Small Business

Staying curious: Hello Alice finds fresh ways to lift up small businesses

May 28, 2024 | By Sophie Hares

Carolyn Rodz was bit by the entrepreneurial bug during summers with her grandparents in Bolivia, where she loved watching cookies roll off the conveyor belt at their vast bakery that supplied stores across the country. After studying finance at university and working as an investment banker after graduation, she risked her stable career to launch a high-end homewares and stationery company at 25.

It failed after two years as it struggled to grow and cash flow dwindled.

Undeterred, Rodz jumped back in with both feet starting a digital media company that developed marketing analytics. Suddenly, deep-pocketed investors and high-powered contacts were coming out of the woodwork.  

“This world opened up to me that I had no idea existed,” Rodz recalled. “When I started my first company, I would have given you my right arm to get in any of these rooms.”

Imagining how other women could benefit from the same access, she started an accelerator program to grow their businesses but still wanted to find a way to support even more people from diverse backgrounds.

She found a kindred spirit in 2015 on an invite-only event for entrepreneurs in Utah, where she met Elizabeth Gore, then Dell’s entrepreneur-in-residence. The two sat up all night brainstorming ways to deliver better funding opportunities to a broad sweep of women and underrepresented business owners, who historically face challenges in accessing capital to start and grow their businesses.

In 2016, their vision became reality when the pair launched Hello Alice, a free platform that provides expert advice as well as financing help and peer-to-peer support. Since launching, the company has grown rapidly to now support 1.5 million U.S. entrepreneurs.

“There’s not a formula for success, but there’s certainly a formula for failure,” says Rodz, whose venture takes its name from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” “If businesses start to jump over those obstacles and hurdles as efficiently as they can, we’re certainly improving their chances of success.”

“There’s not a formula for success, but there’s certainly a formula for failure. If businesses start to jump over those obstacles and hurdles as efficiently as they can, we’re certainly improving their chances of success.”
Carolyn Rodz

Given that the U.S. Small Business Association reports that more than 99% of all American companies are small, ensuring they have equitable access to funding and resources is key to creating jobs, supporting communities and boosting the broader economy. Mastercard is a longstanding partner of and investor in Hello Alice, co-developing products including the Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard and offering access to digital tools, networking opportunities and ways to unlock credit through Mastercard Strive.  

"With Hello Alice, we're investing to provide support to small business owners as they look to access capital, build their networks and grow their businesses," says Ginger Siegel, Mastercard's North America small business lead. 

"Together we are working to help address the critical business challenges they face with seamless access to the products, services and financial programs needed to help make a meaningful impact on the individuals who run their businesses, the customers they serve, and our communities and economy at large." 

At Hello Alice, the majority of business owners hail from a wide range of backgrounds, and their ventures span from beauty salons to restaurants to photography studios. What connects them is their continual struggle to find new customers and access the capital needed to innovate and expand.

Drilling into its wealth of data shared by entrepreneurs on the platform, Hello Alice looks to help small business owners obtain grants and loans while focusing on generating vital revenue. The Hello Alice Small Business Mastercard credit card, for example, offers a financial lifeline for many owners as they look for ways to cover their costs and buy the supplies they need. For those who cannot qualify for a traditional credit card, the card allows them to start building a credit record that will help them apply for bank loans or even venture capital investment down the road.

Miami entrepreneur Daniel Quinones, who launched his Front Page Retail field marketing business in 2020, says swapping his business expenses from his higher-interest personal card to the Hello Alice Mastercard proved a game changer. Equally important were the card perks, including virtual sessions with Rodz to find ways to grow his company, which provides in-store demos and merchandising for emerging natural food brands.

The Puerto Rico-born founder, who first heard about Hello Alice when it partnered with Miami rapper Pitbull to support Latino businesses during the pandemic, says peer advice on staffing and financing has also been invaluable.

“Getting the answers you were looking for based on proven systems and proven resources that have worked for other people, that in business is gold,” Quinones says.

With support from Hello Alice, Miami-based Daniel Quinones has built a business helping up-and-coming natural foods companies market and merchandise their products, including through in-store demos, above. (Photo courtesy of Front Page Retail)

Now as he looks to grow with new organic brands and markets, he wants to pay it forward and offer insights to entrepreneurs who face the same growing pains he has managed to overcome.

After channeling some $70 million in capital to entrepreneurs, Hello Alice’s next phase is helping businesses tackle the coming artificial intelligence revolution, Rodz says.

“The business environment is changing so rapidly right now,” she says. “We’re ensuring they’re prepared to weather the storm.”


A lift in U.S. small business longevity

Small businesses are facing headwinds from elevated inflation and high interest rates but are benefiting from robust growth in consumer demand for goods and services and omnichannel retailing. Which sectors have the highest and lowest survival rates? Are survival rates higher for services sectors or for retail? The Mastercard Economics Institute digs into the numbers. 

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Sophie Hares, Contributor