Lisa Nichols, who will be Honorary Chairperson at the 2020 Gateway to Dreams Impact Awards on April 30, wants to help women realize their potential.
As CEO of the third largest woman-owned firm in St. Louis, Technology Partners, Nichols feels blessed to be in a position where she can accomplish this goal.
With a $30,000 home equity loan, she and her husband Greg started their company in May 1994, and have grown steadily to where they now employ 350 people in their Chesterfield, Missouri office.
“When we built momentum in the company and banks could see that we were a growing and viable firm, we were able to secure a line of credit,” Nichols said. “We’ve never had a traditional venture capital infusion.
“That is the number one challenge for women – getting the capital, then loans from banks,” she said.
“It’s a bias that women’s business acumen, astuteness, and financial savvy are not as good as men’s, and venture capital firms have traditionally been run by men,” she said.
Technology Partners is an award-winning, certified Women Owned Business Enterprise that provides premier IT staffing and solutions.
In January, the St. Louis Business Journal recognized Technology Partners as the largest temporary staffing firm in the St. Louis metropolitan region.
In Spring of 2017, Nichols was one of 10 women invited to the White House to participate in a roundtable discussion about women’s growing role in the business community.
“When I went, I was prepared,” she said. “Women receive four percent of the business dollars, and only three percent of venture capital goes to companies run by women.
“While I think there is definitely is an unconscious bias against women, it didn’t apply to Greg and me,” she said. “We bootstrapped our company and we didn’t need venture capital.”
President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Ivanka Kushner were at the table, and Nichols said they were “genuinely interested” in everything the women had to say.
“They wanted to know the challenges for women-owned businesses, and what could they do to help and support us,” she said.
Other topics included making sure customers have a good experience, and while Nichols said that was important, she had something else to say.
“We had a limited amount of time, and I knew I needed to speak up and be assertive,” she said.
“I wanted to talk about the employee experience, and we should be focused on our employees.
“The labor pool for IT is small, and I have to assume every day that our employees are being courted for a better job, better pay, whatever, so we also need training on the employee experience-how can we build employee engagement, how can we make this an amazing place where they want to come to work and don’t want to leave,” she said.
Philanthropy plays a large part at Technology Partners, and in the Nichols’ lives.
To this end, the company has a program called LIFT – Lives Impacted: Futures Transformed. The mission is to develop lasting partnerships with the clients, team members, and community.
“LIFT is built on three pillars of impact,” Nichols said. “Basic needs, education, and economic development. With basic needs, we work with the Food Bank of St. Louis, and with the Little Bit Program which provides essentials, such as clothing, books and school supplies, nutritional lunches, and some medical needs such as eyeglasses,” she said.
For education, the company is involved with STEM training, and supports education initiatives and professional development resources.
“With economic development, we invest our resources to grow potential and get our hands dirty to build communities,” she said. “We do projects at Cortex and the Missouri Technology Corporation Board, and have gotten seed money from the governor’s office to allow these businesses to get started.
Nichols is also involved in PureFlix, a version of NetFlix that streams Christian movies. When their friend produced the movie “Same Kind of Different as Me,” about a homeless man and an art collector forming an unlikely friendship, Nichols brought the movie to St. Louis and they held a Red Carpet event at the Chase Park Plaza theater with television celebrities Tim Ezell and Virginia Kerr hosting.
Nichols has a podcast, “Something Extra” promoting leadership skills. She picked the title in honor of her daughter, Ally, who has Down Syndrome, which occurs when a child is born with an extra chromosome.
“She is one of the funniest, kindest, joyful person you would ever meet, and she has taught me to look for the “something extra” in everyone I meet,” Nichols said.
Ally takes after her mother when it comes to helping others. Out of the $600,000 raised for the Independent Center by Dancing With the Stars In St. Louis, Ally raised $130,00 besides being voted “Judges Favorite,” “MVP,” and best all-around dancer.
In describing her experience with Connecting and Promoting Women, Nichols likes to use the old adage “A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats.”
“Many times, you might feel like you’re in a competitive zone,” she said. “I feel like, as women, if we are not lifting each other up, and not promoting one another, we are not doing our jobs.
“If we’re lifting each other up, we’re setting the stage for future generations of girls,” she said. “So, they’re going to be in a much better place, if we’re helping each other.
The 2020 Impact Awards will be held from 5 to 8 p.m. at the Business Lodge in Chesterfield Mall, and will include an open bar, appetizers, and a silent auction.
For more information, contact Karen Hoffman at Karen.Hoffman@GatewaytoDreams.org.