Jacqueline Twillie and Jasmin Brand know what it’s like to be a female founder.
Twillie and her team at Zero Gap are behind a three-month intensive leadership development program focused on helping women navigate male-dominated industries. And as the CEO of HER Texas, Brand is leading the first ecosystem empowered by women to help navigate the Texas startup landscape.
In Dallas Startup Week’s session “The Female Founder’s Guide to Doing Business in Texas,” Twillie interviewed Brand on how female founders can become more empowered through community and building relationships.
The duo began the upbeat conversation by asking the audience to describe Texas in one word.
Words like innovative, independent, wild, and exciting flowed throughout the room.
“By the end of this session we hope to leave with the word collective,” said Brand. “The opportunity that exists here is really because of a collective of women here. And let me give a shout out to the men in the room. It’s really going to take both men and women to advance women forward, so our new table is for everyone.
“If you are for the advancement of women in Texas, we want you at our table.”
Bringing Texas women together
As an entrepreneur who’s spent more than 10 years building successful businesses, a common theme Brand has noticed as a female founder is the isolation one can feel in entrepreneurial and leadership roles.
With women making up 50.4 percent of the 20 million people in Texas, Brand came to a realization. “About three years ago what this told me was A, we’ve got some incredible women here, and B, our voices need to be heard and we need to be connected.”
She began to imagine connectivity from city to city, and upon doing some research, noticed there was nothing connecting women across the state.
“There are over 14 million women and we’re just here doing our thing, building things in all of our cities, trying to make it here, not talking to one another,” she said during the event. “So that was really the impetus for HER Texas—create a platform to get us talking.”
Through this idea, the marketplace for a statewide network between women manifested itself into a road trip event where the concept of “Will women go to another city to support other women?” was tested.
“Women traveled by bus, jet, and car to go to Houston for two weekends and support women-owned businesses. That direct support was huge,” Brand said. “The concept was a ‘yes.’”
Facing the problem
Brand’s overall view on Texas is optimistic: There are a lot of challenges here, but there’s so much opportunity, too.
In a study conducted by WalletHub, Texas was ranked as the top state to start a business for access to resources, business locations, and business kind overall. Two days later, CNBC shared a report where Texas fell to number 48 for health and fell in inclusivity. According to Brand, Texas has issues with diversity, inclusion, lifestyle, health, and education.
“My thought is let’s take the positives of what is happening here and move the state forward,” said Brand. “If we collectively improve our businesses—collectively move into leadership roles from a corporate perspective and actually support our businesses here, we will start to impact those numbers.”
It starts with the women, Brand believes.
Amidst the pandemic in a time that was dubbed the “she-session,” many women were forced to resign from corporate spaces to care for people struggling with illness. With women being hit hard at this time, women-owned businesses began growing at a rapid rate, according to Twillie.
With these women needing something to lean on as they grew and scaled their businesses, HER Texas offered a solution: Reminding women they’re not alone.
“There are women here who want to support you,” said Brand. “Our goal is to bring that to the forefront. There’s a system here that has your back and wants you to be successful.”
HER Texas works as a connection between women so they are able to collaborate and move one another forward.
“We think you need a lot of effort to help move a women’s business but small gestures make a difference and it stems from collaboration.” Brand said.
Women supporting women
The HER Texas CEO closed the conversation by asking the female founders in the audience to speak about their company and what they need. Brand also talked about Share the Mic—a campaign created by three white women who gave their Instagram accounts with large followings to women with Black-owned businesses. The campaign grew globally and allowed Black women to grow their businesses through women-to-women support.
To Brand, “it’s all about using what you have to help the woman next to you.”
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