Writing their own cheques: how women entrepreneurs fund IT growth in their businesses

Two successful women entrepreneurs, one and the same answer to the question – how are you funding technology investment in your business?

Writing our own cheques is the answer from both Marla Schwartz of Benecaid and Catherine Graham of Rightsleeve, participants in the Dell Women Entrepreneurs Network roundtable. Interestingly both business owners have invested in significant custom platform development to support the growth of their respective businesses.  And they’ve done it on their own.

From my experience as a W100 Entrepreneur, I get it – at Stanton & Sylvester, in our rapidly growing communications service business, we also self-funded our investment in hardware, software, systems.  Similar to Rightsleeve, we had the internal cash resources, and we brought in some outside IT support to create the network solutions we needed.

And I wonder now – would we have managed our business growth, supported our team and clients better, had we taken a more strategic approach to IT investment in our business?

When you’re a business owner in a non-technical business, up against the limits of technology to serve clients and manage business systems, you can also find yourself up against the limits of your own knowledge and capability that could accelerate your business into the next level of success.

The need for outside help to make the mindset shift was crystallized by Marla Schwartz, when she talked about hiring external consultants to help her to move beyond her current business processes to develop her fourth generation of system platform – “scalability requires technology”.

In fact, IT challenges can even bring you to the limits of your strategic ability to see what could be the bigger leap for your business.  Recognition of just such an opportunity opened a new direction in strategy for Catherine Graham and her partner.  Their investment in IT and systems infrastructure for their promotional products company, Rightsleeve spawned a new tech startup:  They created a separate corporate structure to evolve the custom platform into a fully commercial product for suppliers, and potentially competitors, in the promo products sector. And how did they fund it? From their own ability to write cheques, and now in the new business – in the form of angel investors.

I wish I’d had Graham’s strategic insight to repackage and resell a portal technology platform we built for clients at the end of the last millennium – was a deep content platform with customizable user home page including the first live local weather feed from, personalized live commodity price feed and agricultural news.  But developing or repackaging custom technology as a startup is not how service business owners – the majority of women entrepreneurs – typically think.

And that’s the value of the Women Entrepreneur’s networks.  Not only hosted by Dell Canada, the DWEN Roundtable conversation was facilitated in person by Steve Felice, Dell Inc.’s global president and chief commercial officer.  With the panel of women entrepreneurs including Schwartz, Graham and Mary Aitken, president and founder of Verity, the conversation spoke to the value of networking with other women business owners and other resources to exchange ideas and gain fresh perspectives on solving  business and IT challenges.

Learning from other entrepreneurs whose businesses are different and who think differently – might even open up completely different technology business opportunities.  So, I’m curious how other entrepreneurs fund their IT investments. And I’m putting out a challenge — what’s possible if you look at solving your business’ IT challenges as a strategic business opportunity?


Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester
Cheryl Sylvester is a Leadership Coach, Brand Communications consultant and W100 Business Owner. A perpetual idea generator, entrepreneurship cheerleader, and wanna-be geek, her clients include Novell, PlateSpin, Mozilla, HP, Tenscores & Polar. She writes about Leadership, Communications, Entrepreneurship and Women in technology.

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