Source: Angie LM Vasquez Wonder Lee
Wonder Lee is a self-taught assemblage artist, poet, designer and author with a passion for the environment. While growing up in the Bronx, Lee used upcycled materials in creative ways, but she was looking for a way to make a larger impact. Four years ago she got an idea to make eco-friendly bow ties by transforming discarded items into wearable art.
Today, she is creating ties for celebrity fans including Questlove, Whoopi Goldberg, Malik Yoba and Tim Gunn. Lee claims that her mindset has aided her most in her entrepreneurial journey, “Success is based on how you see yourself and how you view the world” she says.
Lee is one of many inspiring entrepreneurial women reinvigorating the economies of cities across the nation. Women-owned businesses are growing quickly — a research report we released in November revealed that in New York City, the number of women entrepreneurs has increased 43 percent since 2002 compared to 25 percent for men. That same report also highlights the city now has roughly 359,000 women entrepreneurs who employ more than 190,000 people and generate about $50 billion annually in sales.
Despite the progress being made, there is still a gender gap in entrepreneurship. Our New York report found that men own 1.5 times more businesses than women, employ 3.5 times more people and make on average 4.5 times more revenue. This indicates a market failure where government should intervene to close that gap.
While all entrepreneurs face challenges when it comes to accessing business capital, education, information, and networks – women often experience these challenges more acutely. Women entrepreneurs also often find themselves balancing motherhood, caretaking and their business, which presents its own unique set of challenges.
New York City and cities across the country have a key role to play in creating the conditions for women entrepreneurs to succeed. Entrepreneurship is a critical pathway to economic security and opportunity for women, and I believe policy makers must do everything in their power to ensure women entrepreneurs have the tools and resources they need to build successful businesses.
“Success is based on how you see yourself and how you view the world.”
That’s why we launched the Women Entrepreneurs NYC (WE NYC) initiative, the first program in the nation designed to address the specific challenges facing women business owners in underserved communities. We developed services for women in our community by talking to 1,500 women across all five boroughs. Through one of our key initiatives, Wonder and 16 other entrepreneurs will mentor women across the city through the WE Connect Mentors Program. We are also offering free business courses on topics like credit building, funding, and leadership with partners that include micro-lender Grameen America, Citi Community Development, Babson College, Deutsche Bank, and Next Street.
We believe that as one woman’s business flourishes, so does her family and her community. Whether it is through skill-based services, mentorship and networking opportunities, city administrations have a vested interest in ensuring these individuals are empowered and have access to the needed resources and tools to start and expand their business. It will be the cities who invest in the power of women through education, training, and full inclusion in the workforce and in economy that find themselves in position to be global leaders and to combat inequality.
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Commentary by Alicia Glen, New York City’s deputy mayor for housing and economic development. Glen leads the administration’s efforts to grow and diversify New York City’s economy, invest in emerging industries across the five boroughs, build a new generation of affordable housing, and help New Yorkers secure good-paying jobs that can support a family. Follow her on Twitter @DMAliciaGlen.