The founder series explores the minds of business owners and their journey to make a difference in their industry. We interview these business founders to understand the life lessons that mold them into who they are today. We also learn more about their company, their products or services, how they are different from their competitors, and the problems that they are trying to solve for their customers. The information that these business owners provide to us helps inform other entrepreneurs who are looking to make an impact in the business world. We all can take these lessons and apply them to our entrepreneurial journey. We want to thank every business owner who volunteered their time to participate in these interviews and share their knowledge with the community.
Great to meet you. Thank you for doing the interview. We want to know more about your journey, early struggles, success, and some wisdom that we can pass on to others who are interested in walking your footsteps toward becoming an entrepreneur. We know that being an entrepreneur is not all glory and fame, but there are hard times too. We believe that others who are interested in being a business owner can gain insight from other business founders like yourself. Again, we want to thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule. Let’s get this interview started!
Let us start off with some basic questions to learn more about who you are as a person.
Can you tell everyone your name, please?
Jennifer Ehlen, CEO and Founder, Brazen Global
Tell me about your education?
MBA, Saint Louis University; BSBA, University of Missouri — St. Louis
Can you give an example of an early lesson in life that helped shaped who you are today?
I grew up in a tiny community, my parent worked very hard, but my family didn’t have much. My parents provided the basics, but if my siblings and I wanted something more, we knew we had to find the money for it ourselves. I think this is how I learned how to hustle and be scrappy. Moreover, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. We didn’t just erect lemonade stands — we created a lemonade stand empire, complete with tchotchkes and home-made goods. We would even go door to door selling painted rocks — whatever it took.
We all have entrepreneurs whom we look up to in our industry. These business leaders help influence, shape, and drive our ambition to succeed. These entrepreneurs could be someone that we have worked with on a project or could be someone that we look up too from a distance. For example, Bill Gates is a big inspiration to me not only because of his work in Microsoft but his outstanding contributions to society.
Who would you consider to be a significant influence on you professionally and can you explain why?
Our Brazen members. Our members are passionate, creative, wicked smart and BRAVE. They come from every walk of life, every socio-economic background, and every trade. However, they all have one thing in common: they know that this crazy journey called entrepreneurship is a scary and challenging one, and there’s no point in going it alone — which is why they’ve come to Brazen. I am in awe of them all.
Thank you for providing a background on who you are as a person. I always find it fascinating to learn who a person is and their early life lessons. Let us move forward with the interview and discuss what you are doing now and how you are making a difference in your industry.
What is the name of your company?
Where is your company located?
We are headquartered in St. Louis and operate in seven markets across the country — Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Fort Worth, Philadelphia, and St. Louis.
What services or products does your organization provide?
Brazen offers business-focused programs to a national member network of growth-seeking female presidents, founders, and CEOs. Brazen offers evidence-based membership programs to help women grow their businesses.
What problem is your business trying to solve?
Simply put, we’re here to help female entrepreneurs grow their businesses.
In the U.S., 91.4% of women-owned firms have no employee other than the owner. If every WOB added just one member to their team, they could create more than 11 million jobs; more employment growth than 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined. Female entrepreneurs represent an incredible economic opportunity that Brazen hopes to unlock with our programs.
How is your business unique against your competitors?
First and foremost, our programs are squarely business-focused. Unlike many other groups for women, we’re not a purely social or networking organization. We pride ourselves on giving women a place to get down to business.
Brazen’s flagship program, Growth Groups, also make us unique. Growth Groups are peer advisory groups of seven to nine female entrepreneurs that meet monthly to present their most significant business challenges and work through solutions. While peer advisory groups are not new, Brazen Growth Groups use proprietary software to facilitate effective and focused sessions. Additionally, this program is offered to women only and is designed to be accessible. Unfortunately, many formal peer advisory programs have historically had incredibly high barriers to join, sometimes even requiring members to have $10M in annual revenue and 10 or more employees. They can also be prohibitively expensive, costing in upwards of $16,000 per year to be involved. This means that, while peer advisory groups are incredibly useful, they have traditionally been targeted at middle-market CEOS and have remained out of reach of at least 98% of growth-seeking women entrepreneurs… until now.
Brazen Growth Groups make the benefits of a peer advisory group available to all women entrepreneurs.
How did the idea for your business come to fruition?
Brazen was born out of research from 2011 and 2012 from Kauffman and American Express. These publications discussed the intrinsic and extrinsic factors facing women entrepreneurs today and, in American Express’ case, even ranked the top metropolitan communities for how well their women entrepreneurs fared regionally. At the time, St. Louis came in dead last — tied for 25th with San Francisco. I had just left the role of Director for the Center for Entrepreneurship at Saint Louis University, where I had worked pretty hard to ensure our programs and workshops represented gender parity. To say I was devastated to learn that my hometown ranked dead last was an understatement. Several incredible women entrepreneurs and friends (including my co-founder, Aimee Muirnin Dunne) and I decided to do something about it. We set out to create programs that would move the needle for women entrepreneurs in a substantive way. To go beyond the speaker series and social organization and offer continuous, immersive programs that would help women entrepreneurs achieve their growth aspirations.
Where can people go on the web to learn more about your business?
Final question. We want to thank you for the interview. We have one last question to ask you about imparting some wisdom to future entrepreneurs.
What three tips would you give to other entrepreneurs who are starting out on their journey?
- It sometimes feels like I’m squelching the entrepreneurship dream when I give this advice, but entrepreneurship is entirely about boot-strapping it, and the BEST way to bootstrap your learning curve is to go work for someone else first. Work in the industry that you hope to innovate before going out on your own.
- Seek feedback, even when it’s tough. Being open to feedback can make the difference between having an idea and building a business. Along with testing the feasibility of your idea, feedback is also an essential piece of the entrepreneurial puzzle.
- Sign-up for a peer advisory group, like a Brazen Growth Group. These groups connect members to other business leaders with whom they can solve problems and strategize how to grow. Remember, you don’t have to go it alone!