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An online learning path for women entrepreneurs

Oklahoma City entrepreneur Ronda White says her conference strategy business got a big boost from the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell. Bank of America has enrolled 50,000 people in the program since it launched in 2018. Now it is opening the opportunity to another 50,000.  (Courtesy photo/Ronda White)

OKLAHOMA CITY – Ronda White started her conference strategy business four years ago before she was fully equipped to manage all the challenges involved.

“I’m great at organizing things and I’m a great administrator,” White said. “I was getting clients but still trying to figure out day-to-day operations.”

Two years into the venture, she enrolled in the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell and found the answers.

“I learned so much from it,” White said. “It was a full-blown college course with discussions and homework and projects.”

White, now 60, is one of 130 Oklahoma women who have enrolled in the online program. Coursework from Cornell University professors covers topics such as customer discovery techniques, legal considerations, funding options, product development, digital marketing and communications skills.

Since its launch in 2018, the institute has enrolled 50,000 individuals from the U.S. and 120 other countries, primarily women of color. Bank of America announced in March it is opening another 50,000 slots to help more female entrepreneurs drive their businesses forward at no cost.

This comes at a time when women in the U.S. are starting and growing their own businesses at record rates. According to Bank of America Private Bank research, they own an estimated 13 million businesses, employ more than 9 million people, and generate $1.9 trillion in annual revenues, which is nearly five times the national average.

Oklahoma is in the top 10 among states for entrepreneurs who are women, according to Incfile, an online provider of business formation and startup services.

The company reviewed data from 2020 on 330,000 entrepreneurs and concluded that the number of women pursuing their own businesses grew by 48% year-over-year, outpacing male counterparts by 22%. While women aged 25-34 accounted for the largest growth, strong growth also was identified among women 18-24 and women older than 65.

“It’s great to see such significant and continued growth amongst women entrepreneurs in particular – they’re getting busy, carving out their niche, some starting new businesses, others transforming side hustles. And you know what we hear most often? ‘I wish I’d done it sooner,’” Incfile co-CEO Dustin Ray said.

Nevada ranked as the top state for female entrepreneurs in 2020, followed by Louisiana, Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Iowa and Virginia.

“We know women entrepreneurs lack the access to resources they need to manage and scale a successful business – a need that is even more acute for women of color,” said Sheri Bronstein, chief human resources officer at Bank of America. “We continue to receive feedback from participants about how the skills they’ve gained are propelling them forward – benefiting them, their families, their businesses and employees and their communities – and we’re thrilled to expand the program further to reach more women small business owners.”

White highly recommends the 12-week program, but warns it isn’t easy. “You have to put in the serious time in order to be successful in this course,” she said.

Her company, The RAW Group, was named for her initials. She is transitioning to the name Conference Architects to clearly identify what her team does – planning, logistics and management of events and conferences.

White has planned and managed events in the nation’s capital, Maryland, North Carolina, Texas, Atlanta, Las Vegas and more. In addition to live events, the company can do virtual and hybrid events or can provide a conference blueprint for smaller budgets.

White says the conference strategy career “just found me” after years of working other jobs and people telling her she would be good at it.

Other participants in the women’s entrepreneurship program have had businesses in retail, publishing, education, the arts, real estate, marketing, software and wellness. Go to https://bofainstitute.cornell.edu/program.php for more information.