Nell Merlino has been an activist and an entrepreneur for most of her career. The founder of Take Your Daughter To Work in the 1990s has worked nationally and internationally to champion women and girls.
The road has been long, and she continues to lean into the curves to gain momentum and help women connect and prosper. In 2000, she started Count Me In, a program modeled after a variety of international microloan programs that hadn’t yet found a foothold in the U.S. She went on to launch Make Mine A Million Dollar business when she saw the scaling challenges that many women experience.
Merlino paid things forward, sideways, up and down. She connected with people that matter, people that kept their priorities straight, and people with a tremendous sense of mission. She did the obligatory turn in a tech startup and lost half her retirement. She continued the creator’s journey of “succeed, fail, succeed, rethink”—until a few months ago when she found herself in lockdown on Columbus Circle in New York City.
Merlino did what many of us have done: she looked to escape, went inward, and then through connections with women of substance and purpose, she turned her knowledge and experience outward again. She left New York for Texas to be near family. She gardened, painted, wrote, and then started to get itchy for the progress she has committed to life to achieving.
When she connected in April with a dear friend, artist, and entrepreneur, Norma Rapko, she was reminded of the power of “seeing a problem and working to solve it.” In response to stories about farmer’s killing their crops and seeing the decimation occurring in the restaurant business, Rapko and her colleague, Barbra Bannon, launched the Farm To Table Innovation Collective. The group created a guide for restaurants to get creative and flex their bootstrapping muscles, finding other streams of income and strategies for pushing through and keeping the critical infrastructures of business and community together.
The idea was great, but all great ideas need capital to fuel them, and she went to the next step on her journey of those that not only have money but do the right things with what they have. She reconnected with Ariela Weiss Esquenazi. Esquenazi started her entrepreneurial journey at 21, launched Ariela & Associates at age 27 just after the birth of her third child, and then founded Smart & Sexy lingerie, which now sells over 60 million garments a year under numerous national brands.
When Esquenazi heard about the Farm To Table Innovation Collective and the restaurants that needed bridge loans, she immediately committed $50,000. But this world is evolving at lightning pace, and 24 hours later, she reached back out to Merlino to raise the stakes.
As Merlino puts it, they understood that not just restaurants but “women in every sector need help to make it, get a hand up, and receive an expression of confidence that they can get through.” Rather than $50,000 in rapid grants, Esquenazi said, let’s do $250,000 fast and rally the community to make a more significant difference.
Revive, Reinvent & Rally – The Count Me In Revival
For the past two weeks, Merlino and an army of distinguished and scrappy business people have been working on a grant program that can make a difference right now.
Today at 1 pm EST, Count Me In Revival is holding a rally to help prospective women business owners—of all kinds in all industries—understand the opportunities of this accelerated grant program. Over 400 people have registered, and already 70 women business owners have applied for the much-needed grants.
Applications are due by July 8th, and on July 31, 2020 the group will announce the 19 winners in this round. Fifteen companies will receive $10,000 in grants, and four will receive $25,000. In addition to grant funding, recipients will get two group coaching sessions with people who have built, bought, and sold businesses, and used their creativity and capital to make a difference.
A few of the diverse and high-powered speakers today include:
With this much passion and goodwill coming together, Merlino emphasized that the next round is already in the making. If you are interested in participating in the program, you can get information on applying for grants. There is also a greater call for those that want to pay it forward in the next round. Entrepreneurs and corporations who wish to make a difference can make individual donations or reach out to find out how to be a major $25,000 sponsor at Count Me In Revival.
Today’s rally is about much more than money. Merlino talks about all the ways women working together can transform business and society. By leveraging a foot up through a grant at the small business level, they can scale and expand into transformative forces for good. Merlino sees the program as a way not only to help women succeed but also to spawn a new generation of women like Esquenazi, who genuinely pay it forward.