A National Champion for Women Entrepreneurs

Audio Description

Presidentially Appointed SBA Executive Natalie Madeira Cofield’s resume is as inspiring as the strides she’s made for women entrepreneurs.


This transcript has been generated by an A.I. tool. Please excuse any typos.

00:00 - 00:41

I had $70 million just in my office grantmaking authority to establish women's business centers all over the country and where I had, you know, specific discretion that was in alignment with the president and the administration's agenda. First Women's Business Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I funded that on Black Wall Street in partnership with the Greenwood Black Chamber. I did that the largest number of women's business centers on campuses of historically black colleges and universities, historically Hispanic serving institutions and native serving institutions. I did that, put a women's business center in every state and two in Puerto Rico. I did that, you know, and I'm honored to have been able to do that.

00:48 - 00:53

This is Changing the Trajectory. I'm James Seth Thompson, Bernstein's head of Diverse and Multicultural Wealth segments.

00:53 - 01:08

And I’m Maci Philitas, the emerging wealth strategist here at Bernstein. Thanks for joining us. Happy Women's History Month. I am so excited that we get to have our guest. Can we call you the honorable? Are you honorable now? Natalie.

01:08 - 01:11

They did call me. Oh, yes, they did.

01:11 - 01:34

We have the Honorable Natalie Madeira Cofield on the show today. Natalie is a Howard University graduate and was one of the highest-ranking women in the Biden-Harris administration when she served as the assistant administrator of the SBA. And she has been named one of the 100 most powerful women in business by Entrepreneur Magazine.

01:34 - 01:58

Natalie is one of America's most prominent, diverse entrepreneurs and executives. She has over 15 years of experience in leveraging federal private and philanthropic capital to establish and scale small business and economic development initiatives. Today, Natalie continues her mission to support entrepreneurs. As senior advisor and executive in residence at Mastercard. So happy to have you, Natalie. Thanks for joining us.

01:59 - 02:02

Thank you for having me. Happy Women's History Month.

02:02 - 02:03

Happy Women's History.

02:03 - 02:03


02:03 - 02:32

Natalie, from the moment we started thinking about the show and you did feature, you immediately came to my mind for so many obvious reasons. But one of the biggest is because you've dedicated your life's work to empowering female business owners. I understand that you were exposed to entrepreneurship at a young age, and that's passion. You began when you were a child, so much so that you dreamed of being on the cover of Black Enterprise magazine.

02:32 - 02:33

I did.

02:34 - 02:38

So what was your first real exposure to entrepreneurship and business ownership?

02:39 - 03:16

Yeah, When I was young, my mom used to have us reading her business plans when I was like 11 years old. And I actually at the time I hated to do that. But I realized in retrospect that there was so much preparation for a career and a life calling that I didn't even know about at that time. And my mom also worked at a Black Enterprise one company where she was an entrepreneur and one of the highest ranking women there helping to develop new lines of business. And so those business plans that we would be reading were looking at marketing materials for those internal divisions and her own entrepreneurial pursuits.

03:16 - 03:44

And I would work there. I worked at that company at the front desk, I worked on the assembly line, I worked in the mailroom, and I remember what it felt like and looked like to see a black CEO coming into the office, holding shareholder board meetings and walking by all of these Black Enterprise magazines as I was kind of coming in. And that's when I said to myself, like, I want to be on the cover of this magazine one day. But it was that early exposure that oftentimes guilted my mom.

03:44 - 04:08

You know, women, we have duplicitous roles in life, and sometimes you feel like this is taking the time away from something that you could be doing with your kids. And I know my mom struggled with that a lot, but had it not been for her exposing me at that time, I probably wouldn't be where I am today. And so I always encourage women with children or even other familial obligations, you know, just keep going and you never know who's watching.

04:08 - 04:09

That's incredible.

04:09 - 04:52

And it's really amazing how you and I both share that our mothers are the first to expose to entrepreneurship. And I wonder how common that story is amongst, you know, especially female entrepreneurs. So you were the president of the Greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. And then out of that, you founded the Walkers Legacy, which is, I think, one of the most empowering organizations I have heard of, which is now a digital platform devoted to supporting multicultural female entrepreneurs. So how did that history of Madam C.J. Walker shape your future work with the Biden-Harris administration and also your appointment to the U.S. Small Business Administration in 2021?

04:53 - 05:39

Yeah, and Maci, you know, I'm going to go back to one thing you said before I answer that question, which was that our mothers really inspired us in that space. And one of the things that I often felt very convicted about was trying to not save my mom but achieve some of the successes that because of the challenges that women had at that time that were so much more pervasive than they are today. But we still experience that I could in some way make up for some of that lost opportunity for her, that she had all the intelligence, all the wisdom, all the knowledge. But there were still significant obstacles for her as a woman, as a black woman doing that, that I was hoping to be able to close the gap on. And so that's always been something that's been personally of motivation to me.

05:39 - 06:21

But with that, you know, you mentioned the greater Austin Black Chamber of Commerce. And ironically, again, here we go back to kind of the beginning of my life story. Working at a Black Enterprise one company. Seeing the important role that a business plays in its community as an anchor institution in some regards. I mean, at the time that company had 500 employees in three locations. And I can tell you, even to this day, there are generations of families that have been transformed because their mother had a job, their father had a job, their grandfather had a job. And it was the first time that they had that type of workplace stability in the household, which allowed them to go off and do so much more.

06:21 - 06:57

Right. And so when I was in Austin and I first came down from D.C., you know, it was a stark contrast, a city of D.C., you know, which is otherwise known as Chocolate City or Austin with a declining black population of about 7%. And I was very young and ambitious. And again, here I was saying I wanted to merge my interests in politics and a nonprofit with my background in technology and form the Black Technology Council in Austin, and bring together this group of emerging and burgeoning entrepreneurs in the tech startup space.

06:57 - 07:23

And when I first said that, people kind of laughed at me, They really didn't think that it was important. They didn't think I could do it. They didn't think there was enough there. And it has, again, to do with shifting the way people thought about themselves, their communities and what was possible, which is something as an entrepreneur, I know you know all too well as well, you know that that's something you have to do every day for yourself, every day you put up to go pursue whatever your ambitions are.

07:23 - 08:12

Right. And so actually, Walker's legacy started before I ever went to Austin, where I was the youngest chamber president for a top 15 city in the country. I started it as a part of my initial company called NMC Consulting Group when I was 26 years old. And it started because I was constantly looking for a female mentor aside from my mom, and no one was responding to me. And I went to this dinner and I was propositioned by this billionaire and it made me feel so, so objectified. And it also made me feel like, is this the only way? Is this the path that I have to take to move to the next level? There's got to be another way that women can do this, right? And I never wanted another woman to feel the way that I felt during that meeting.

08:13 - 09:03

Right. As though, like you have to pass through this gate, which is opened and closed by powerful people oftentimes, and in this instance, men. And as a woman, I felt as a young woman, I felt very insecure. I was worried about whether or not I missed out on the opportunity of a lifetime. You know, it was always in the back of my mind. And then I saw that person later on in life, and I was on the cover of a of another magazine, not to be spoken, but I felt like, hey, I made it, you know? And when I saw them, I was at a place and I said, Hey, I'm on the cover of this magazine. And, you know, it was kind of like I felt like I had gotten the respect that I worried about losing and these challenging decisions that people have to make about how they're going to go about pursuing success.

09:03 - 09:29

And so I started with 30 women in a room, and then we grew it to a network of 60,000 women across the country sprouting chapters up all over the nation. And this was also at a time where, you know, talking about particularly black women in entrepreneurship was something that was kind of like, well, what you know, when I today I say what's good for black women is good for all small businesses. And the reason why is because black women are the fastest growing entrepreneurial segment.

09:29 - 10:04

And so I say it's impossible to make a market segmentation that's less important by your most highly growing population. They've got to be considered general market, right? So whatever you need to do over here, you've got to do for entrepreneurs. Why? Because this is the fastest growing segment for that. So why would you do anything different than or other than for one group than you would for another? And understanding the needs and challenges here obviously will readily inform you for nearly 40. Percent of all small businesses that are being created in America every single day.

10:04 - 10:48

Then, you know, I got that call on January 20th when the president was inaugurated. I was waiting with anticipation. And surely enough, I got the call from the White House saying, we would like you to join the Biden-Harris administration and lead as assistant minister later at SBA. And I remember just breaking out in tears and thinking to myself, here we go again with another one of those moments in my life where you never know how all the things that you're going to do piece themselves together to place you exactly where you're supposed to be. And in this instance, the ultimate validation of years of lack of validation was at the highest office in the land in the world, called me and said, We want you to do what you've been doing for everybody. Mm hmm.

10:48 - 11:10

That's amazing. And one thing that I hear in your story, especially as it pertains to that initial encounter and then you being on the cover of the magazine, is that it sounds like along your journey you found your power. And you found your voice. And the magazine cover in the White House just continued to validate that that flow that you were already at. And if that makes sense.

11:11 - 11:55

Absolutely. And you know, it's interesting, too, because like I said about timing, you know, I don't know that I would have been able I would have been prepared mentally, spiritually, emotionally for the magnitude of this work at another point in my life. And that goes to this is a marathon, not a sprint. Right. And so sometimes we ask for things and may see, you know, when we were doing these things with tech startups, it was very rapid. It was immediate. I mean, it was everything was about immediate scale, immediate, immediate. But life is a long run game, right? And it might not happen immediately where you want it to. But there are preparations and things that are happening that are preparing you and you might not even know what they're preparing you for. Stay in the game if you're listening.

11:58 - 12:58

You know, you've shared a lot about your passion and I always appreciate people who've been able to marry their their passion and purpose and profession. And you definitely have so much to be proud of. And I thank you for all that you've done and are doing. Everybody knows I talk about my kids. I do have a son and daughter. I have a special passion for my daughter and making sure she hears voices like yours. And maybe she's had an opportunity to meet her in the past. But notably you also in leading the Office of Women's Business Ownership during one of the greatest economic crises in modern history. You advise the deployment of $1.2 trillion in resources and you help design a $100 million community navigator pilot program. Very notable, and I want to commend you for that as well. But you also expanded the SBA Women's Business Center Network for those who may not know. Tell us a little bit about that and what really drives your work with that network.

12:58 - 13:29

Yeah, you know, my my tenure at SBA and I say this with all humility, but with. Recognition was one for the history books. It really was starting with the Women's Business Center Network. Again, women fastest growing entrepreneurial demographic in the country during the economic crisis, most significantly impacted population in the U.S. from leaving the labor force at higher rates since 1988. So we had never seen that type of mass exodus of women from the economy.

13:30 - 14:23

We also then saw women starting businesses again at a trajectory that exceeded their male counterparts. And this is not kind of in comparison, is just a state with what's happening, right? When the office that I took over at SBA was formed, you know, there were nearly 400,000 women owned small businesses. And now, you know, there are nearly 11 million across the country. And that was from, you know, 1971 to today. So it's exponential explosive rocket type growth. And it was happening every day at SBA, despite the fact that we were seeing businesses closing, We were also seeing businesses open. And it was because people were realizing that they had the ability to take control of their lives, harness their own entrepreneurial visions and powers from wherever, literally from the kitchen table, you know, which is ironically, where I also started my first business.

14:23 - 14:53

And so, you know, there's no shame in that. The reduction of the amount that it costs to start a business and to enter the market as an entrepreneur was significantly decreased because of the fact that you weren't starting with brick and mortar, you were starting with digital and you could start with digital for the cost of a website, right? And so that just allowed for more and more people to be apart. And with that, here we are, 2021, and we still don't have a women's business center in every state in the United States of America.

14:54 - 15:52

You know, so when I came on board, my predecessors had about a $22 million operational budget for grant making authority. I had a $70 million just in my office grant making authority to establish women's business centers all over the country and where I had, you know, specific discretion that was in alignment with the president and the administration's agenda. First Women's Business Center in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I funded that on Black Wall Street in partnership with the Greenwood Black Chamber. I did that the largest number of women's business centers on campuses of historically black colleges and universities, historically Hispanic serving institutions and native serving institutions. I did that, put a women's business center in every state and two in Puerto Rico. I did that, you know, and I'm honored to have been able to do that. And it had me traveling all over the nation, meeting women, meeting men, meeting American small business owners during this an emotional time.

15:52 - 16:16

And then as that was happening, simultaneous to that happening, you know, my first day due to my, you know, transitions for my own kind of endeavors was March 1st. By March 7th, the American rescue plan was passed. And that's when $100 million came right down and the administrator wasn't even there yet. So we had to figure out, oh, my goodness, what do we do to deploy $100 million?

16:16 - 16:52

Now, listen, you know, I can say I have I have done it now, but at the time, I had never you know, it was impossible for how we were going to get out of the door, $100 million. And at the time, that was just a blip in the bucket because we were putting out, like I said, $1.2 trillion. We were designing, you know, 20, $30 billion programs every other week. It was incredible. More money out than the Department of Defense. Probably. This will never happen again. We hope it will never happen again. But it was a time. It was a time.

16:52 - 16:55

So real quick. Who's playing you in your biopic?

16:57 - 16:58

You said.

17:01 - 17:33

How did how did I know that work? Specifically with the 1.2 trillion and deploying the $100 million to these underrepresented communities and those in need, obviously is an example of the passionate purpose and the profession. But since then, and now that you've returned to the private sector as the executive in residence at MasterCard. How are you and how do you seek to continue to further your mission and expand opportunity and change the financial outcomes for black and Brown people?

17:34 - 18:29

I'm very excited to join the MasterCard team and grateful for this unique and one of a kind opportunity to to work with them on this particular role has never been done before. And it's being done because, again, small business is growing at the fastest rate it ever has. And the small business segment is important to every business. You know, most people think of MasterCard, They think that they're at the bank. They're not. So MasterCard is a technology company that services the financial service industry. Right. And so to be able to have the voice and the perspective of a small business owner and entrepreneur through my voice as someone who's not only been there, but also worked to build programs, products and go to market strategies for them without kind of corporate budget around marketing and promotion, because we didn't have that with our programs is really big and designing initiatives that build in.

18:29 - 18:51

To your point, James, the type of equity and the type of access to capital that is going to be so imperative as we continue to rebuild our national economy and not lose ground on some of the major achievements that were made during the pandemic, which included more money flowing to underrepresented communities than ever before as well.

18:51 - 19:34

Right. So we don't want to lose the momentum of the highways that were created during the pandemic by putting more stop signs there. And so that's one of my goals as to really advise on our products, the delivery of our products, the voice of small businesses. I sit as an advisory board member for STRIVE, which is an initial $25 million fund to support financial inclusion and economic empowerment for entrepreneurs. And MasterCard has an A $500 million in solidarity commitment, which is led by some incredible leaders at the company as well through their Center for Inclusive Communities. And so, you know, those are the ways that I'm providing voice there, and I'm excited about more to come with that.

19:34 - 19:35

So awesome. Amazing.

19:36 - 19:54

So, Natalie, as you mentioned, women and black women in particular are the fastest growing segment of entrepreneurs. I've heard you refer to this phenomenon as the entrepreneurial renaissance. Why do you think this is the case and what excites you most about what's happening?

19:55 - 20:44

You know, I again, I think the pandemic had us with some time on our hands, some time to reflect, some time to bank, some time to move through personal, mental, spiritual, emotional kind of levels in their lives, some time to stop and to do the work on self and prioritize wellness. That also resulted in people determining that they wanted to start to embark on, you know, one of the greatest forms of self manifestation that I believe, which is entrepreneurship, with the belief that through entrepreneurship they have the ability to craft and create the way in which they'd like to move forward. I think they also were inspired by the fact that they finally realized the value and the importance of the small business that they took for granted. Right?

20:44 - 21:37

So all of us started our, you know, except for James, who doesn't drink coffee. All of us missed our local coffee shops. All of us missed popping by the boutique. All of us missed something that we would pass by or stop at, just kind of on a whim, just something that was available to us. Then it wasn't there anymore. And not only did we realize what wasn't there in terms of being opened, but there were a lot of people who realized what was never there or hadn't been there for generations in their communities. And that could have been stores, services, offerings. And so they said, Hey, you know, when we open back up, I want to be the person who's going to help transform my neighborhood. I want to be the person who's going to be transforming my community or offering these services that I've been ideating on for so long. And that's why we've seen more than 5.1 million new businesses be started in the last year.

21:37 - 22:16

Right. And so when you're talking about 32 million small businesses, again, 5.1 million businesses is not a blip. That's not a blip. That's not a noticeable. That's a sizable percentage of the total pool. And quite frankly, that number, 32 million, is probably more than that now because of the fact that it was 5 million in 2021, 5 million in 2022. And we're on the trajectory to continue to keep seeing. So we may have more than 45 million small businesses in the United States of America. And we won't know until we do the economic census and the economic report. So make sure you fill out the census. But I think that's what's going on.

22:16 - 23:06

And like I said earlier, part of this is also that the cost of doing business has gone down. Yes, I know we have inflation and I know that's a real part of life. But I'm speaking about kind of the ability to put up a business storefront today, right now, and move through, cut through some of the red tape with so many of the services that are now being provided and the digitization of small businesses. There will probably never be another time where the whole world actually was also forced to put everything online. Mm hmm. And now we've seen businesses make that leap into the digital world in the digital era to establish what I consider to be more COVID proof businesses for whatever proof they need to be. For whatever may come in the future.

23:06 - 23:40

Natalie, that's such a great point that you made about the cost of starting a business. I think both of us have seen that cost dramatically decrease over our personal journeys, right? Like I remember when I started my magazine because they were still doing print magazine. This is going to cost like over $1,000,000 just to get out of the gate. But then when I started on second thought, we were able to get started for all intents and purposes, for like less than $20,000, you know, And that cost has decreased even more because of technology and what's available.

23:40 - 24:13

Absolutely. And it will continue to, as we see more companies building services, SaaS products to support small business owners. Right. So the accountant used to be something that would be like, you know, another added expense. We have, you know, platforms and products that are, you know, through APIs integrating and reading and engaging with each other, which allows you to decrease the amount of time that you need to speak to an accountant potentially because you're able to bring some of the paperwork to the table yourself or even learn about what these components are yourself.

24:13 - 24:44

Web development. I mean, you used to pay for a web developer and now you can go through a platform and just design a website, you know, however you like. So yes, all of these things are happening real time E-commerce shop. So we're seeing a spike in that platforms that exist that allow you to immediately take a picture of something. I mean, we've now even moved from having to have a website for ecommerce to you actually being able to go direct through the social media platform that you're on to immediately go to sell.

24:44 - 25:20

Right. That's transforming as well, because it also takes out another takes out another step, takes out another place. It's evolving. It's interesting. We've seen a lot of growth in edtech. So many parents of children realized how education was being or was not depending upon where they were and what the circumstance being delivered to their children. So many people decided to go back to school or go into new programs to revamp their skills using the time that they had. And so even digitization in the education sector is huge and a big market opportunity.

25:21 - 26:02

It makes me the last thing I'll say is I think what I'm seeing now from investors is investment in things that are less about social. We were coming up at a time that was very social, like how do you get, you know, connected to all these people, get connected to all these people. And now it really is what Steve Case mentioned is kind of like, you know, the second revolution, which is focused on solving for social and societal challenges. We're seeing record investment in transportation and infrastructure, right? We're seeing record investment in education and all these things that tech startup founders or startup founders or founders, period, whatever, you know, abbreviations we want to use are able to really build scalable models to support.

26:02 - 26:20

Yeah, yeah, that's absolutely right. I think there was a recent report and it goes by crunchbase, but I could be wrong. And they said that the black entrepreneurs who are receiving the most funding are those who have built businesses in the health care space. Mm hmm.

26:20 - 26:54

Yup. Yeah, right, exactly. I forgot. Health care. Absolutely right. Yes. Health care, Health care, tech, health care, startup, all of that. I mean, these are to your point, this is the next iteration. And so that's something I'm excited about because it really takes all of, you know, my experiences in some of these spaces as well. So I have the ability to be more informed in an advisory capacity. You know, Silicon Valley has changed as well. I mean, during the pandemic, everybody moved somewhere else. Exactly. I mean, they went to the Hamptons.

26:54 - 26:58

Exactly. It's now a frame of mind, not like an actual location.

26:58 - 27:37

Exactly. Absolutely. And even that migration, even at the tech in the tech world. Right. You saw employees moving all over the place. So when the employee base moves across the country, now they're being exposed to different ways of living, different challenges, different social construct than they had previously been. When everybody who was building these things, the service, those were primarily living in Silicon Valley and Palo Alto and kind of this bubble. Now they're with the rest of us and the rest of us USA, and they were experiencing what that felt like to live there. And hopefully that will also inform what we experience from these companies.

27:37 - 27:59

Yeah, absolutely. Well, Natalie, as the kids would say, you deserve all of the flowers. As someone who has personally been impacted by you and of course, our friendship, but also by your work, I just want to say thank you for everything you've done and also for always keeping all entrepreneurs in mind every step of the way.

28:00 - 28:23

So now you've moved on from the White House. You're. At MasterCard. You're also pursuing and continuing your academic endeavors by pursuing a doctoral program at UPenn. And so why is this path important to you? What was the catalyst behind deciding to pursue your doctoral studies?

28:23 - 28:46

I wanted to be a couple of steps ahead of what my kind of next life will be. And so in the next 10 to 15 years, I plan to be a president of a university. And so my focus in my doctoral program is ways that colleges and universities serve as a catalyst for entrepreneurship and economic development and really are anchor institutions in their communities.

28:47 - 29:34

Growing up in Rochester, you know, we had our I.T., we had you ever do Rochester, we had Kodak, we had Xerox, we had Boston Law, and we had all of these companies. And our city is also my city is a tale of two cities. You have the highest poverty rate in the state of New York, highest murder rate per capita in the state of New York. But yet you had the formation of all of these incredible businesses that created everything. All the iterations that we've just talked about and to our won schools that exist there. But there was so little opportunity for so many of the actual residents to engage. And then I look at other places where I see that, and then I look back at my time in Austin and see how impactful U.T. Austin was in forming the direction of where the city was going. Even from a startup perspective.

29:35 - 30:00

So I see the university as the great supplier of talent, of wisdom, of insight. And as a major part of what it means to have a successful ecosystem for any economy and any industry. And I want to, in a later point in my life, be a part of that. And I said I didn't want to do a doctorate, man. I want to do it now. And so that's what I'm doing at the number one school of education in the country.

30:00 - 30:01

I love it.

30:01 - 30:01

Shout out to you.

30:02 - 30:18

You know, we we try to make sure our guests have an opportunity to drop some gems for our listeners. Is there any one or two pretty critical call to actions you have for our audience and listeners that you'd like to impart?

30:19 - 31:04

You know, the first one is really a self-call to action, which is you can't lose if you don't quit the game. So you'll always still be in some position on the team, right? Might not be the one you want to be in. But you have to stay in the game to continue to keep playing. And I think when life throws its own curveballs at you and we've all had that right, So either you've run out of money, you've changed jobs, you're trying to figure out what you want to do for the rest of your life. You have had a family. You got whatever the circumstance that you feel like kind of took you off of an initial course. It really didn't. As long as you stay in the game, Right. That's a gem of wisdom that I would give to anyone, especially people who find themselves at it at various spectrums.

31:04 - 31:41

So either you're feeling like that because you're young and you feel like you didn't accomplish what you needed to by 30. And that's an arbitrary base to to need to feel like you have arrived or you are on the other side of leaving corporate and feel like you've done everything you did there and you don't know what you want to do next, right? So that's typically when those experiences really hit you the hardest. So that's something that I would share. And then obviously, I'll just say, if you're thinking of starting a small business at MasterCard, we encourage you to check out our Digital Doors platform, which is a free resource for anyone, anywhere, thinking of building a small business to scale.

31:41 - 31:42

Great. Thank you.

31:43 - 31:58

Well, Natalie, thank you so much for joining us today for dropping some of those gems. And once again, for all of the incredible work you've done on behalf of entrepreneurs in general. But you know, folks who look and feel like us as well.

31:58 - 31:59


31:59 - 32:04

Yeah. Thanks for joining us, Natalie. I reached out to Beyonce to see if we can get a free movie.

32:04 - 32:08

You know, you let me know as you picked up the three women.

32:10 - 32:30

I specifically for honoring great women in Women's History Month. I personally just want to thank you. You know, I really appreciate real role models, people who have lived experiences that most people can relate to. As my page, you say keep on keeping on and really appreciate you for what you do and for joining the show.

32:31 - 32:32

Thank you.

32:33 - 32:35

I hope you enjoyed today's episode.

32:35 - 32:51

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