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Chicago business owner empowers other women to follow in her footsteps

On September 14th Bank of America’s Global Ambassadors program, in partnership with Vital Voices, hosted an event in Chicago called Women Driving Social and Economic Progress. The Global Ambassadors program aims to bring together women from around the world with varied backgrounds who hold leadership roles in organizations ranging from small businesses to social enterprises, so they can connect with each other and further enable their success. The Chicago event, in support of advancing women’s leadership and economic empowerment, featured a diverse group of leading women executives and other powerful voices in entrepreneurship and business. A panel called, “Entrepreneurship and Access to Capital” featured ICIC’s CEO, Steve Grossman, and Stephanie Hickman, President and CEO of Chicago-based Trice Construction Company and an alumna of the Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC) program.

Stephanie worked for 25 years as a labor attorney, executive, and lobbyist before leaving the corporate world in 2006 to run Trice, a construction company started by her family in 1967. At the time she took charge it was a small residential construction company, but under her leadership Trice has grown into a highly-regarded commercial concrete supplier to Fortune 500 corporations, top 100 contractors, and major public entities. During the panel, Stephanie took on the issues that often result in lack of access to capital for women, particularly minority women, saying, “When you think entrepreneurs and startups, what’s the image that comes to mind? Not a 40-something African-American woman. I think we fight the stereotypes of who is an entrepreneur.”

Stephanie believes there are several essential tools that can help women entrepreneurs access funding, and she urged attendees to make sure their “personal financial house” is in order, to learn how to “speak bank,” and to build networks of relationships with bankers and other funders and continuously communicate with them so they understand your business as it evolves. Hickman is particularly passionate about the idea of “speaking bank,” because she realized early on as an entrepreneur that she did not. In the beginning, Hickman would approach bankers with Trice’s typical sales pitch, discussing their safety record and the quality of their work. In lieu of this, and as a result of the training she received in the ICCC program, Hickman learned to discuss profit margins, net income, EBITDA, cash flow, and other financial terms so that banks would better understand her business.

Stephanie has previously spoken about how her participation in ICCC in 2011 gave her, “a different framework to think about the business and how to position it for funding.” Trice has flourished under her leadership, seeing revenue growth of 91% between 2011 and 2015. Stephanie still enrolls periodically in ICCC as Trice continues to grow so that she can gain new perspective and current information on the best ways to build her business. In addition to addressing the company’s explosive growth trajectory and the factors most responsible for her adding 100 new jobs and growing an additional 70% from 2015 to 2016, Hickman also proudly described how businesses owned by women of color are outpacing average business growth.

Stephanie recently secured a line of credit of more than $5 million, and Trice is on track to grow another 50% this year, a testament to her skills as a business owner and the lowering of barriers to women entrepreneurs. Pioneering initiatives like Global Ambassadors help make the voices of women like Stephanie’s available to others in need of inspiration, and ICIC’s ICCC program continues to serve this segment of the small business world, providing education and opportunities for entrepreneurs ready to grow their businesses into organizations that make sustainable economic impact in their communities.

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