In honor of National Women’s Month, we are proud to honor some of Ohio’s top female leaders across various industries. Valley Growth Ventures is thrilled to interview Chief Executive Officer Barb Ewing of The Youngstown Business Incubator, who brings charisma and a determined mindset to business. Barb’s innovation and strategic leadership helps fuel technology and business development growth in Youngstown, Ohio and beyond. Her skills working with information technology, nonprofit, and government organizations sets her apart as a strong leader, and her combined knowledge gives her a unique perspective on creating strategic, operative initiatives to move any company forward.
VGV: Why do you believe it’s important to see women in C-level positions and as business owners?
Ewing:There's an old adage that we model what we see. Without female role models in entrepreneurship and investing - especially in tech fields, young women will continue to self-select themselves into fields that pay lower, provide fewer opportunities for investment and are more risk-averse, which means that they will likely pay lower dividends over the long run. By not just cheer-leading but actually demonstrating women's capabilities and strengths, we pave the way for others to walk this path. But this isn't just about equal rights, it's really about US competitiveness. When you look at the US population compared to China, India, the EU and some of the other emerging markets, our population is relatively small. If the US is going to remain a driver in the US economy, we have to have every player on the field, man or woman.
VGV: Discuss your journey as a woman in your industry.What challenges as a woman did you face, and how did you overcome them?
Ewing: Working in a male-dominated industry, I strive to always be at the top of my game. I check and double check answers in order to make sure that there isn’t a chance that I made a mistake. I know that I only have one chance to prove myself, and I never want to risk losing anyone's confidence in me. And, I learned how to strategize from one of the best. I still try to think through important meetings to match my approach to the outcomes we're trying to achieve.
VGV: What unique leadership style do you bring to the table as a woman and how does it impact YBI?
Ewing: We've been able to do so much more than we otherwise could have through our partnerships with MVEDC,BRITE Energy Innovators, YSU, America Makes, Team NEO, etc. A lot of organizations are determined to always go it alone, but at the end of the day, we're a more effective organization through the relationships that we have.
VGV: What advice would you give to the next generation of women business owners and leaders?
Ewing: Don't be shy, don't back down from your dreams, and don't believe any of the stereotypes. There's nothing you can't do, learn or achieve.
Barb helps The Youngstown Business Incubator expand thinking and develop a more holistic approach to business that, in turn, enhances the organization’s approach to business development and results in greater success. Thank you, Barb, for your contribution to the community.
Venture Capital firms have the opportunity to assist their portfolios in several ways. Firms have three primary objectives:
Venture capital firms have a vested interest in the success of a company. Having one-on-one discussions with the leaders of portfolios is a great way to evaluate not only the health of the business, but the health of the individual, too. This becomes an opportunity to check in on goals that were previously set, troubleshooting business challenges, and nurture personal relationships.
Assisting with developing benchmarks
Setting expectations and ensuring the goals of each party (VC firm and founders) are in alignment creates a clear plan and foundation for how the funding will be allocated. Each time there is a meeting centered around the business, VCs ensure there are objectives set on each sides to prevent misunderstandings in the long term. Having frequent opportunities to check in with the startup company ensure agreed upon benchmarks are met. It also allows both parties the opportunity to alignment quickly realigns if changes occur to continue a smooth process.
Help conduct business development
In the same breath of having a strong understanding of alignment, firms assist their portfolio companies in conducting efforts for business development so that companies reach their goals. Helping with quarterly sales, nurturing business relationships, and providing any support to develop business help put the company in a better place.
Creating opportunities to reach business goals
Some firms put their portfolio companies in significant positions by lifting some of the day-to-day work. Helping with portfolio positioning, conducting research, providing additional operational support, and even hosting special events are all ways VC firms oftentimes create productive activities for portfolio growth.
Assist with HR procedures
Managing staff and new hires can be daunting tasks among all the other responsibilities for new CEOs and founders. Many startups lack the resources needed to get the right talent in place to back the company’s missions and goals. Not only does it help when firms lend a hand with good sourcing employees, but firms also have a strong understanding of what the company needs, and naturally a stronger investment in finding the “right” resources make a tremendous impact on the overall business.
There is plenty of ways venture capital firms get involved and help move their portfolio companies’ businesses forward outside of writing a check. Whether it is employee sourcing or simply check-ins, providing additional support shows startups that firms are invested more than financially. Be sure to follow up on LinkedIn.
Pitching to investors can be exciting as it’s often an essential step in the successful launch of a business. When the opportunity to present your company to an investor arises, you had better be prepared! This is the time to put doubt to the side and create an exemplary story of your product or service offering, and how it will necessarily make life easier for your customers. It’s not uncommon for presentations to be too “salesy” or not have enough “meat” to the story to win investors over. We’ve crafted several do’s and don’ts to help you navigate preparing for your next big win.
Do provide clarity on why you’re in business
Easily captivate your audience by telling a compelling story. Make it clear as to why your company came to life, and make sure the story is easily digestible. This is your opportunity to focus on the problem and communicate your company’s value and how it will affect the lives of your customers.
Do make sure your technology is seamless and user-friendly
More than likely, your presentation will be in some form of technology – like a PowerPoint slide deck, or a template. Before presenting, you’ll want to make sure there are no signs of technology problems. You should also consider the possibility of investors requesting a copy of your presentation, so the display should be easy to navigate and read.
Do anticipate feedback and questions
With every excellent presentation, there are going to be questions, feedback, and comments as a follow-up. Have data readily available to support the claims made throughout your presentation. Walk through your presentation with a colleague (or three…) before the big day and ask them to come up with a list of questions that you may not have considered. Then make sure you’re thoroughly prepared to answer those and similar questions during the presentation.
Don’t ignore your competitors
This is a big no-no. Acknowledging your competition points out that there is a market for your solution. It allows you the opportunity to point out what differentiates your business. This is not the time to talk poorly about your competition; this is an opportunity to make investors aware of the market.
Don’t forget to do your research
Assuming you’ve already done this (which is why your business is in play today,) walk into the meeting knowledgeable. Understand your product, the problem you’re solving, and the history of the market. And know your numbers…from market size through financial projections you need to know your numbers cold!
Don’t be sloppy
Make absolute, 100% sure that there are no flaws in your presentation. Spelling mistakes, clear grammar errors, typos and text misalignment are inexcusable. It shows an inattention to detail and a general sloppiness (or even laziness in the case of misspellings…. spell check is a 2-minute automatic electronic exercise!). Investors are looking for reasons to disqualify you, and a sloppy investor presentation is a proxy for how much care you will take pitching customers. Or in this case, lack of care!
Incorporating these do’s and don’ts into your pitching “plan of action” will help position you for success with potential investors. Remember to emphasize the “why” and “how” your business creates value for customers, and remember to not go into full sales mode. Even though pitching investors is a sales situation, the investor is a different kind of customer and much more interested in your ability to act as a general manager and business owner than if you can merely close a deal. Focus on presenting a holistic view of the opportunity your business brings, and how it will generate an appropriate return on an investor’s capital. At the end of the day, it’s all about making money!