Focus On Women

LaSonya Berry has an EYE for Minority Millennial Entrepreneurs

LaSonya Berry, Mom, Author, Speaker, Engineer,HR Executive, Educator, Coach

LaSonya Berry leads NMSDC's Emerging Young Entrepreneur (EYE) program. She has an eye for millennial business talent and future leaders who will drive economic growth.
-Valerie Gomez

Operating any business is challenging, but for minority millennial entrepreneurs, the challenges are particularly daunting because they continue to face numerous barriers that are slow coming down in areas like capital access, landing corporate contracts, and getting opportunities to grow capacity.

First things first, says LaSonya Berry. The next generation of diverse business owners need to master the processes for developing a financially strong and sustainable business, networking for business growth, and joining corporate supply chains.

New and growing diverse businesses have a need, and Berry wants to do everything she can to close gaps. A successful entrepreneur in her own right, Berry sponsors and leads the Emerging Young Entrepreneur (EYE) program in partnership with the National Minority Supplier Development Council (NMSDC) and sponsor MetLife. The EYE program offers learning, development and mentoring opportunities to the next generation of minority business owners.

Developing the Next Generation of Leaders
Berry brought extensive experience at major companies like IBM and General Electric to her new role as founder and CEO of McPherson, Berry & Associates, Inc., a multifaceted consulting firm that provides HR consulting, leadership development, and performance and talent management solutions to diverse clients. Given her focus on people, Berry recognized there were few learning and mentoring opportunities for minority-owned business enterprises (MBEs).

The EYE program was launched in 2016 at the October NMSDC conference in Chicago with MetLife and McPherson, Berry, & Associates as sponsoring firms. Berry is the guiding force behind the success of EYE, bringing her passion for creating a new generation of successful skilled leaders and certified minority entrepreneurs who will drive America's future economic growth.

Many times, people start businesses because they are good at their craft, but don't necessarily know how to run a business and be a leader for others.
- LaSonya Berry
EYE program participants are nominated by a corporation. The program is 12-months long and offered mostly virtually, along with a five-day hands-on training and practical application workshop, regular meetings with advisors, and attendance at the annual NMSDC business conference.

"Participants have different work requirements each month, and they meet at least monthly with their assigned advisor," Berry explains. "They have different courses and tasks to complete, and they work with their advisors regularly to ensure their efforts are aligned with the strategic goals for their businesses."

Building a Diverse Leadership Pipeline?
The curriculum, developed by McPherson & Berry, is a business catalyst.

"Many times, people start businesses because they are good at their craft, but don't necessarily know how to run a business and be a leader for others," Berry says. This is one reason so many new businesses fail.

One of the unique features of the EYE program is that it focuses equally on business areas like finance, HR, operations, and strategy development and on leadership development. EYE program participants develop strategic goals, a solid business plan, and a value proposition used in pitches to corporations. As Berry points out, an entrepreneur can easily have something to sell, but if nobody is buying it, the business will not succeed. A lot of EYE program focus is grounded in developing the value proposition so that others understand what the business is offering in products, services, innovation, new markets and so on.

During the 12 months of the program, wrapped around the annual NMSDC conference, participants develop business relationships with corporations, MBEs, and sponsors, which enable them to grow their business networks and create ongoing opportunities. They participate in assessments, think tanks, and feasibility and execution stages of new venture startup and/or growth of an existing business. Some participants have not started their businesses yet, but join EYE to learn how to bring an innovative idea to reality.

Businesses are not NMSDC certified but are strongly encouraged to get certified upon program completion.

"The EYE program builds a pipeline of certified minority businesses and enables minority millennials to access business knowledge, professional development, and business leaders, and to connect with NMSDC," says Berry, adding, "The program also addresses some of the supplier gaps in corporate supply chains."

EYE participants are recruited nationally.
"NMSDC is responsible for the program marketing, putting out a call for millennial entrepreneurs who are not certified but would like to start or grow a business and need business development assistance," Berry explains.

The entrepreneurs apply online and go through an interview vetting process. MetLife has sponsored the program to date, covering the participant costs for the three years the program has been offered.

Program With a Custom Fit
Since each business is unique, the program is tailored for each entrepreneur.

An initial assessment identifies the current position of the business opportunity and specific areas needing improvement, like marketing and growing a customer base. Each participant is assigned one or two advisors who work with the entrepreneur throughout the 12 months. Advisors who join the EYE program are either from corporate program sponsors or MBEs, or are alumni of the program. This approach provides customized guidance and helps young businesses build networks.

"We cannot guarantee a business will get contracts. However, we already have companies that have grown to employing 100 people. New partnerships have developed, and some businesses were bought by larger companies," Berry said. It is all about getting the planned results by positioning participating companies for substantial growth.

During the program, the EYE program gives entrepreneurs new market presence by spotlighting them in various ways, including through NMSDC and corporate marketing activities, magazine articles, and published video segments.

After completing the program, the entrepreneur has a business plan, new connections, exposure to the exceptional support that NMSDC offers, and new networks. To maintain momentum, Berry recommends that graduating businesses work on getting certified right away and engaging with the local NMSDC council, a path to growing network.

Why would a company like MetLife sponsor a program like the EYE program? One reason is that MetLife is helping the next generation of millennial business owners who will spur economic growth. MetLife also gets to see firsthand innovative millennial businesses and learn about their new ideas for the future well before their competition. Since millennials embrace technology, a major source of innovation today, this includes learning about cutting-edge technologies.

Just as important is that MetLife is all about building communities, and the EYE program contributes to building a healthy economically successful community.

Servant Leadership in a Diverse World
Berry's bold experiment reflects her belief in "servant leadership." Her mantra is, "An organization is only as good as the people who contribute to it every day." It is individuals that count, and the EYE program enables her and program advisors to share their knowledge with individual entrepreneurs.

There are challenges she had to overcome to make the EYE program a reality. They included finding sponsors, marketing the program, and developing an assessment process to identify good program candidates. She also hopes to expand the program, but it will take more support resources. A good sign that future growth is in the works is that corporations have started stepping up and volunteering to become financial supporters and advisors.

"The EYE program is not just about supplier diversity," says Berry. "It is about Diversity & Inclusion overall. How do we position the next group of diverse individuals for success? It's always about developing human capital for me."

She sees the EYE program as a path for innovative and cutting-edge diverse entrepreneurs to become leaders in small to large businesses.

"D&I is important at all levels of business and in every type of business," says Berry. This deep belief is the true driving force behind all her efforts.