Women Entrepreneurs Compete For Cash In ‘Shark Tank’-Style Competition

By Frank Witsil
Detroit Free Press

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A dozen women-owned companies seeking investment for their business ideas and startups are vying for a slice of the $50,000 prize money in a pitch competition at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn.

Detroit Free Press

The “Shark Tank”-style competition — dubbed EmpowerHER — is a project run by the Michigan Women’s Foundation and underwritten by the Ford Motor Co. Fund, which put up the prize money and an additional $90,000 for entrepreneur workshops and training.

Among some of the entities seeking prize money: An enterprise that makes jams and sauces out of damaged produce, a nonprofit group that teaches women to weld, and a Highland Park company that gives tours in Model T and Model A Fords.

“There’s a real sistership — sisterhood — among the people in the competition,” said Lisa Stolarski, 49, of Antique Touring, the company that plans to offer classic car tours. “It feels like being in a pool of fresh water with a group of women who are all swimming in the same direction as you.”

The contest focuses on majority women-owned companies, organizers said, because, compared to men, women often start their companies with less capital, more limited access to investment and are paid 80 cents to the dollar.

“I believe that businesses can solve important social problems,” said Carolyn Cassin, CEO of the Michigan Women’s Foundation, who proposed the pilot project to the Ford fund about 18 months ago. “We wanted to try to see if there were social entrepreneurs here in southeast Michigan and throughout the state to solve an important problem in their community, neighborhood with a business proposition.”

The competition started with an introductory gathering in the summer of 2017 at the University of Detroit Mercy for women running and seeking to start businesses, Cassin said. It was followed by an invitation to compete for financial investment with a two-page proposal for an enterprise. That list was winnowed to about 30, and then a dozen, finalists.

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