Leaders in Business & Life


In this episode, Elly Drain joins us from Michigan Women Forward. MWF helps women and girls become leaders within their businesses and personal lives. Learn about future events and the mission of MWF is this informational episode!



Lynne Jarman-Johnson (LJJ): Money I’m home. Well welcome in everyone. I’m Lynn Jarman-Johnson with Consumers Credit Union, and we have wonderful partnerships. These partnerships help our communities all across Michigan. And I’ll tell you what, one of them has an amazing Summit that’s coming up in three different cities that we’re going to talk a little bit about today. But you know what, I first had to introduce you to the person that’s helping lead and make sure that these summits for women are just out of this world out of the park. Ellie drain is with us today. She is the Program Manager for Youth and events at Michigan Women’s Forward.

Welcome in Ellie.

Ellie Drain (ED): Thank you, I’m so excited to be here, thanks for having me.

LJJ: I’ll tell you what you’ve got a lot on your plate coming up.

ED: We do so as you mentioned, we have some summits coming up for women entrepreneurs, and those are going to be in three cities across Michigan coming up in March.

So, the first one will be kicking it off in Grand Rapids, March first at Davenport University. Then we’ll be in Lansing actually on a week later, the eighth. And that’ll be at the LCC west campus, and then we have our third one March fifteenth in Detroit this year. It used to be in Troy, so it’s in Detroit this year at Wayne State University. Yeah, so we’re really excited about all of those and so, I’m sure you’re going to ask a little bit about what those are about. And one of the things that we do as an organization is, we’re all about accelerating women entrepreneurs and so these conferences or summits were calling them this year since we rebranded are just one of the ways that we can do that. Providing opportunities for women to network with their peers, with other like-minded individuals and to gain a lot of educational resources throughout the day, through different plenary sessions that we are going to have focusing on a variety of topics and also an awesome keynote speaker that I’m really excited about.

LJJ: So, Elle, tell us a little bit about Michigan Women’s Forward. I know, you know what, I’ve been involved for many years, but I knew it and know it well as Michigan Women’s Foundation.

ED: Yeah, so Michigan Women’s Foundation has actually been around since 1986, and that is how we started out as an actual foundation and about five years ago or so, our board said, “How can we get a better ROI? We are traditionally very philanthropic giving out a lot of grants, and a lot of money to some great causes around Michigan, that supported and promoted women and girls and so we as a board, and then as an organization, did a strategic plan and said, these are the areas that we want to focus on, we want to focus on women entrepreneurs, we want to focus on youth leadership development, and we want to focus on what we call the women’s state agenda. So, issues that disproportionately affect women and girls throughout Michigan.

And this last year, It would’ve been last year now, its 2019 happy 2019 everybody. So last year we said, “Okay we’re not really a foundation anymore, we don’t have a huge endowment, and we’re not granting out these funds anymore. What can we do to really describe who we are and where we’re going and try to keep that acronym, MWF you know? We didn’t want to change it up too much on people, everyone knows it. We were working with a PR company and doing a lot of that research and the surveys and everything that goes into something like this. And came up with Michigan Women Forward because that is where we want to move people, that’s where we want to move the state for women and girls. Then we’re going to move that needle forward.

LJJ: Tell me a little bit about you and how you became involved.

ED: Sure!

LJJ: You are, I would consider you a millennial.

ED: I am. 30 years old. I turned 30 in 2018 yes, I did, big year…

LJJ: I was going to say little younger than that, but you really do hold an awesome position, especially when you’re talking about young women, women who changed the world.

ED: Yeah, so a little bit about me. I am from the Grand Rapids area, went away to school and then came back and it’s such a great place to be. I really, I love Michigan I love West Michigan.

And when I came back, I was actually working retail for about a year and at a local department store which was a lot of fun and then, just through some connection that I had heard that MWF was looking for someone for the West Michigan office. Then they already had Judy Welch, the Executive Director of the last Michigan office here, and so I sent her my resume, and a little over four years later, here I am. So, my background is actually in international development with a focus on agriculture.

LJJ: Really!?

ED: A little different, I know, but I’ve always been really passionate about trying to effect change for women and girls, and so this was a great opportunity for me to be able to do that and to impact my community, impact the state and really effect change.

LJJ: So, for those who are younger or older I think you hit on something that is really important. You went… You have this degree, you work in retail, and all of a sudden you find out and you say you know what? I have a passion for this, and I really want to work here.

And now here you are four years later. Do you…

I know that you often get to tell your story number one, but then help other women entrepreneurs trying to do the same thing.

ED: Yeah, so part of what I get to do in my job is I oversee our youth programs across the state. So, youth programs for middle school and high school girls, focusing on a variety of things, leadership development, entrepreneurship, social change and even some of those what we call 21st century skills, or what have traditionally been known as soft skills, which you’re not supposed to use any more apparently.

So, things that employers are looking for that they’re not necessarily going to learn in school. So, think collaboration, teamwork, time management, problem solving, and critical thinking skills. So, I get to run a variety of programs that really help enhance those skills in middle school and high school girls. It’s a lot of fun, I really enjoy that. And then on the other hand, I also get to help entrepreneurs. It turns out, I found out that I have kind of a strong tendency for event planning and organization and being detail-oriented, and so I really enjoyed planning these… What used to be conferences, now we’re calling summits year after year for entrepreneurs and I really enjoy helping to plan our lunch ins and our dinners, which help us raise those critical funds that we use, to invest into our programs.

So, it’s just kind of fun, discovering my strengths and my talents as a young person in my career, but then helping to sort of give back in a way to that next generation coming up. Okay, how can I help you? How can we help you discover what you’re good at?

LJJ: That is amazing. You mentioned the summit, so let’s talk about that. Coming up in March there’s 3, there is March first in the Grand Rapids market, March 8, in Lansing in March 15th in Detroit. What is it that someone does at the summit what will they learn and get from it, and who should attend?

ED: You should attend if you are even beginning to think about having a business, you do not have to actually have a business in place right now, if you’re just kind of throwing it around, you want to see what it’s about, dip your toe in the water, this is the great opportunity. At the same time, it’s also a really great opportunity for somebody who is in a business, whether it’s early, middle, established, growing phase, whatever it is. This Summit is for you.

So, the things that are going to be available to attendees are networking opportunities, with their peers and other like-minded individuals with some speakers that we have presenting, who are very experienced in their fields and they’re there because they want to help upcoming entrepreneurs.

LJJ: What are some of the topics that are most sought after in the summits?

ED: Yeah, so we are going to be focusing on, always knowing your numbers. Everybody should be able to look at financial statements, read a balance sheet.

LJJ: Consumers Credit Union likes that…

ED: Yeah, I bet. So, there’s always that number aspect. Well, you know, if you’re always watching Shark Tank, they’re like… know your numbers know your numbers. So very, very important. So, we’re going to do that. We’re going to focus on marketing with a social media emphasis. So, don’t be the best kept secret. Get your name, get your brand, your product out there, we’re going to be focusing on perfecting your pitch, and by that we mean maybe will be pitching eventually on shark tank, but everybody has to be able to give that 30 to 60-second elevator pitch to anybody to describe your product, or your business or your service. And then we’re also going to be focusing on different funding resources because some people do just need that funding into their business. So, we’re going to talk about who is eligible for a bank loan, who would benefit more from a micro loan. Are you even in a stage where you require funding at the moment?

So, we’ll also have an awesome keynote speaker, I’m really excited about. Her name is Candice Simons, and she owns Brooklyn outdoor which is a Detroit-based outdoor advertising agency, so she’s young, she’s fun, I’m really looking forward to hearing from her.

LJJ: That will be great.

You know, when you look back on the last four years, what, is there any person or time or experience that you just went wow? You know what we’re knocking this out of the park, and this is why we’re here.

ED: Absolutely, it’s something that comes to mind was a couple of years ago. We host our annual lunch in in Grand Rapids, every April, and it was our 30th anniversary a couple of years ago, and so our committee said, We really want to blow this out of the water, we want to do it up big. And so, we had the co-founder of the Malala fund Shiza Shahid come in, and she was speaking at the lunch in, and we said, How can we… since she’s going to be here anyway. How can we get some of our youth involved?

And so, we actually did this awesome thing that we called an empowerment forum in the morning, at Calvin College, and we had almost 2000 high school girls that were all bust in for the morning. I have no idea from a logistical standpoint. It was a logistical nightmare. And somehow, just like everything came together and it went off without a hit.

Calvin staff is incredible. Let me tell you… And so, we got all the buses in there, all the girls into the arena that we were in, and they just heard such a moving, powerful message from Shiza. I remember looking around and I was, of course, running around like a crazy person but I remember at one point, stopping and looking and just like, This is what it’s all about, this is why we’re here, this is what we’re doing to impact people. And I remember so many of the girls were like crying because Shiza’s message, which is so compelling. So, I think that’s probably my stand out moment over the last four years.

LJJ: That is a great story. Yeah, I know that a very dear friend of mine was spoke at the last lunch in, and she introduced a student that is now has a phenomenal job, and it was from the Forest Hills District of Michigan, which is the Grand Rapids market area, and it was because she had volunteered years prior to go into classrooms and talk about how important it was… To be Michigan Women’s Forward, what an amazing testament to say, Years later. Now I’m introducing you speaking, and at one point you were what, sixth grade, seventh grade, and I had that impact on you. Are there volunteer opportunities, that people can get involved with in anywhere in Michigan?

 ED: Yeah, absolutely, so we’re always looking for volunteers that our events that we hold, so volunteers at the entrepreneur events, which include the summits, pitch competitions that we hold in the fall, looking for volunteers always at our lunch in and dinner. The dinners’ in Detroit, lunch in is in Grand Rapids in April.

But also, because I oversee our youth programs, we hold four separate camps over the summer at various college campuses, let me tell you, those are a riot. I get to live.

Re-live my colleges in the dorms and eat cafeteria food, so I’m working on my definitive listing of the college cafeterias across the State of Michigan.

LJJ: I know that they are much different than when I was in college. I can tell you, yeah.

ED: Yeah, even the all different than when I was in college believe it or not… But those are really fun and we’re always looking for volunteers for those, whether it’s giving a really fun and engaging workshop for the girls, or volunteering to speed mentor, speed network, or helping with our financial literacy activities, and games that we do.

So, yes, the answer is yes, we’re always looking for volunteer.

LJJ: Great… So how do people get in touch with you?

ED: Yeah, the best way would be to check out our website, MIWF as in forward, dot org. And so, there are opportunities to see what’s going on to get in touch with us, but also feel free to just shoot me an email, shoot someone an email. If you look at our staff, list, you can see who kind of does what, give us the call, we’re still a relatively small organization, and we can put you in touch with whoever it is that you need to talk to.

LJJ: It is awesome. You mentioned pitch competition. I had an absolute blast watching the ending of the pitches this past fall.

It is like a little shark tank oh, I’m going to say dolphin tank.

ED: Much, much nicer.

They’re not trying to take a bite out of your business.

LJJ: But what exactly are the pitches?

ED: The pitches are the three-minute pitches. Trying to get people to say Yes, I would invest in your business. And so, we have a panel of judges and they have already looked at a business plan that the contestant submitted prior to the pitch competition, so that’s weighted for a certain percentage of their overall score, and then the pitch accounts for another percentage, the rest of it.

And so, it’s very succinct, it’s very to the point, you have to make sure they have a rubric of all these things that they have to cover and hit in their pitch. And the top three winners in the two different categories receive cash prizes. So, it’s a really good boost to some businesses for sure.

LJJ: So, when does that start? What’s the process? If somebody is listening today and thinking, “Oh I really kind of want to get involved in the pitches, for next fall, which that’s to be honest, we know how fast that comes.

ED: It comes up a faster than you can even believe. So typically, our process is we open up submissions for two-page concept papers around May. And so if you follow us on social media, if you follow or if you go to our website, we keep updating that. So, you’ll submit your two-page concept paper, we’ll have a bunch of reviewers review it, score it and we will take the top 10 in each region, and then we will go through the entire process of assigning them coach.

So, working through the business plan and then ending up with the pitch competition in the fall.

LJJ: Well Ellie, what a great position that you have, and I cannot thank you enough for taking time out today to talk about the summits that are coming our way. Consumers is really proud to partner with Michigan Women’s Forward. And congrats on all you’re doing.

ED: Well thanks for having me, I really appreciate it.

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