Whitney Martin (MBA ’16) is Vice President of Sales and Service Delivery at Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit that leads the nation in providing small businesses — especially those run by entrepreneurs of color, immigrants, and women—with access to capital, networks, and coaching. Ms. Martin was very involved in the social impact scene at Michigan Ross while she was a student. She was president of the Center for Social Impact’s Advisory Board, VP for the Women in Leadership Conference, part of Ross Net Impact, Detroit Revitalization and Business Initiative (Detroit R&B) and the Emerging Markets Club, and took part our Nonprofit Board Fellows program.
For our readers, can you describe what you’re doing with Accion Opportunity Network?
At Accion Opportunity Fund, I lead the end-to-end customer experience for our small business borrowers. I focus on the loan application process and improving access to affordable capital for women and minority small businesses owners.
What are the challenges you have seen that are unique for entrepreneurs during the Covid-19 pandemic?
The most challenging aspect of accessing capital during the pandemic has been navigating the government-run programs and opportunities. There have been grant programs, but those ended up more like the lottery, with many more applicants than grants. The Paycheck Protection Program was an amazing opportunity for small businesses, but the paperwork and application were quite challenging and took significant time to process. Now there are subsidized loan programs like the Southern Opportunity and Resilience (SOAR) Fund and California Rebuilding Fund, but small business owners are not necessarily aware of these options.
How have you leveraged your Ross MBA and Nonprofit Board Fellows experience as a Sales and Service Director at Accion?
Ross provided me with the toolkit I needed to rise as a leader within Accion Opportunity Fund with a good understanding of the role and importance of each department. Our focus on positive organizations has changed how I lead and what I advocate for. Both MAP and the Nonprofit Board Fellows program helped me see how nonprofits function and the unique challenge of balancing the needs of customers, employees, and donors at once.
What role has Ross played in your current role?
It has been so fun to work with Michigan Ross MAP teams on our customer experience last year and this year. Big thanks to Chase, Connie, J’Taime, Kyra, Maura, and Vivian for paving the way during a pandemic for future MAP teams. Then to this year’s team (Aanchal, Abby, Becky, Emily, Jenn, and Nick) for building on their great work!
Although DC has a smaller Ross network, it is close-knit and the U-M network is massive. Some of my closest friends are those I know from Ross and I have gotten to know many Ross alumni through admissions and social events in DC. As I’ve made job transitions, they have supported and guided me even through the pandemic.
How important are your current people networks in your work-life balance? Is there any part of your education that has surprised you by taking center stage in your work?
After graduating and before starting at BCG I did an internship with Women For Women International and Technoserve. For Technoserve, my team did an analysis of the cashew industry in Mozambique. I called on three professors from Ross to advise me on culture change, strategy, and public/private strategy. Every single professor that I contacted responded and helped me think through the issues. Every single time I have looked for support from a student, alumnus, or faculty member, they’ve been there. It’s the Michigan Difference.
Do you have any advice for current students aiming to make a career in the social sector?
Use the alumni network to learn more about organizations of interest and make connections that can open doors for you there. We will benefit from your energy and talent – looking forward to seeing you thrive wherever you land.