Two veteran entrepreneurs launched an effort on Tuesday to renew America’s attention on helping small businesses thrive.
Business for All is the brainchild of Carolyn Rodz and Elizabeth Gore, cofounders of Hello Alice, an AI-powered virtual accelerator that helps startups navigate the challenges of raising capital, hiring employees and making the connections they need to succeed.
Since launching in 2016, Hello Alice has garnered more than 100,000 users, 70% of whom are either women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ+ community, military veterans or those with disabilities. With Business for All, Rodz and Gore are ramping up their efforts to put these small business owners, who they refer to as “the new majority,” at the top of the agenda for the nation’s lawmakers and leaders.
“There are over 40 million small businesses in America with 550,000 new small businesses starting every month,” Rodz says. “The new majority is the fastest growing segment of small business owners. They’re exponentially increasing in numbers.”
The Hello Alice cofounders have embarked on a national “listening tour,” during which they’ll meet with small business owners and attend events such as the South By Southwest conference in Austin and award $200,000 in grants to small business owners.
Beginning in New York, the nearly year-long tour will culminate in January with a visit to Washington, D.C. Rodz and Gore will also present presidential candidates with with a nonpartisan letter outlining small business priorities, and host a small-business roundtable with policymakers in the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Senate and House committees on small business.
“They’re the ones who dictate a significant amount of funding and resources for small business,” Gore says. “It’s really important that we represent our business owners.”
Both women have worked with the Obama and Trump administrations on entrepreneurship initiatives, and have testified extensively before Congress regarding the challenges faced by small business owners.
“We map out resources [on Hello Alice] from across the ecosystem, opportunities for funding, mentorship, network educational opportunities,” Rodz says. “When an entrepreneur comes through, a series of step-by-step guides shows them the resources relevant to them, based on who they are and the type of company they’re growing.”
The Hello Alice platform is a direct result of Rodz’s own experiences as an entrepreneur. A former investment banker at J.P. Morgan, Rodz started her first business in 2005. The company, called Signatures, sold stationery, candles, gift wrap and other home accessories to retailers including Neiman Marcus, but failed after two years due to a lack of cash flow.
“I had worked in investment banking but I had no clue about small business,” she says. “I tried to fund it myself. I was always tight on cash to inject money into marketing and all the things it took as a company to grow. I wasn’t paying myself and eventually I had to close up shop.”
The experience was searing. “I was broke, had no money, didn’t know how I was going to make my mortgage payment,” Rodz says. “Everybody knows your business failed. You’re in a bad place financially. I was embarrassed. It’s a terrible thing to go through—breaks down every bit of pride you have, wipes it out.”
“My entrepreneurial superpower is to have failed and succeeded,” Rodz says. “I’ve seen both sides of the path.”
Gore and Rodz first met at a bachelorette party 11 years ago and began running into each other at the same business conferences and summits. At a summit in Utah, they had a philosophical conversation about the limited business opportunities given to women and people of color.
“Carolyn didn’t see it as a problem, she saw it as an opportunity,” Gore says. “If women are only getting two percent of venture capital, isn’t that a 98% opportunity? I hadn’t met anyone like that in my job as entrepreneur-in-residence at Dell.”
As the two continued to talk, Rodz sketched out her idea of using machine learning and data to find those entrepreneurs who were being left behind because of their identity, and help them.
The two women made a deal on a napkin in Starbucks in New York City to build the company together. That was in 2016. Four years later they are launching their biggest effort ever to help small business and the New Majority of owners.
The effort has already garnered a lot of attention from celebrity businesswomen including Gwyneth Paltrow, Kristen Bell, Rebecca Minkoff, Lisa Price, Phyllis Newhouse and Jean Case. These women will offer video-based mentorship on the Hello Alice platform, engaging in a live dialogue with aspiring small business owners.
“I believe we should give every small business owner the tools they need to succeed,” Bell says. “Business for All provides a combined voice, grants and mentorship to ensure success for every entrepreneur no matter their background.”