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UIX: Linda Otterbridge pushes women in business to Hook A Sista Up

Hook A Sista Up, founded by Linda Otterbridge, offers women the opportunity for one-on-one mentoring with other women leaders. Matthew Russell finds out how collaboration, connection, and competition are helping female entrepreneurs launch their businesses with the right kind of support in this week's Urban Innovation Exchange.

There are many resources out there for those starting their first or newest business, but few of them cater specifically to the position and challenges women face in today’s world. And when it comes to connecting leaders with women looking to succeed, who better than other women to take those leadership roles?

Hook A Sista Up, founded by Linda Otterbridge, offers women the opportunity for one-on-one mentoring with other women leaders—HASU members—along with seminars, workshops and speaker series. Its mission is “to help women entrepreneurs launch their business ventures faster and sustain them longer through collaboration and mentorship.”
Linda Otterbridge
“The idea to start Hook A Sista Up came from the very familiar need of women to connect and form a bond, especially to help and support each other,” Otterbridge says. “I noticed women-owned businesses were popping up on every turn and I thought what a great idea it would be to form a mentoring platform just for women who were starting a business or who were already in business.”

While she admits she has little problem with self-starting, Otterbridge says she empathizes with other women who launch themselves into business on their own.

“I have always been a self-starter and when I wanted to build or start something I just did it,” she says. “So, when I see women out here doing it alone, I think to myself, 'They don't have to be out here alone starting their business in a silo. Who is going to tell them what is right or wrong?  Who is going to be their cheerleader?’ This is what drives me to continue HASU every day.”

The aim of HASU isn’t just to connect women through networking opportunities, but to get them in touch with mentors who are well established and have been through the pains of starting a business and “can help the upcoming women start with less pain and in a faster turnaround time,” Otterbridge says.

For the yearly fee of $75, which covers the cost of printing marketing materials, food, and space rental, members and their business information are listed on the HASU resources page and they’re updated with different networking and learning events. Members are given chances to promote their business by hosting a table at an HASU event or even participating as a panel speaker at a seminar. Of course, members aren’t all one-on-one mentors, speakers, or trainers, but they do all share the benefit of access to exclusive discounts and attendance to all HASU speaker series events.

Membership to HASU isn’t just a one way street, either. While the established professionals “pay it forward” with the resources they have to offer, Otterbridge says, each member in the program is held accountable with monthly check-ins, motivating them toward the group’s tagline, “competition to collaboration.”
Syreeta Nelson
The mentors and trainers involved in HASU come from varied backgrounds and help the program though different means, but they all share a desire to “be a part of the sisterhood of women entrepreneurs and give back in any way they can,” Otterbridge says.
 
These women were once starting a business with limited resources, with very little knowledge of getting a business off the ground, and without having the emotional support of another woman who can relate,” she says.

In measuring success, HASU doesn’t just see launching a business as a win. It’s in the sustained connection with other women professionals and the resources they can share with each other that help each member reach their goals, Otterbridge says.

“A success for us is that member who has pondered on starting a business for over a year and then decides that she is finally ready to commit to starting her business,” she shares. “This particular woman came to a bi-monthly accountability check-in and shared what she had been doing to get her business going. To the surprise of her mentor, who was present, she actually had a prototype of what her product would look like at the check-in that night. Of course we all cheered and were really excited for her.”
 
Through the encouragement and guidance found through HASU, this particular member went from thinking about her decision, to moving forward with a sample product.
 
“We can't wait to see how this business will flourish this year,” Otterbridge says.
 
On the other end of the spectrum, another HASU member had been in business for 25 years before finding HASU through a desire to connect more with the community and help in a pay-it-forward capacity.
 
“She is not only serving on a few boards but she is also connected to HASU and all of our women who are starting businesses by giving tons of advice and mentoring a few of our women as well,” Otterbridge says. She used her skills as an avid businesswoman to give back to others and to gain what she was missing in her professional life as a woman entrepreneur of over 30 years.”
 
The talent base of HASU members covers a wide swath, including Syreeta Nelson, RN, a spoken word artist and author of “The Crack Chronicles Vol. 1: Dissection of a Demon;” and Lakeshia Gilbert, founder and president of HOAP Homes (Helping our Adolescence Prosper).
Lakeshia Gilbert
“Both of the ladies joined HASU last year as members and they continue to pay it forward to help other women entrepreneurs through sharing resources and connections as they also work on and in their businesses,” Otterbridge says.
 
Otterbridge herself has a diverse educational and work history. She attended Spring Arbor Univerity, graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in family life education in 1998, worked at The Recuperation Center in Grand Rapids until it closed in 2003, and then D.A. Blodgett until she received her Master of Arts degree in organizational management from Spring Arbor in 2008 and moved to North Carolina.
 
Debra Bates, owner of MeMe's Foundations Boutique and Choice Business Services, where HASU holds its monthly meetings, was one of the first people Otterbridge contacted upon moving back to Michigan in 2011. Otterbridge asked Bates for help with starting HASU and wanted to know how the two could work together to support women professionals.
 
“I loved the concept and agreed to support her in the areas she felt I could help,” Bates says. “Supporting her with my facility for meeting and being a mentor has been great. Meeting women that I would have not met in my daily travels, listening to all the great ideas and concepts, and watching the beginning steps of an idea up to the launch of a business has been exciting and very rewarding.”

Bates sees HASU as a crucial tool in “supporting women in their dreams, listening, being honest, and supportive.”

As an L3C company, Otterbridge says HASU operates as a social enterprise with the main focus of “helping address some of the economic and societal issues of helping women and the community become economically sustainable through business start-ups and helping women achieve a life-time of success by being able to take care of their families and also leave a legacy for them.” 

The goal is to create “generational empowerment and strength through ownership and entrepreneurship.”

The first HASU fundraiser is being held October 29 at Kitchen 67.
 
To learn more about Hook A Sista Up, visit http://www.hasu1.net/

Matthew Russell is the Project Editor for UIX Grand Rapids. Contact him at matthew@uixgrandrapids.com. 

Photography by Steph Harding 
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