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New Entrepreneur-in-Residence Has Small Business Focus

Melinda Garvey has arrived as the new Entrepreneur-in-Residence at the Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship at McCombs. Garvey is the third entrepreneur to accept the one-year appointment, following in the footsteps of Gary Hoover and Louise Epstein. She is the owner of AustinWoman magazine and co-founder of ATXMAN (a.k.a., AustinMan magazine) at AW MEDIA Inc., and has been a regular speaker at McCombs on the topic of small business success. McCombs TODAY caught up with Garvey recently, on the heels of the ATXMAN launch party.

McCombs TODAY: Will an interest in small business flavor your focus as Entrepreneur-in-Residence?

Garvey: I definitely come in with that perspective as a guest lecturer over the last four or five years. Students don’t have as much access and as much transparency into the small business world, and I always find they’re intrigued and often surprised at things I’m doing and how we’re doing them.

McT: Do you think that perspective is new for students?

Garvey: In a top-tier business school you have a lot of access into large corporations, and as a result students may not understand what running a small business can mean for your life and your livelihood. So the days of IPOs and big corporations are not over, but it is different now and small business is really the wave of the future. It’s not only something you can be passionate about and something you love, but you can make a great living. There will be some students who won’t be interested in that type of entrepreneurship, but others will consider it a path to explore. It’s certainly a different perspective than the first two entrepreneurs-in-residence.

McT: At what point did you realize you were an entrepreneur?

Garvey: I started out as one of those people that had jobs and was promoted and just thought that was it, working in a company and being rewarded and having a nice 401(k). I realize looking back that I’ve always been an entrepreneur but was never taught it. I never had a class in it. When I finally decided to start my own business, I realized I’d been lucky enough to have bosses along the way who let me set my agenda, form my department and do my own thing. I just didn’t see it as entrepreneurism.

McT: The business you founded is a magazine focused on a woman’s perspective. Do women encounter a different environment in which to launch their own businesses?

Garvey: Yes. Women do face different kinds of challenges, and it’s certainly [for] all the obvious reasons. A lot of women, when they start businesses, want something they can do out of their home to be really independent. They don’t always have the desire to form a bigger company. I think that’s changing now but it’s definitely harder. There are certainly far fewer women-owned businesses that have broken through the million dollar mark, and some of that is there are fewer women in business school and that’s all changing.

Actually, some of our biggest advertisers at AustinWoman are business schools. Baylor and McCombs have advertised with us for years, and they’re really trying to attract women into that fold, to give them not only the confidence but the tools. Just because you’re a woman and you’ve got kids at home doesn’t mean you have to have a home-based tiny business. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but you have a choice.

McT: Is the business world as welcoming to female entrepreneurs?

Garvey: It’s frustrating because banks need to sit up and smell the coffee. Many of them — not all — are still stuck in this “old boy network.” They advertise to men and they target them. Statistics show that women business owners have better repayment rates — exceptionally higher — than men. Banks have something to learn about cultivating the female business owner and changing that whole mindset.

When we started the magazine we were bootstrapping it. We scraped together some money, and I cashed out one 401(k) and we headed on our merry way and I had no income for a year. Then of course we got to a point where we were okay, but then we needed to start hiring people and we needed to have a banking relationship. We couldn’t get anybody at the big banks to talk to us. My business partner was quite well off, but it didn’t matter. We went to some of the smaller banks and then we were referred to the president of a smaller bank and have had a great relationship with them ever since. Getting that line of credit and having it there when we need it is critical to our growth, but it’s not an easy thing for women business owners to come by. I talk to a lot of women businesses owners that understand that challenge.

McT: You have a very front-lines perspective on running a business.

Garvey: Absolutely. The best advice I got when I first started my business was do your own books for at least one year. I will tell you that to this day I know my numbers inside and out. I can read all my financials. I know where our cash flow is supposed to be. I have an innate understanding of that. Other businesspeople will tell me, “Wow, I have to ask my accountant if I can spend that.” Don’t get me wrong, I work very closely with my accountant and get great advice, but I know in my gut what I can do because I understand it.

McT: What is the Kelleher Center expecting of you?

Garvey: [Laughing] I did ask them, “Why me?” If they’re looking for an entrepreneur who is living it, breathing it, doing it, then I’m it. There will be a lot of discussions with students that begin, “Okay, this happened in my business this week and this is a great learning experience.”

One of the things they’re looking for is accessibility for the students, because I have a lot of connections with entrepreneurs, people that are passionate about it that I can bring to campus. So it’s not really just about me. I’ll do some meetings and lectures myself, but what I really want to do is ask, “Who do I know that really made an impact in this particular area,” and make that connection.

McT: And what do you hope to get out of this year at McCombs?

Garvey: Everything in life is richer and better when it’s a win/win. In every lifecycle of an entrepreneur there is a time when you need to take a breath. This will allow me to put my head and my brain in a different place and regenerate. [Laughing] I’ll be able to see the “forest for the trees,” if you will.

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