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As a young, female chief executive officer of a multimillion-dollar company, Terry Chase Hazel encountered many people who were surprised to learn that a woman was responsible for such great business success. “I wanted to be part of changing that,” Terry says.
So, after moving to Texas at the end of 2009, Terry partnered with Texas State University to create RampCorp, a program that targets women entrepreneurs in the Texas community. During the twenty-five week program, women learn everything from ideation to intellectual property and contract law, with a heavy focus on developing scalable businesses, or businesses designed to accommodate growth and expansion.
Classes run once a week for three hours each and are taught by Terry and three other designated mentors who are known as EIRs, or “Entrepreneurs-In-Residence.” According to Terry, one of the most difficult tasks of running RampCorp is finding accomplished businesswomen who fit the rigorous criteria required to take on the role of EIR. Each EIR must have grown a multimillion-dollar business or have experience as an investor or an executive at a corporation. “They also have to want to help women and be willing to open up their rolodexes to make that possible,” Terry says.
Previous EIRs have included Tina Cannon, president and COO of online pet health care website Pets MD Incorporated; Mary Haskett, CEO and co-founder of Tactical Information Systems, a biometric matching technology company; and Laura Bosworth-Bucher, CEO and co-founder of TeVido BioDevices, a health care technology company.
The unique skill set, leadership, and mentoring style of each EIR complements that of the other EIRs. Their diverse experiences and teaching methods offer different perspectives to RampCorp participants.
RampCorp also schedules weekly seminars, talks, and discussion panels with esteemed business leaders in the community to help teach participants what their predecessors learned the hard way.
Throughout the course, participants are provided with mentoring, a proven curriculum, and some fantastic speakers. But, as Terry tells participants on the first day of each new RampCorp program, “the one thing we can’t control for is how you will affect each other.” Many participants end up forming friendships and business relationships that extend beyond the classroom setting.
“We want the participants to be able to help and learn from each other,” Terry says, noting that during the interview process for prospective RampCorp participants, she looks for women who are willing to help other women achieve their business goals.
The typical RampCorp participant “has usually done very well in her career and has excelled everywhere she’s been,” Terry says. “She’s committed, has a college degree, and is very determined. . . . We’re not necessarily looking for someone with entrepreneurial experience, but we are looking for someone who is committed to starting her own company.”
The result is a powerful network of women entrepreneurs.
Though men are also welcome to attend RampCorp, Terry decided long ago to target the program toward women so that more would apply. “The rationale behind it is if you have a co-ed program, you have mainly men and no women. If you have it targeted toward women, then you have some women,” she says. “There are lots of women entrepreneurs, but you don’t see them as frequently at the co-ed events.”
For now, RampCorp offers chapters in Austin, El Paso, and Dallas and seeks to expand into San Antonio, Williamson County, and Lubbock. Though RampCorp has advertised its programs through traditional social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn, most prospective RampCorp students learn about the program through word of mouth.
RampCorp participants are accepted to the program through an application and self-selection process. Each must be willing to pay the tuition and commit to spending about six hours per week attending RampCorp classes and completing homework assignments.
Class sizes hover around twenty-five people with a variety of experiences, skill levels, and backgrounds. Some women come in with business ideas, while others decide on an idea during the course of the program; after that, learning to build and scale the business becomes an iterative process that takes the entire session.
By the end of the program, each student should graduate with the ability to implement and clearly present her business concepts to potential clients, angel investors, and venture capitalists. About a quarter of RampCorp participants re-enroll in subsequent sessions to meet new participants, continue seeking mentorship, and extend the incubation process.
A main goal of RampCorp is to teach women what they need to know to expand their businesses nationally and internationally. But scalability isn’t for everyone or for every business. It takes a huge investment in time and resources to scale a business, so if some women realize that scaling a company isn’t the right move for them, that’s a good outcome, too, Terry says.
As she works with groups of entrepreneurs, Terry hopes to make women entrepreneurship more common in Texas because, as she says, the fact that a business is owned or operated by a woman “really shouldn’t be news.”
For more information about the program, visit http://www.txstate.edu/rampcorp/
Author: Rachel Brownlow