Marsha Bailey is the President, CEO and Founder of Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV). With over 25 years of experience in women’s business development and micro-lending, under her leadership WEV has become nationally recognized for its high impact programs. In conjunction with her work with WEV, Bailey has mentored emerging women leaders in the US, Nepal, and Jordan, provided entrepreneurial training for women in Hungary, and provided organizational development assistance to organizations in the US, and in Amman, Jordan.


In This Episode

A hot topic: equal opportunity. Marsha Bailey of Women’s Economic Ventures does everything in her power to support to women business owners in starting and growing their businesses. In this fascinating episode of Modern Ontrapreneur, find out how asking for help can be the opportunity of a lifetime for your business, and take a peek into the mind of a successful entrepreneur with decades of experience as she begins to prepare for her retirement.

Topic Timeline:

1:10 A Local Santa Barbara Powerhouse

In Ontraport’s local, southern California area, WEV has helped fund thousands of small businesses.

2:25 Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For Help

Sometimes you don’t have all the answer, and it’s okay to reach out for help to get them.

6:18 Economic Development for Women

Supporting all women across the continuum in achieving business success.

9:20 Lifelong Learning

As an entrepreneur, and as the organization changes over time, it is crucial to be constantly learning and adapting to the market.

11:54 Succession Planning

Marsha understands that she won’t be at WEV forever. Planning for her departure has been an interesting personal journey, but she knows it’s the next-level step for the business.

13:51 Breakthrough

The rate of women-owned businesses is on the rise.

16:16 We Need More Investment in Women and Minority Owned Business

There’s a lot of creativity that gets left on the table or not even pitched.

19:13 Same Problem, New Name

The gig-economy is the new self-employment for millenials.

I’m very encouraged by the fact that when you survey the millennial generation they show much more concern for the quality of the workplace, for doing social good, for having balanced lives.

– Marsha Bailey

Show Transcript:

LR: Hi, I’m Landon Ray, and this is Modern Ontrapreneur. Today we have Marsha Bailey who is the President, CEO and Founder of Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV). With over 25 years of experience in women’s business development and micro-lending, under her leadership WEV has become nationally recognized for its high impact programs. In conjunction with her work with WEV, Bailey has mentored emerging women leaders in the US, Nepal, and Jordan, provided entrepreneurial training for women in Hungary, and provided organizational development assistance to organizations in the US, and in Amman, Jordan. Thank you so much for being here.

MB: You’re welcome. It’s a pleasure.

LR: This is a Santa Barbara business. This organization…

MB: Non-profit.

LR: Was founded here and most of its programs happen here.

MB: So, we serve Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. County wide we have three offices.

LR: Yeah, so, this is … for those of you who don’t know, Ontraport is based in Santa Barbara and Women’s Economic Ventures is a significant force in the local community here. You were just saying that thousands of women have been through your programs over the years. Describe again what they are.

MB: Yeah, so, we’ve helped start or expand over 4,000 businesses. I think it’s actually over 5,000 have been through our core training programs. Over 15,000 in all the programs all together in terms of our microloans, which really provide that funding before a business is bankable. We’ve made over $4,000,000 in loans to local entrepreneurs.

LR: So, the impact you guys have is big. I personally know a whole bunch of people that have been through your programs and who have started businesses because of the … it felt like they could start businesses because of the education they got there.

But, I’m kind of curious in this interview to hear about your personal journey growing this organization, because you’ve been at it longer than many of the people have been in business, some of them longer than they’ve been alive.

MB: For sure, yes. Before we called it entrepreneurship pretty much.

LR: Yeah, exactly. Just starting with thinking about your whole career, you said you’ve been serving these programs for almost 26 years, but you said it was even another five years before that, that you were trying to figure it out. If you could go back and give yourself a tip to, 30 years ago, that would’ve made this process easier, what would it be?

MB: My number one thing would be to ask for help. Even though WEV is a non-profit, it’s still a very entrepreneurial kind of business. We’re incorporated as a non-profit. I think a flaw that a lot of us who are entrepreneurial have is that we are so vested in our ideas, we tend to think we have all the answers.

It took me a long time to ask people for help and to accept help. Part of that is acknowledging that you don’t have all the answers and people, by virtue of their own experience, can add a lot of capacity to your organization. We never would’ve grown as big as we are if I hadn’t learned to do that.

LR: What area in particular would it have been helpful to get advice in for you?

MB: I think a lot of it probably in strategic areas. I tend to be just kind of, by nature, both a problem solver, which means I’m a good tactical thinker, but also very much a strategic thinker. I think anybody who’s a CEO of an organization, you always have to, especially a small organization, you always have to balance, what are the day to day requirements of managing and growing this business. But you’ve also got to be thinking ahead.

You’ve always got to give yourself time to learn new things, read about things, know what the trends are in your industry and be looking ahead. One of my favorite quotes, one of my staff members said, the thing we hate to hear you say most is, “I’ve been thinking.” It kind of struck fear into their hearts because it meant I had a new idea for a program.

It’s this balance you have to achieve of listening to your employees in terms of what their capacity is but also pushing them. It’s kind of this push, pull, juggling thing. I think there were definitely times both on the management side and the leadership side where I could’ve really benefited from some wise council.

I consider myself a better leader than a manager and some people don’t know the difference, so I’m kind of big on vision, not great about building systems and things like that. I think I could’ve really benefited from just some help there. I always assumed that people wanted to be managed the way I wanted to be managed, which was not. I don’t wanna be managed. That’s why I lead an organization rather than work for somebody else. People have very different styles in the way they want to be managed. Some want you to be very specific about what your expectations are, and others are like me. They want to be able to….

LR: They want you to get out of the way.

MB: Yeah, exactly. Totally. Get out of their way. Push down the decision making and empower leadership all throughout your organization. That’s really my style of leadership, but one of the hardest things is really recognizing, I think, what are the skill sets that your staff has and how to best cultivate and grow those skills.

LR: It sounded like you had a pretty clear memory of your history, which is that you struggled along for five years trying to figure it out and then something happened 26 years ago. What was the shift that happened that caused this thing to work all of a sudden?

MB: So it was about a three year period of time. We grew out of an existing organization. We basically, that kind of three year period, we were looking at how to narrow the focus of that existing organization that really wanted to be kind of all things to all women, and anybody in business knows you can’t do that. Everybody is not your market. We had to really focus on what it is that we could accomplish.

We had to really set some priorities around that. We decided to focus in on economic development for women because we thought it would solve a lot of other problems. If you want more money, you can go out and solve a lot of your problems on your own.

We actually wrote kind of a skeletal business plan, as much as I understood a business plan at the time, and had looked at some different models for economic development and submitted a plan and grant to the James Irvine foundation and actually got a small grant to pursue one of our ideas, which was a business incubator because, at the time, we owned a big, kind of a “white elephant” of a building.

At the end of this planning grant, which was basically a feasibility study, the foundation really was not that crazy about the idea because they really wanted us to focus only on low income women. We felt that women all across the continuum needed support and also the fact that the kind of community we’re in, we’re not in a high density area like Los Angeles or San Francisco, that to be viable as an organization, we needed to be able to serve a broader group of women. It wasn’t gonna really make sense.

I think that planning grant was probably the impetus that really got us going down that road, but when we didn’t get continuation funding, we actually kind of turned a corner. I’d become aware from a conference I had gone to about the whole kind of microfinance grooming bank model, and we thought, you know what, that seems like a much more flexible model and a way that we can achieve more scale than by having a physical incubator where you’re limited by how many square feet you have.

We ended up actually selling that building and got a small grant from a local foundation and just kind of launched, and we launched as a micro-lender following the bank model, then very quickly adjusted our program just as we went along, as we learned.

LR: Right. Very interesting. You’ve got some longevity now. Not too many people can say they’ve run an organization for 25-30 years. What do you feel like your kind of unique skill sets are that have supported you in being successful with that?

MB: You know, I don’t know if it’s a skill set or if it’s just kind of a personality trait that I have. That is that I just love to learn new things. For any entrepreneur, lifelong learning has to be something that you want to do. That’s what’s kept it interesting for me. ‘Cause, as you can imagine, starting out it was me and a half time person.

I’m the kind of person, this is a skill set, is that I can do a lot of different things. I did everything from write our copy to do the graphic design back in the days when you had to wax, go get your typeset and wax it and you know, put it on a board and get a photo, back in the dark age.

I could do a lot of things well, which really held me in good stead in the beginning. Probably the hardest thing for me to learn was to delegate. It’s easy to delegate things you don’t like to do and that you don’t do so well. It’s hard to delegate the things that you love and that you do do well.

LR: And that you think are important.

MB: Yeah, exactly. That you think are important. It’s … I’m a good writer and I’m very picky about what goes out. I love language, and I want it to be perfect. It’s like if I discover a typo in something it drives me crazy. Letting go of things, that was definitely challenging, but as the organization grows, has grown over the years, so we started from me, a half time person, we now have 18 full time people and we have about a dozen part time contractors who work for us as teachers and consultants.

The needs of the organization change, so learning those new skills and adapting to those are what … that’s one part of what’s kept me really interested and passionate about what I do. The other part has just been our mission, and our mission is to create a just and equitable society through the economic empowerment of women.

We’re not there yet. We’ve made a lot of strides, but we’re not there yet, and that organizational mission is my personal mission. For me, it’s a life’s work. I still love getting up every day and doing it.

LR: What are you learning these days? What’s next for you?

MB: What’s next for me is really succession planning. As I remind myself, and my board reminds me, I’m not gonna be in this world forever. Having been somebody who has done everything. I have this incredible amount of organizational history in my head, and a lot of people know organization through me, so I’m very highly identified with the organization.

What I really have to learn to do is make sure that I have built a structure and a strong staff that can, after I leave, take us to whatever that next level is. Hopefully I can do it with existing staff, but we may not and have to look for people outside the organization as well.

That transition and succession planning ‒ I’ve never done that before so that’s gonna be totally new.

LR: Right, so that’s gonna be totally new. Yeah, trying to get people to make decisions the way you would make them is a high-level problem. Trying to figure out how to…

MB: And, you really can’t. People keep saying to me, “Well, you can stay on the board after you leave.” And I go, “No, I can’t.” It’s like, once you bring in a new leader, the old one’s gotta get out of the way. I think my board’s smart enough to know that they’re not gonna replace me, they’re not gonna find somebody just like me. Nor should they want to because there are people that have much more sophisticated skill sets than I do around what the current business environment is, I think.

LR: You’re seeing this as an opportunity to take the business into the next level.

MB: Well, exactly. The saddest thing for me would be to leave and then have the organization flounder after that.

LR: Disaster. That would be disaster. What’s kind of the latest thing that’s working in your business? How do you … What is the latest break through you’ve had?

MB: Well, you know, I think for me what I’m most proud of in the organization is that we are a learning organization through and through, so we invest a lot in outcomes measurement, finding out what works for our clients. We’ve done a great job over 26 years, not only our organization but the kind of field of business development and bringing women to the table.

Women are starting businesses now about five times the national rate. That’s great. But, in terms of growth and access to capital, women still aren’t there. Last year women got two percent of Venture Capital. It actually….

LR: I’m sorry could you just back up. Did you just say that women are starting businesses at five times the national rate?

MB: Yeah.

LR: Five times more businesses today are started by women in this country?

MB: It’s a little complicated. More businesses are still being started by men than women, but if you look at the percentage of businesses that are owned by women, and then the multiplying rate of that, yes, they’re starting….

LR: Oh, I see. I see.

MB: It’s a little challenging to explain that.

LR: Five times more than in the past. It’s accelerating more rapidly.

MB: Yeah. I had somebody explain the difference to me ’cause I’ve seen it described in different ways.

LR: Got it.

MB: It’s a little challenge, but yeah, so women own 38% of all of the businesses now, privately held firms. They’re still smaller, and a lot of it’s because of the lack of access to capital. Men are two and a half times more likely to be approved for a business loan than women are.

Less than two percent of all of Venture Capital went to women last year. When women do get Venture Capital, they get about half as much as men do. While there’s been a lot of research out of Babson College around women and business, and they estimate that if women started up businesses with the same amount of money as men did, they’d create 600,000 jobs in five years. This investment in women owned businesses is just still severely lacking.

LR: Yeah. So, that just leads into my next question, sort of beautifully. But, if you think back, you’re kind of wrapping up this career phase of your business in the next few years, what would you like your legacy to be?

MB: I’d like to see much more creative investment not only in women owned businesses, but minority owned businesses. There’s a lot of research out there that says, the vast majority of the Venture and Angel Capital goes to people in Silicon Valley and New York, you know what I mean? It goes to about like three cities and overwhelmingly it still goes to white men.

There’s a lot of creativity that’s not only left on the table, they’re not even getting in to make their pitches. Even saying that we’re in a tech field and tech is more likely to be a skillable kind of business, but the vast majority of businesses being started are not tech businesses.

They’re service businesses. They’re the brick and mortar, mom-and-pop Main Street businesses that are employing five to 50 employees. Those kinds of businesses don’t have access to creative kinds of capital. Usually all they have is access to loan capital. Sometimes, especially in an early stage, you can’t service a loan.

I’d love to see more creative kinds of equity crowdfunding and maybe equity funding through direct small group investment on the local levels so that I can go on and invest in that great restaurant or that great shop that I think could….

LR: Impact my community and even my own life.

MB: Yes. Exactly. Exactly. And I can go there, and I can bring my friends there, and spend my money there.

LR: Yeah. Very interesting. In terms of legacy, is that your next project?

MB: You know, I think once I … I think within WEV besides the transition planning, that is the thing, the one big thing that I’d like to see happen is some kind of an impact investing tool for women-owned businesses.

One of the things that we see so often is that women-owned businesses often are very focused on the triple bottom line. We need more businesses like that and I think, by having financing mechanisms, we can then encourage those kinds of businesses and we can create more of those kinds of businesses. Businesses that really care about paying a living wage, making sure that their employees can afford to live here, looking at their impact on the environment and not just profit as the bottom line.

LR: As somebody who’s seen a good three decades now of the business entrepreneurial world from the inside and from the out as a business coach and trainer, what do you think it means … We call this thing Modern Ontrapreneur and we’re trying to get at what the unique, sort of, opportunities and also responsibilities for entrepreneurs are today in this kind of modern environment. What do you think those are?

MB: I’m very encouraged by the fact that when you survey the millennial generation they show much more concern for the quality of the work place, for doing social good, for having balanced lives. I’ve never been one to believe that to be successful you have to sell your soul and your heart and only work in your business.

I think that taking time away from your business or your job gives your brain time to refresh. If you don’t do that, I think it’s very easy to become burned out. One of the things I’ve noticed lately is there’s been a lot of talk about the gig-economy, where people are driving for Lyft or patching together income from three things. When we started, that’s what we called self employment.

LR: Yeah.

MB: It’s kind of a new old problem with a new name. The real challenge is how does somebody who juggles three sources of income create the safety net they need? Where do they get affordable insurance? Are they able to save? Do they get the benefits that traditional employment might offer them?

I think one of the biggest challenges is even though the millennial generation is … Research has shown that in terms of their thought processes, they are by far the most entrepreneurial thinkers, but the rate of entrepreneurial activity among millennials is actually less than the prior two generations.

If you look at millennials, less than four percent of millennials are engaged in an entrepreneurial venture at age 30, whereas Gen Xers it was five point five percent, and baby boomers it was six point seven percent.

I think one of the … it’s not proven, but one of the ideas about why that is, is because of the huge amount of debt that millennials are coming out of school with. If you come out of school with $50,000 debt, you’re either gonna want to go get a job where you can service that debt, or if you start a business you’re, number one, unlikely, or, number two, unable to take on any debt to build that business.

The actual rate of business startups is the lowest it’s been in 35 years despite all of this incredible…..

LR: The hype.

MB: Yeah, the hype around entrepreneurialism and I think, from a public policy level, we need to be looking at what more can we do to spur entrepreneurial growth among young people. I think there are policy solutions in some cases.

LR: Yeah. Thank you so much for being here. It’s really a pleasure to meet you, thank you for taking the time.

MB: It’s a pleasure to be here.

LR: Would you sign our wall for us?

MB: Oh, you bet.

Want more Modern Ontrapreneur Podcast?

Check out the previous episode featuring Jenn Scalia of Million Dollar Mommy.



About Ben Cogburn
As Ontraport’s Traffic Manager, Ben Cogburn spends most of his time in our parking lot. Just kidding, he’s our resident digital advertising guru. As a geology enthusiast, Ben graduated from the University of California, Santa Barbara with a degree in Environmental Studies. So to say that he likes rocks is an understatement. You can find Ben hanging out with his rock collection, playing video games or hunting down new figurines to add to the impressive display he has on his desk.