Do not let her petite stature or youthful appearance fool you. Larvetta L. Loftin has been an entrepreneur for over 17 years. She is a branding, marketing, and social media influencer. Her company, The L3 Agency, formerly L3 Eventeurs, boasts a clientele that includes, Coca-Cola, Verizon and McDonalds. At Chicago Innovation’s Celebrating Women in Innovation, Larvetta stood up during the Q&A and asked a question that many women in the room had on their minds. Businesses and governments were so focused on tech startups that required large infusions of cash, but there seemed little attention to small established businesses who need a fraction of the capital of a startup to become scalable. Her question was met by a round of applause from the audience and a response from Andrea Zopp, Deputy Mayor of Chicago, who was a panelist at the event. After Celebrating Women in Innovation, several women approached Larvetta thanking her and asking to be informed about what type of support and follow up she received.
For a big picture perspective, the Small Business Administration (SBA) noted that “small businesses make up: 99.7 percent of U.S. employer firms, 64 percent of net new private-sector jobs, 49.2 percent of private-sector employment, 42.9 percent of private-sector payroll, 46 percent of private-sector output, 43 percent of high-tech employment, 98 percent of firms exporting goods, and 33 percent of exporting value.” Yet, venture capitalists are more willing to drop large sums of cash into startups versus established small businesses.
The issue Larvetta mentioned is further exacerbated for minority and women owned businesses. The National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) states that “9.1 million women owned a business in the U.S, of which, 2.9 million were women of color.” Now consider the article in the Harvard Business Review that showed great disparity when venture capitalists interviewed male and women entrepreneurs. Characteristics that were seen as strength for male entrepreneurs were viewed as weakness in female entrepreneurs. I met with Larvetta to delve deeper down the rabbit’s hole to discuss possible solutions.
What prompted you to ask the panel the question at “Celebrating Women in Innovation”?
Larvetta Loftin (Loftin): Most venture capital firms market to startups that are 0-5 years old with little experience and no record of failure. Failure is inevitable to success. If a startup has been in business and has not experienced failure yet, it is on the horizon. Millions in capital is poured into startups with no experience instead of established, proven businesses who need up to $50K on average to grow their business.
Did you expect the response you received after asking the question?
Loftin: I did not go to the event planning to ask the question, nor did I expect the response. It has been overwhelming with other women entrepreneurs asking me what type of follow-up I received from Andrea Zopp. Also, I think most people assume that I am younger and underestimate my knowledge and experience. I have been an entrepreneur for over 17 years. I recently was selected to attend the Tuck program at Dartmouth on Building a High Performing Enterprise.
There seems to be a major challenge to get funding for small businesses, especially minority and women owned, not just from investors but local governments.
Loftin: I always say that there are three “Ps” to business sustainability. They are: passion, persistence, and profit. If you are not making a profit, your business is just an expensive hobby. Even though many small businesses exhibit the three Ps, they are shunned for tech startups. This is sad because usually a small business only needs about $25-50k in capital infusion to grow, become scalable and employ more people. Small businesses are essential to growth. The startup fascination is like those that follow fashion trends. What is trending today is not relevant tomorrow. Only 10% of startups will be successful. Studies show that most are dissolved after five years. Banking on a startup is like gambling at a casino hoping to hit the jackpot. Whereas, with an established business, there is less risk and a higher ceiling for sustained success.
What is your goal?
Loftin: I am a firm believer in paying it forward. My goal is to fund and invest in businesses by women of color. My motto is empower women in leadership. Before “pitch fests” were commonplace, I started Leading Ladies International in 2010 as a network for leading women. I partnered with MB Financial Bank and one woman walked away with $500 at the end of the day. That may not seem like a lot today, but back then no one was doing pitch fests and that $500 was essential to keep a business afloat after the 2008 economic crisis.
Your website says the L3 Agency is “a full service integrated influencer marketing and communications agency focused on creating authentic engagements for brands targeting women and millennials.” Why the emphasis on women and millennials?
Loftin: People talk about innovation. After 2008, many women in business were deflated. They needed to be reminded of what they were bringing to the table and why they were a force to be reckoned with. To stay relevant in business you need to be innovative. That does not necessarily mean technology. It means agility, flexibility, and adaptability. I wanted to help these women and millennial-owned businesses communicate their brand. Did you know that women and millennials are the largest and fastest growing segment? It is a disservice not to target this demographic.
What is something that you think women and minority owned businesses need to do to increase capital to invest in change?
Loftin: Minority and women owned businesses should not be afraid of acquisition as a way to build wealth. Invest in other women owned businesses, and start another business. It is what Elon Musk and other entrepreneurs have down to fund their passion projects. I am looking to get my business to a 10-million-dollar valuation to be acquired. I gave myself seven years. I’m in year six. If acquired, I have capital to invest in other women owned businesses, be an advocate, and policy changer.
You mentioned that not only is it important to be entrepreneurial but also intrapreneurial. What does that mean?
Loftin: To be intrapreneurial is connecting entrepreneurs to business opportunities in corporate marketplaces and middle markets. As a MBE enterprise, our goal is to identify the intrapreneurs in corporate markets who will advocate for our business and grow our capacity. For us, that creates an ecosystem for businesses to grow and for legacies to be formed.
How should women, especially women of color, assist each other to empower business growth?
Loftin: Whenever I meet with someone, at the end I always ask, “What can I do to help you?” In order for us to succeed, we have to advocate and support each other. Follow and like each other on social media. Collaborate. It does not always have to be monetary. In-kind support or bartering and trading for services is an investment.
For readers wondering what you do and how they can support L3 Agency, what would you say?
Loftin: We leverage insights and relationships to tell our client’s stories via social impact, corporate communications, digital engagement, public relations and live experiences. Our award-winning agency and team has over 50 years of combined marketing and public relations experience delivering influence, collaboration and innovation. L3 Agency also works with brands, PR and ad agencies to streamline the talent side of the collaboration, allowing influencers to focus on what they love: creating engaging content and communicating with their fans. Our team is currently working on a video competition series that will help existing minority business owners win capital and build sustainability.