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Meet the Male Ally Working Behind The Scenes To Support Women Entrepreneurs

Joel Dixon Co-founder EnrichHER

Joel Dixon Co-founder EnrichHER

Joel Dixon is a passionate advocate for women’s economic empowerment.

The co-founder of EnrichHER tends to be behind-the-scenes but his wealth of experience is helping provide funding for women-led businesses. The Atlanta-based company connects revenue-generating firms seeking up to $250,000 with accredited, non-accredited or institutional lenders. In fact, Dixon says this current role is a perfect fit since he has “been around strong women” all his life.

With over 15 years of sales and business development experience, the Stanford University graduate is using his expertise to help women founders not only access capital, but also resources, connections, and community to help build scalable startups.

It’s paying off. EnrichHER recently graduated from the Techstars Anywhere Accelerator, one of the most prestigious accelerator programs in the States. But it’s not just about the bottom line; Dixon has a heart for the community. He and the team, including rising star EnrichHer CEO Dr. Roshawnna Novellus, are driven by accessing equality for women founders particularly through the lens of capital acquisition.

Earlier in the year, we caught up with Dixon while his team was still participating in Techstars. He talked more in-depth about EnrichHer’s business goals, how women-led businesses bring higher impact overall to the economy, and how Techstars has accelerated the work that they are doing.

What’s your current role?

I’m the co-founder of EnrichHer, focused on business development, strategic partnerships and our funding platform. Obviously, as an early stage startup, I’m wearing multiple hats but we have a great team.

What services does EnrichHER offer?

We offer access to capital, connections, and coaching to our women-led businesses across all industry types. The capital piece includes our SEC-FINRA approved crowd-funding platform that allows accredited and non-accredited investors or funders to provide loans to our entrepreneurs or founders.  We have lending partnerships with several institutional lenders including Kabbage and we also have a small separately managed funding pool through a separate entity Bootstrap Capital.

The connections and coaching components include an emphasis on an online and offline community for our entrepreneurs.  We have thousands of female entrepreneurs receiving our weekly e-newsletter that includes content such as additional capital sources like grants and accelerator programs. We have an online membership-based EnrichHER Society community that provides access to educational resources to grow your business across sales & marketing, financial management, and hiring. We also still host off-line events via our EnrichHER Spark conferences that have contributed to over 19,000 interactions with business owners nationwide.

“I’ve been around strong women all my life.  It allowed me to see how impactful women can be, but I also had a front row seat to the challenges women face across all aspects of life, including business and entrepreneurship.”

Who is your clientele or whom do you serve?

We’re excited to provide our services to a broad spectrum of entrepreneurs with focused resources for women-led businesses, which mean there is at least one female founder or executive team member. Our EnrichHER Society and the weekly newsletter are for any size or stage business owner. For our funding loans, we’re industry agnostic but look for companies with at least 6 -12 months in business with $25K in revenues and looking for loans up to $250K. Current clients include a healthcare tech business that has previously raised $1M+ in equity, an established IT consulting firm with $1M+ in revenues and a health/beauty store owner

EnrichHer has a strong focus on women founders… what’s it like being a guy in the management team?

Ha! It’s just like my family. I have 3 older sisters and my mom was the oldest of eight so I’ve been around strong women all my life.  It allowed me to see how impactful women can be, but I also had a front row seat to the challenges women face across all aspects of life, including business and entrepreneurship.

So it’s great working on an issue that I was already passionate about, even as a guy. I can also provide context from a non-female viewpoint to frame what this problem is with capital access for women-led business owners and the reasons why EnrichHER has such a large, profitable market opportunity.  I think sometimes it can be framed as “just the right thing to do”—and it is. But looking at it from an economic and social perspective—the impact of eliminating this gap will add real percentage points to our economy because women-led businesses are being launched at a faster rate and are growing faster. This means larger businesses, more employment for the country and more diverse hiring since women-led firms typically have more diverse teams.

I also provide balance within our team by offering different ways of looking at a problem, which is important because men and women do think and act differently at times—and this diversity of thought and action is what makes gender and culturally mixed teams so much more effective, successful and profitable. Check the studies by Harvard, McKinsey, and others for the empirical data.

EnrichHer’s Joel Dixon with Kelly Burton (right) the CEO of Founders of color at SXSW 2019

EnrichHER has just been selected for Techstars Anywhere Accelerator… tell us something about this experience?

Much like raising venture capital, I have always had a neutral position about accelerator programs because I really think they have proliferated in a way that maybe doesn’t actually add the value that is often communicated. However, Techstars is one of the older accelerators that I’ve always respected through other founders I knew that completed the program. There is an emphasis on truly putting the founders at the center of everything and just proactively surrounding them with concentrated resources, training, and accountability to help them go faster.

We’re now halfway through Techstars Anywhere and it has definitely exceeded our expectations. Shout-out to program Managing Directors Ryan Kuder and Kendra Dixon No relation, though I wouldn’t mind it! Unlike other Techstars programs, our cohort isn’t in a single city the whole time. We’re able to work remotely from our individual cities and then come together for three 1-week periods in LA, Boulder, and NYC. We have a team that is more experienced and have spouses and children, and so forth. Launching a startup comes with sacrifices, of course, but it’s nice to not have to leave my wife for 12 weeks while still benefitting from a great accelerator program. I know other members of our cohort feel the same way.

Despite the remote nature of the program, Ryan & Kendra have facilitated great interactions and connections, with a plethora of committed mentors and among the cohort teams as well.  And the programming during our weeklong trips has been focused on substance and the tools to go faster. One of the benefits of the remote aspect of Anywhere is that we also get to interact with mentors and Techstars alums that otherwise might not be involved through an onsite program.

And one final piece, the #givefirst core value of Techstars aligns with my personal values and that of the EnrichHER team. It’s been awesome to see it played out in real time—from Ryan facilitating us getting free accommodation with Techstars alum in Austin while we were pitching at SXSW to the authentic communication and founder stories that alums provide that really let you see behind the headlines. So the experience has been phenomenal so far. Also, 50% of the teams have a female co-founder and 90% have diverse team members. I hope more women founders and people of color will consider applying in the future.  This was my 2nd time applying for Techstars, which is not uncommon, so don’t get discouraged if you’re not selected—literally 1% of applicants got into our cohort. However, there are many Techstars locations including Techstars Atlanta.

EnrichHer Promo Video

Has EnrichHER achieved any other significant milestones?

One of our core goals is that we really want to focus on the financial impact of our business while acknowledging the social impact.  This means focusing on loan applicants, loans funded, and revenues. Our model is to be profitable within 12 months and create a sustainable cash-flow business.

Some exciting milestones are being approved by SEC/FINRA as the first debt lending platform focused on women-led businesses. We have received 250 plus applicants for funding since launching the platform. We have launched our first Founders on the crowd-funding platform and successfully funded our first loan. We have funded our first Founders through our institutional partnerships including Kabbage. We have had 60 plus women-focused partner organizations express interest in partnering with us to source new women-led businesses and have launched 7 of those partners already.

What’s the long-term vision or end goal for EnrichHER?

We want to fund 10K women-led businesses over the next 5 years and create $120M+ in revenue. We want to eliminate the funding gap for women-led businesses. Some question this gap but it’s not surprising since some still question the gender pay gap too. It is what it is but we want to ensure that no one in the future ever questions why a company would want to (or need to) focus on women-led businesses.

What’s the budget and resources needed to take EnrichHER to the next level?

That’s a great question; we have been reviewing our financial modeling to update how much we need to fundraise for operations while getting to a cash-flow positive point sooner than later. We have multiple revenue streams so the key has been determining which one to focus on near-term, given limited resources, then mid-term and then long-term. We’ve now got our crawl-walk-run priorities aligned. We will be doing a post-Techstars seed round raise up to $2M, which we expect to get us to profitability. Any angel/VC investors aligned with strong financial returns, or who invests in Fintech, has an interest in experienced diverse teams and supports women entrepreneurs should request being added to our weekly updates list.

What differentiates EnrichHER from competitors?

Our focus is on women-led businesses. This allows our programming, our communications, our distribution channels, our value proposition, and our coaching to be tailored in a way appropriate for the needs of female business owners. If you think one size fits all, compare the experience of female corporate executives to that of their male counterparts—differences create different needs and contextual communication.

While many platforms and the general funding gap discussion typically center on equity, such as VC or angel funding, there is a far larger market for women-led businesses that need non-dilutive lending capital to grow their businesses. Just the credit card portion of this market is $250B. We focus on loans and were among the first to be approved by SEC/FINRA, which means we can accept accredited and non-accredited lenders.

We’ve had over 19K interactions that are real, personal, and connected.  While our technology platform enables scale for funding, we believe a significant advantage comes from our personalized connections via our Spark event conferences and our partnerships with a variety of organizations on-the-ground that provide off-line communities for our business owners to have in-person support. Studies show loan default rates go down significantly and revenue growth is higher when the business owner has mentorship along with capital.

Furthermore, this focused and mutually aligned community is really a network that will increasingly create greater value to each member and to EnrichHER.  Network effects are still powerful and in today’s AI-powered world, EnrichHER has a focused and authentic voice that creates greater buy-in and a stronger community not just an artificially enabled one.

Aside from EnrichHER what startup/tech projects have you worked on?

I was fortunate to work with David Cumming’s first company Hannon Hill and alongside sister company Pardot during the early years. This experience catalyzed the reason I moved back to Atlanta from Silicon Valley. Afterward, I launched Catalyst Investment Partners to invest in alternative assets like startups and real estate. I co-founded Bootstrap Capital to focus on angel investing and startup development for women and people of color, Later, I collaborated with the founder of the Tuloko app, a marketplace focused on bringing together culturally sensitive consumers with business owners aligned with their interest in supporting black-owned businesses.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

I come from a line of preachers and teachers, but my mother’s father was an entrepreneur in Montgomery, Alabama, who owned a number of businesses including a taxicab stand that served to transport folks during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Growing up in inner-city Westside Atlanta during the 1980s, I saw the impact of social disadvantage and economic poverty. While I’m a supporter of social programs and charitable organizations to bridge these gaps, I observed real estate icon HJ Russell opening his Atlanta headquarters on Northside Drive in the ’80s and employing and mentoring so many people. I watched Nathaniel Bronner, Sr’s Bronner Bros Hair Care Co nurturing a large number of employment and entrepreneurship opportunities at the executive and entry-level positions. My own first job as a young kid was selling event programs during each annual hair show. I saw these entrepreneurial examples as a more sustainable and impactful way to drive economic empowerment. So I looked at entrepreneurship as a mechanism to be a part of the solution by creating jobs, creating wealth and providing a platform for the other type of financial and soft-skill development often needed by disadvantaged groups as well.

Finally, reading a book about one of the pioneering financial entrepreneurs Reginald Lewis solidified my confidence. I highly recommend it to anyone today–“Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun?” I hope the title doesn’t throw anyone off because it really is a great read for anyone. I mean this guy came from inner city Baltimore and got into Harvard Law School without even applying.

What tech/tools are important to you?

As a startup and tech guy, I must say that I’m largely unassuming when it comes to tech tools. However, Evernote runs my note taking and Slack, Zoom and Parabol have become essential for our remote team’s daily communications. LinkedIn and Twitter are my main social tools.  Now a shameless request, anyone who has a Superhuman invite they’d like to share, please message me @joelddixon. I’d love to try their tool for email, as I love their model, their culture, their recent hires, their resources around product development and the effectiveness I’ve heard about their tool.

How do you keep up with industry trends in tech?

I depend on my network because they’re a lot smarter than me and more comprehensive in staying abreast of the latest trends. They then filter this to me through conversations, over Twitter, LinkedIn posts and text or email messages. I honestly found that news feeds and filters just started overwhelming me, so I guess I use my internal “crowd” to better source and filter industry updates. Somewhere a life hacker groaned but it works for me.

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Carlyn Pounders
Carlyn Pounders
Carlyn Pounders covers technology, business, and entrepreneurship at UrbanGeekz. She joined in 2017 after graduating from Georgia State University.
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