In the News

Stories from Central Iowa’s minority women business owners

Business ownership among women of color has exploded in the past decade. From 2007 to 2018, firms owned by women of color grew 163%, nearly three times the rate of overall women-owned businesses (58%), according to the 2018 State of Women Owned Businesses Report.

In 2018, women of color accounted for 47% of all women-owned businesses, a total number of 5,824,300 businesses. But the gap is widening between the average revenue for businesses owned by women of color and those by non-minority women. The average revenue for a women-of-color-owned business was $66,400 in 2018, down from $84,100 in 2007. For non-minority-owned businesses, the average revenue was $212,300 in 2018, up from $181,000 in 2007.

Deshara Bohanna, owner of Design Fetish in Des Moines, said the disparity is a result of factors that aren't an easy or quick fix. 

Access to capital is a major one. There are now more organizations striving to change that, but it is still a work in progress. That directly impacts the infrastructure of a business and, in turn, affects the bottom line. An article written by Jayne Armstrong mentioned a study conducted by 24/7 Wall Street which ranks Des Moines and Waterloo among the 10 worst cities in the country for African-Americans based on a number of socioeconomic factors. Until Iowa addresses the racial disparities facing two its two largest cities, the state's small business economy will continue to be impacted, Bohanna said. 

“When I started this endeavor, I was 100% self-funded and have grown slowly with an understanding of how business growth is directly correlated with access to capital or lack of," Bohanna said.

The social environment is also relevant. There can be an unwelcome attitude minority women face when entering new rooms and making efforts to become connected. Creating a more inclusive environment both socially and economically will help to close the earnings gap. It's something that everyone can do, Bohanna said.

"Yes, support women-owned businesses but certainly minority women because there are additional hurdles faced within that demographic," Bohanna said.  

Here are the stories of a couple of Central Iowa minority women business owners, and how they found their path in owning their own business.

Deshara Bohanna

Deshara Bohanna could hardly sleep for three days. She continuously found herself waking up in the middle of the night, thinking about houses she had seen around her neighborhood. They were all missing wreaths. Bohanna was a decor-minded person, and she thought such a simple item could make a huge difference for those living around her.

“It was such an odd issue to be bothered by, especially when I had three young girls,” Bohanna says now with a laugh. “It wouldn’t let me go, and I kept thinking about these houses without wreaths. So I decided to order all of the materials, even without researching how to make wreaths.”

She quickly figured out how to make those wreaths by hand, and she sold them door-to-door. It was fall 2016, just a few months before the holiday season, and her products sold quickly. She started selling her wreaths beyond her neighborhood, to businesses and storefronts around Des Moines.

As her demand grew, a new problem kept her awake.

“It was a very popular time for that type of product, so I would go to work [she worked full time at Mediacom], come home, take care of my girls and then work overnight,” Bohanna said. “That’s how it was for three months.”

After the busy holiday season, she took off a few months to gain her bearings before starting again in the summer of 2017. By the fall of 2017 and into 2018, Bohanna knew she had a decision to make: continue with her business full time or stick with the consistent income at her day job.

In late 2017, Bohanna decided to take the jump and take her business, Design Fetish, full time.

There were a few instances that pushed her to make that decision. While attending a bridal convention to scout competition, she met a man who ran a wedding venue. He helped her arrange a showcase for her work, free of charge, and actually bought some of her product.

That same week, she was buying food for her children at Wendy’s, and she started talking to the owner. He bought holiday decor for his three locations around the Des Moines area. Gaining such valuable business in such a short time span didn’t seem like a coincidence to Bohanna.

“I’m a person of faith, and I was praying to God to help me make the right decision with my business,” she said. “And things fell into place that I couldn’t have planned for.”

Bohanna now operates out of Mainframe Studios on Keosauqua Way in downtown Des Moines. She has goals of taking her brand nationally, where people can find her decor in hotels, restaurants and more.

“I want to be the place that people nationally refer to get gifts for their clients,” Bohanna said. “When companies bring in decor for the year, I want to be the company that provides that for them."

Sophia Sledge

Sophia Sledge is unfazed by being different. Throughout her working life, she has been in the minority — whether that was being the only female in management in FedEx Ground or where she is today, in the male-dominated world of finance.

Sledge is an agent at New York Life, which allows her to operate as her own business. She networks, works to earn her own clients and actually has a “doing business as” designation — although she doesn’t use it.

“I have to go out and hustle, meet people and build my own business,” she said. “In Des Moines, I’m one of the few minorities, and I’m female and black. I’ve never been one of those people that cares about being different. It’s not a big deal for me. I’ll be the one that goes in first, and I’ll be the first one to say there’s something wrong here.”

While Sledge grew up in a military family and lived in many different places in Europe and the United States, she has Iowa roots. Her great-grandfather and grandfather were born in Valley Junction. When Sledge’s mother was young, her grandfather moved the family to San Diego. That’s where Sledge ended up after her father retired from the military when she was 16.

After high school, Sledge earned a basketball scholarship to nearby San Diego State and played in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She graduated with an undergraduate and master’s degree in education and worked with her cousin’s screen printing and embroidery business in San Diego. Sledge later moved to Arizona and worked for FedEx. Her stepfather worked at Arizona State at the time and recommended that she try to get a job with the athletic department. Just a few years later, Sledge rose through the ranks and became an academic adviser for student athletes.

She remained there until 2012, when her wife moved to Des Moines to work at Drake University. Sledge then worked at the now-defunct AIB College of Business as an academic adviser, and when the school in 2016, she was recruited to work at New York Life.

“I was sold on the fact that the company’s values are in line with a lot of my own values,” Sledge said. “It allows me to teach still, helping people understand what they need to do in terms of financial planning.”

Sledge has two children and appreciates the flexibility that being her own agent with New York Life provides. She doesn’t look at being a female and minority agent as a disadvantage, either — in fact, it can be an advantage, she says.

“It doesn’t scare me at all,” Sledge said. “I think it gives me the upper hand. At least that’s how I view it. For me, when someone wants to bring in a female adviser, there’s only four of us at the New York Life Des Moines office, so that gives me an advantage.”