A powerful force for the advancement of women and girls, Nell Merlino has developed numerous collaborative campaigns and programs that mobilize millions of people to take action. Creator of “Take Our Daughters To Work Day”, she is also the Founder & President of Count Me In. Originally founded in 1999. Count Me In (CMI) was the world’s first online micro lender, pioneering a unique model that combined business pitch competitions, mentoring, education, and access to financing for female entrepreneurs. Today, in response to an increasingly challenging business climate brought on by COVID-19, coupled with protests in support of Black Lives Matter, Count Me In has launched a Revival to support women-owned business in transforming their products, services, and companies to meet the new safety, health and racial justice imperatives.
The following is a Women’s eNews (WeN) Q&A with Nell Merlino:
WeN: Why did you launch Count Me In at this time?
Merlino: In 1999 I founded the Count Me In organization after noticing a gap in the market — a lack of support for women business owners who had already passed the startup phase. While there is certainly nothing wrong with staying small, I felt that more opportunities and resources could help those who wanted to get to the next level.
As for relaunching it now through Count Me In Revival, I think people recognize that in this moment we have to help each other. As business women we already knew that — it’s why a lot of us started our businesses in the first place. But I think that same creativity and sensibility that we have about our products and services has to be shared throughout the business world.
Today, Count Me In supports women in business in a huge array of industries, from language translation services to companies that provide medical testing to patients, providing financial assistance through contests and grant programs.
WeN: How has this launch been similar/different to the Take Our Daughters to Work Day launch?
Merlino: What is similar is the common theme of helping women or girls who will one day become women, value themselves and be valued by society in the business world.
When I created Take Your Daughters to Work Day in 1993, I really thought about what would happen if every girl got a chance to appreciate what their parents do outside the house. It was seeing what mothers and fathers did outside of the home that was a revelation for a lot of girls. Back then it was not the norm for girls to show up at work with their parents and far fewer women had a role in the business world.
Although there’s still a long way to go, women are rightfully making their mark in the workplace and accepted more than ever not just as employees but as entrepreneurs. For me what’s different with the launch of Count Me In Revival from Take Your Daughter to Work Day is empowering women to grow bigger and stronger versus trying to give them that initial shot at being seen in any kind of role in the workforce and/or company.
WeN: What do you hope will be gained by the recipients of the Count Me In grants?
Merlino: We are excited to provide nineteen exceptional women entrepreneurs grant money to help them adapt and thrive in the COVID-19 economy. There has never been a better time for women to lead in business and to support one another. The founders of Smart & Sexy and Curvy Couture who provided the $250,000 in grant money are a great example of showing the power women entrepreneurs hold to help lift one another toward the common goal of success. Together as a community we have survived and thrived through 9/11 and The Great Recession. As we face these new obstacles, I have no doubt we will continue to innovate and grow our businesses with the help of community support including through help of the awarded grants.
WeN: Are there specific areas of focus that your organization is supporting, and why?
Merlino: We focus our efforts on working with women entrepreneurs who own and run small businesses in any and all sectors. If you take a look at the recent nineteen women who were awarded the grant money, you’ll see a very diverse group of companies covering many different industries. You’ll notice representation of consulting, legal services, agriculture, manufacturing, retail sales, and many other sectors represented by the awardees as well as others involved in Count Me In Revival.
WeN: What have the results been thus far?
Merlino: The response to the Count Me In Revival was overwhelming with 2200 female-owned businesses expressing interest in applying for grant money. In the end, 444 businesses submitted applications. The nineteen grant winners awarded on 7/31/20 are now utilizing their grant money and the CMI Revival Award business, financial and communication coaching to adapt and grow in these challenging times.