talk to you again. (I want) genuine connections. I want it to be impactful….(At our events) you won’t be able to just sit in a corner. We’ll pull you out and talk to you. Everyone is able to engage. You’ll be able to talk to the speakers. There’s music, food, there’s all type of connecting. We provide practical, tangible tools.”
Who makes up the iCAN Collective?
Creatives, entrepreneurs, people in leadership positions and young professionals who are interested in promoting diversity in whatever role their in. It’s people from all backgrounds who’ve engaged with us or who’ve provided services for us.
Your tagline is that you “connect diverse entrepreneurs to resources that allow them to create, launch and scale viable businesses.” How do you accomplish this?
On top of doing the events, I also direct resource. I connect people to the information they need. Sometimes people have an idea, but they don’t know to execute what the next steps are. People come to me for that. I build websites. I also have a network of people who do that. I have a good pool to connect people to.
You began the iCan Collective last year. And in that time you’ve partnered with major brands including Google and Remy Martin. How did you become successful so quickly?
I don’t want to sound cliché and just say hard work and determination. But really leveraging relationships. I think about how I know people and how we can help each other. That’s why our first panel was about Leveraging Relationships. I think we don’t do that enough. In our community, there are so many people we can reach out to. Also going to networking events and meeting people. —I also reached out to companies that I had seen support other initiatives that made me think they might support mine and were aligned with my mission.
Tell me about the Goal Get Her Series?
We’re kicking off on July 15. I really wanted to talk about conquering goals. It’s a theme I’ve noticed that people needed to take it to the next step. Knowing what you want to do, but actually how to do it. Our first event for this year was in March with the She Did That event with Renee Bluitt. We’ll have an event on Branding/Marketing, and our big conference in November. Also, top of the year we’ll talk about taking the Vision Board to reality.—I also want to bring speakers that you don’t always see. Speakers who have a good following and engage.
What’s one thing you know now that you wish you knew before you started the iCan Collective?
I got the ball rolling well with the trademarking, getting an LLC, etc., but I would have tracked my (expenses) better, customer retention, knowing what my customer acquisition costs – the business side of it. I have a business degree, but I didn’t want to be frozen. I lot of people stay frozen and never start. I wanted to jump right in. But there’s a balance to it.
With your experience as an entrepreneur who does a lot of work with other entrepreneurs, what advice would you give to future entrepreneurs?
If you are looking for someone to mentor you, go to where they are. If you want information, go to the free events. Come out get the information and connect with people. It’s the perfect time to meet and network. You don’t always have to spend a lot of money. I’ve met a lot of people that way. I would check stalk their Instagram and see where the people I wanted to meet would be.
Also, make sure you pitch to the right person. And get over the word ‘No.’
The iCan Collective will host its next event, “Get Sponsored! A Masterclass on Collaborating with Amazing Brands” this Sunday, June 15. For more information on the iCan Collective, visit www.theicancollective.com