Dr. ZaLonya Allen is President/CEO of the National Entrepreneurs Association, a 501c3 created to empower entrepreneurs to grow and sustain successful businesses through monthly networking events, training conferences and educational programs.
As a speaker Dr. Allen has delivered hundreds of presentations for organizations throughout the country including, Society for Human Resource Management, Ford UAW, Edison, Roanoke College and the Federal Government to name a few. As a leadership and entrepreneurial coach she has worked with professionals in a variety of industries from corporate executives to professional athletes. Using the principles of psychology, Dr. Allen helps her clients master their mindset and get on a path to goal attainment.
Dr. Allen has been the recipient of numerous awards including the Woman of Wonder Award from University of Phoenix, Unsung Hero Award from Wayne state University Association of Black Business Students and the Spirit of Detroit Award. Her work has been featured by numerous media outlets including Detroit News, Fox 2 News, CW50 Street Beat, Crain’s Detroit, DBusiness, 910AM Superstation and 105.9 FM.
Dr. Allen is a graduate of the University of Michigan, Wayne State University and North Central University. She holds degrees in industrial relations, sociology and two degrees in psychology with a focus in I/O psychology. She is a member of the National Society of Leadership and Success, an invitation only honors society for students with a GPA of 3.3 or higher.
Connect with Dr. Zalonya on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- The mission of NEA
- What makes your association different
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:02] Broadcasting live from the Business RadioX studios in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s time for Association Leadership Radio. Now, here’s your host.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:16] Lee Kantor here another episode of Association Leadership Radio, and this is going to be a good one. Today on the show, we have ZaLonya Allen and she’s with National Entrepreneurs Association. Welcome.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:00:30] Hello and thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:32] I’m so excited to learn what you’re up to. Before we get too far into things, tell us a little bit about National Entrepreneurs Association. How you serving folks?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:00:42] Absolutely. The National Entrepreneurs Association is a 501 C three nonprofit corporation that exists to help entrepreneurs succeed. The fail rate and entrepreneurship is relatively high, and we feel that if entrepreneurs can get together and connect with like minded entrepreneurs, they will be more successful. In addition, if they receive the training that they need, they can be successful. So we offer quality training programs and networking events.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:20] So what was kind of the genesis of the idea? What inspired you to get involved with this?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:01:27] What inspired me is I’m a lifelong entrepreneur. My parents were entrepreneurs. And when I got into it, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. There’s so many different components to it and I just thought if I’m having difficulty, others are probably having difficulty too. And then when I did the research, I found out that there was in fact a high failure rate for small businesses as well as entrepreneurs. So that motivated me to put on a conference called the Entrepreneurs Forum. And from that, the National Entrepreneurs Association emerged.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:13] So now is the group National in the sense that there aren’t local chapters, or is it national in the sense that this is an overriding mission and you’re trying to put chapters around the country.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:02:25] So we are a national organization. We meet virtually and entrepreneurs from all over the country join our meetings. Of course, the pandemic has been going on for over two years. We started this in 2018 and the goal is, yes, to have chapters in every major city in the United States. But because of the pandemic, we began meeting virtually and we do all kinds of events to support entrepreneurs on a national level.
Lee Kantor: [00:03:03] So what’s an example of some of the events you do?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:03:07] Sure, we do national virtual pitch competitions. Those events are sponsored by Dell Technologies and Comerica Bank, where contestants can pitch their business in 3 minutes and win $3,000. They also win a Dell Computer and a one year membership to the NBA. And we do those twice a year. We also have second and third place winners. We do an entrepreneur, bootcamp and certification program so entrepreneurs can become certified. And it’s a nine week training program where we give entrepreneurs an overview of entrepreneurship, because often when people become entrepreneurs, they are passionate about a particular product or service, but they may not understand the other aspects of business like the legal side or how to market effectively. So we give them a nice overview. At the end of the program, they take an exam. If they pass with 80% or better, they receive our certification.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:20] And then this is the objective of that is to help educate the entrepreneur so they don’t kind of make some of the the mistakes that caused such a high failure rate for entrepreneurs.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:04:33] Exactly. It’s to better prepare them so that they know what they’re getting into. Often when people become entrepreneurs, they may not anticipate everything that that they’re getting themselves into. So it just kind of prepares you for what is to come. And if you’re a seasoned entrepreneur and you’ve been in business for a while, it’s still a great program because you get training from experts. Every module is taught by an expert and you don’t know what you don’t know. So entrepreneurs always learn something new in this program.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:14] Now, has the membership been growing since the beginning? Has this been something that’s been, you know, are you starting to get traction?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:05:24] Absolutely. We have over 10,000 followers on our various social media platforms. Actually, we have over 13,000 on Facebook. Our email database has over 10,000. And that’s just grown since the pandemic because we started in Michigan. And like I said earlier, we’re servicing entrepreneurs all over the country now through our pitch competition, through our boot camp. And we also do monthly networking events, and that is virtual as well, where entrepreneurs can log on, zoom and connect with other entrepreneurs and exchange referrals and just support each other.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:11] Now, are you finding that people are hungry for this kind of information? We hear a lot about this great resignation where a lot of folks are just frustrated with their kind of corporate job and they want to kind of, you know, go their own way and carve their own path. Do you find that that people are just really looking for this type of information so they can get a solid foundation as they launch a new venture?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:06:37] I do. I do. Because I think the pandemic caused people to do some self-reflection and they want more out of life. And I think that’s why we’re seeing the great resignation. People are pursuing their passion and they need guidance and direction. So whenever we put out the advertisement for our pitch and our boot camp, the applications are through the roof. We actually cannot accept everyone who applies for these great programs. So absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:14] Now, do you have any advice for other leaders of associations that are launching a venture like yours? You’re you’re trying to serve the nation. How did you kind of attract those early corporate partners that probably help you fund this venture?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:07:31] So I’ve been doing entrepreneurial events for a while since 2011. So for about ten years. And initially I funded the programs. My team, we self-funded and we attracted the sponsors. People saw what we were doing. They liked it. People would refer others to us, and that’s how we got our sponsors. I haven’t really aggressively pursued corporate sponsors. They’ve heard about what we’re doing and they liked it and came on board. So that’s what I would recommend to association. Do something that you’re passionate about that you believe in. Network invite corporate sponsors to your events, and if they like what you’re doing, they will most likely get on board.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:29] Now. Do you have the challenge that some associations have? I don’t know if you have this because a lot of your work is virtual, but the ability to find volunteers and people to help in the, you know, kind of fulfilling the mission. Is that something that you struggle with or is that something you’ve kind of figured out?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:08:49] No. I think volunteerism is always a challenge. You just have to find the right mix. We have a core group of entrepreneurs who are really passionate and looking for opportunities to give back. But I would say other than that core, it can be challenging. But one of the things we try to do to correct that is to teach entrepreneurs the importance of volunteerism and that in order to get, you have to give. So I think when they understand the law of reciprocity, it becomes easier to attract volunteers.
Lee Kantor: [00:09:38] Now, is this playing out the way that you envisioned when you launch this?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:09:44] Absolutely. We had a big vision. The country is huge. We have over 30 million people in this country and millions of people pursuing entrepreneurship. So the opportunities are endless. And if we can just impact a few lives, we feel that our work has been worthwhile. So I think the sky is the limit really here because the need is great. We need more help in this area.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:18] Now, do you find that you’re attracting kind of the beginning entrepreneur on the life cycle, like the aspirational person who is thinking about this but hasn’t pulled the trigger? Or do you attract more the veteran entrepreneur that wants to take their business to a new level, or is it a mix?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:10:37] But we do have an application process, and because research shows that most people start to drop out around a year and a half, we do require that our entrepreneurs be in business for at least one year, and that’s because we want serious entrepreneurs who understand a little bit more about what they’re getting into. It’s not a get rich quick scheme. You’re not going to achieve success overnight. So we do that. We like for people to be in business for at least one year. And then I would say it’s a mix. So we get late stage entrepreneurs as well as early stage, but we do want you to be in business for at least one year.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:30] So now how do you kind of create the different activities that would be beneficial to somebody who’s, you know, farther along? They would have different needs than somebody that’s just getting started or is just, you know, at the beginning of their journey.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:11:46] Well, actually, we found that our programs benefit early stage entrepreneurs as well as late stage, because, you know, I just coached someone who has a fear of public speaking. Maybe you have a business and you haven’t had to pitch it, but now you want to go to the next level and get out there and start pitching your business and get more exposure. But you don’t have that training. We provide that training. So the same thing with our boot camp. It’s an overview. So all of our entrepreneurs, we’ve graduated 60 so far, whether they were early stage or late stage, they always say, I learned something new because there’s so much to learn and you can’t possibly know at all. So if you go through a program like ours that’s giving you a nice overview, you’re going to pick up something new as well as meet other entrepreneurs that you’re going to learn from just by having a conversation.
Lee Kantor: [00:12:53] Now. Are you reaching out to the universities? There seems to be entrepreneur programs sprouting in universities all over the country. Are you partnering with any of them?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:13:04] But we are not necessarily reaching out to the universities, but we do attract university students. In fact, someone from I believe it’s Florida University just won our last pitch competition. So we do attract college students for our pitch. And he did an outstanding job. He was only 24 years old and had a great idea and pitched it and he won first place.
Lee Kantor: [00:13:35] Wow, that’s fantastic. Do you find that you’re reaching maybe some of these entrepreneurs from underserved areas that maybe aren’t getting the attention from some of the local resources that are maybe close by to them, but your your your organization is kind of attractive to them.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:13:55] Yes, we do have a lot of underserved communities that reach out to us. But again, the requirement is the same. We just want to know that they’re serious, they know what they want to do and they’ve taken those initial steps and then we’re happy to serve.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:17] Right. That’s the I guess that was that a point of where you had to decide if that is the path that you wanted to go on? Because on one hand, you you don’t want to discourage anybody, but you want people that have kind of skin in the game so that they are kind of really invested in this. And they’re not just dreamers that never take action.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:14:38] Yes style. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing entrepreneur events for over ten years. So initially when I started doing events, everyone was welcome. But what I was finding was that there was a high turnover rate because people would get into it not knowing what to expect. And a year later they had given up already and got a job. So that’s one of the reasons we do, as you said, want people to have skin in the game and not think that this just, you know, it’s fashionable and trendy right now. So let me just go and try to be an entrepreneur. We want people who understand it’s a lot of work and it’s not easy. So that’s why we have that one year requirement.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:31] Yeah, I think and I can see that that would be it’s a double edged sword in the sense that you need to encourage the people who haven’t taken action yet, but those people have to take action and only they can take the action. You can’t take the action for them. You can’t want it more than they do. So, you know, at some point, if they’re serious, they have to, you know, get in there and start trying something.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:15:59] Absolutely. And there within entrepreneurship, there’s different niches that you can serve. And there are organizations out there that will help pre startups and early startups. So that help is out there for them. We just chose to focus on late stage startups and growth stage entrepreneurs because they really need help. You know, there’s this population out there who they’ve taken the leap, they’ve decided This is what I want to do. They’ve invested the money and then around the 18 month mark they start failing. And we want to get those people when they need the help the most. And we feel like we can help a lot of people, save their businesses and be successful.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:50] Now, do you find that there are certain clusters within your membership? Are there are they professional services or are they manufacturing or are they creators like do they fall into any kind of niche or is it kind of industry agnostic, your members?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:17:08] Our members are very diverse. We do have a lot of service based businesses, people who were professionals, and now they’re getting into coaching and consulting. But we do have product based businesses as well. People who have created a product, we have one entrepreneur that I’m thinking of. He creates his own perfumes and his business has taken off. He’s doing six figure business in a relatively short period of time. So it’s very diverse, all kinds of entrepreneurs.
Lee Kantor: [00:17:47] So what do you need more of? How can we help?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:17:50] I think we need more exposure when people come to us, whether it’s to pitch or to get training or just to network. One of the things I consistently hear is I can’t believe that I have never heard of this organization and they love our programs. So I think we just need to let more people know that we are here.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:14] And if somebody wants to learn more, what is the website?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:18:18] The website is national entrepreneurs dot org or national e a dot org.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:26] The style and then that’s the website. Are you you know, can they find you also like on LinkedIn or any of the social platforms?
ZaLonya Allen: [00:18:35] Absolutely. We’re on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter. They can you can connect with me personally. My name is Sonya Allen or just search National Entrepreneurs Association.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:50] Well, Zelena, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
ZaLonya Allen: [00:18:56] Thank you for having me.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:58] All right. This is Lee Kantor. We’ll all next time on Association Leadership Radio.