In 2014, Jennifer Ehlen noticed that St. Louis ranked near the bottom of an American Express study on cities that support women entrepreneurs. She was troubled by this, and wanted to change the statistics for the region.
Ehlen founded Brazen, whose mission is to help women entrepreneurs and CEOs grow their businesses. According to its website, the group encourages women at all stages of business and industries to join a like-minded community, access curated online and offline resources, leverage best-practice tools and feel supported on their entrepreneurial journey.
Since its humble beginnings four years ago, the organization has expanded both locally and beyond – and now has branches in Chicago, Dallas, Fort Worth, Denver, Detroit and Philadelphia. To date, it’s helped more than 1,000 women entrepreneurs in St. Louis and continues to grow.
Mindy Mazur, the executive director of Brazen St. Louis, a local 501(c)3, says Brazen helps its members through customizable immersive programming. The members must meet three criteria: they identify as women, are the owner/founder/CEO of their own company that’s not already part of a parent company, and are serious about building their business. Team Brazen members pay a $40 one-time registration fee and $19.88 recurring monthly fee for access to “Power Hours” and member events, including roundtables and online curated resources.
“We’re focused on the nuts and bolts of how to build and scale your business, regardless of industry,” Mazur says. “This includes accounting, raising money, legal, technology, marketing and more. We’re focused on the building blocks.”
Brazen St. Louis’ flagship program is Growth Groups, which are peer mentoring groups of seven to nine women who meet once a month for three hours. During those meetings, the members work together on one another’s business challenges. Growth Groups is an add-on program that costs $30 per month.
“It’s an ongoing network of support,” Mazur says. “Everyone has an opportunity to talk through and share their challenges. They work through those challenges together and hold each other accountable.”
Another angle of support through Brazen is its Power Hours – one-on-one subject matter expert mentoring sessions, rotating through topics like marketing and fundraising each month. Brazen St. Louis brings in experts from its sponsor organizations so members can have one-on-one time with experienced business professionals and get firsthand advice on issues they may be struggling with.
Brazen St. Louis also hosts roundtable events for up to 12 members and guest speakers, along with member events throughout the year for larger groups.
In between in-person events, Brazen St. Louis members also have support through a private Facebook group that’s loaded with referrals, funding opportunities and conferences. There’s also an online vault of resources that includes guest columns and other articles.
“Our members span all industries and different stages of business,” Mazur says. “Nonprofits, for-profits, people who have products, services, tech apps … It’s a nice mix of different businesses that enriches the membership. We try to provide that support network for our members as they’re looking to scale and give them confidence.”
Mazur sees Brazen St. Louis as “sitting at the cross-section of women in leadership, equity in entrepreneurship and economic development.”
“We play a unique role here,” she says. “Imagine the economic impact if we helped every business add just one job or increase revenue by 1 percent. It’d be a huge boost in St. Louis economic development.”
One such example of Brazen’s help is to local business owner Kimberly Moos of Cotton Cuts, a subscription-based company that delivers pre-cut quilting fabric to your doorstep. She’s been a part of Brazen for more than two years, having started by going to one of the group’s office hours.
“It was the first time I’d spoken about my idea out loud,” Moos recalls. “But [Brazen co-founder Aimee Dunne] was so supportive and so motivating.”
Moos became a Brazen member before she officially launched Cotton Cuts, and credits where she is today, being able to buy out her competitor last summer, to her first-year growth group. She says the structured, regimented organization of the growth group was “the right resource at the right time.”
“Taking the first step is always the hardest,” Moos says. “But once you do, you won’t regret it.”