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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Building a bright future for women entrepreneurs

••• SPONSORED SECTION •••

This is the twenty-sixth in a series of informative monthly articles for North Carolina businesses from PNC in collaboration with BUSINESS NORTH CAROLINA magazine. 


In the 35 years since the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 was signed into law, the face of entrepreneurship in the U.S. has changed dramatically. According to 2022 data from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Office of Advocacy, women now own 43.2% of the nation’s small businesses. In North Carolina, 44.3% of the state’s nearly 1 million small businesses are owned by women. 

While the pace of women’s business ownership is moving in the right direction, experts agree much work remains to address the unique challenges women entrepreneurs face – among which is a lack of access to capital. In fact, unequal access to credit is one of the main drivers of the 257-year economic gender gap identified by the World Economic Forum’s 2020 Global Gender Gap Report, which inspired PNC’s Project 257®: Accelerating Women’s Financial Equality initiative.

“Access to capital is a complex issue, especially for new businesses, because banks generally cannot provide conventional financing to companies with less than a three-year track record,” says Beth Marcello, head of Women’s Business Development at PNC. “Another factor to consider is that women typically aren’t willing to leverage their home or personal credit to finance a startup, even when they believe in it with all of their heart and soul.”

To help address the credit gender gap, PNC recently expanded its collaboration with the global nonprofit Coralus (formerly SheEO) – a provider of 0% interest loans, mentorship
and support to women and nonbinary entrepreneurs – to launch the PNC Bank + Coralus Collective, a cohort of entrepreneurs and financial advisors collaborating for growth and success.

In establishing the Collective, PNC covers the $1,100 annual contribution for 100 entrepreneurs to join the Coralus community. In addition to the benefits of Coralus membership, each participant in the Collective is paired with a PNC-Certified Women’s Business Advocate to serve as a sounding board – and is granted access to PNC financial workshops and knowledge-exchange sessions.

Jill Marcus (left) and Kristi Tally (right)

Among the members of this cohort are Charlotte-based Jill Marcus, president of Something Classic, and Raleigh-based Kristi D. Tally, founder and CEO of KD7 Enterprises Inc. – two talented entrepreneurs who have channeled their passions into successful ventures.

Pathways to entrepreneurship

As a political science major and member of Davidson College’s first national championship-winning women’s tennis team, Marcus assumed her career path would be linear and that she would become a lawyer or tennis pro. A study-abroad experience in France changed that trajectory. During that transformative year, she developed a love for food and traveled throughout Europe to nourish her appetite and curiosity.

Following graduation and additional time abroad, Marcus willed herself to pursue a career more traditionally aligned with her liberal arts education. During the day, she worked for a law firm, followed by a bank and then an ad agency. At night, she went to business school at UNC-Charlotte and hosted exquisite dinner parties. It was during her stint at the ad agency when her mentor sat her down and asked what she really wanted to do. Marcus started her catering business in 1989, and while she has never looked back, she marvels at the symmetry of her entrepreneurial journey, which began with catering a party at the Mint Museum and continues today with her ownership of Mariposa, a restaurant located at the Mint Museum Uptown that takes inspiration from her global culinary experiences. 

While Marcus found her business inspiration abroad, Tally found her calling closer to home in southeast Raleigh.

“My entrepreneurship story started and continues in my Southgate/Southeast Raleigh neighborhood because my business is designed to address needs that I see in my own community,” says Tally, who founded KD7 Enterprises, a community engagement and education consulting company, in 2014. Her tenure as a business owner followed a career as an eighth-grade science teacher in the Wake County Public School System, service in education policy for the North Carolina state government and a series of consulting engagements for education-oriented projects. “The work I do to advocate for those in my community can be replicated and applied within other communities facing similar challenges – from improving access to affordable housing, to sharing information on elections and voting.”

Although local needs form the impetus for Tally’s business, her impact extends far beyond her 27610 zip code and even the United States. One of her earliest consulting engagements, for example, entailed developing science education materials for educators in the Republic of Benin in West Africa, in connection with a partnership between Saint Augustine’s University and the country.

While their entrepreneurship journeys and ventures are inherently different, Marcus and Tally share an appreciation for opportunities to connect with entrepreneurs. “The concept for my restaurant group and catering business is all about bringing people from diverse backgrounds to the table,” says Marcus. “That’s exactly what the PNC Bank + Coralus Collective does by fostering a community where women business owners can share and benefit from ideas and encouragement.”

Pro tips

In their combined decades of business ownership, Marcus and Tally have amassed a lifetime of learnings that they generously share with aspiring women entrepreneurs. “First of all, pay yourself,” says Marcus. “And remember that family comes first. Even though I sometimes refer to my business as my child, there are special moments with my children that I’ve missed – an important soccer goal, for example – that I can never get back.”

Tally has found that daily affirmations help keep her focused and moving forward. “Positive affirmations serve as inspiration,” says Tally. ”These, along with my business and personal goals outlined every day, give me the fuel to continue growing my company. While receiving affirmation from others is welcomed and appreciated, it’s important to not become solely dependent on that validation.”

Finding sources of joy beyond the scope of building and running a business has been crucial to achieving balance for Tally, and she shares this advice broadly: “Commit to spending time exploring that joy – whether it be remaining spiritually connected, spending time with family, volunteering or learning a new skill – on a weekly or daily basis. Finding that joy spurs creativity, which in turn feeds success.” 

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