Even before she turned seven years old, Shannon Morales had a vision. “I used to have these dreams of being this ‘boss business woman,’ with a full-on suit, walking down some long stairs with a briefcase,” she says, laughing at the memory. “Ever since then, I always thought Someday I’ll be a business woman.”
She kept a notebook full of business ideas, like her childhood plan to invent…a spray-on lip gloss. “Looking back, that was a horrible idea!” she says. “But it was something that I wanted to do so badly that I didn’t want to stop thinking about ideas.”
Her determination led her, after graduating from William Paterson University in 2014, to the world of corporate finance. Feeling unfulfilled in that role, and a bit marginalized as an Afro-Latina woman, she started a side hustle, helping minority candidates find jobs at companies she personally vetted. As interest in her service grew, she realized what she had before her: a fully-realized business opportunity.
In 2017, she launched Echo Me Forward, a name that pays tribute to the notion that the wisdom of previous generations can be echoed, to propel future generations ahead.
She already has seven local clients, with plans to expand into other cities with burgeoning startup ecosystems: Pittsburgh, Detroit, Atlanta, to name a few. Since 2017, she’s placed more than 120 candidates at companies that value diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI, for short).
“This is going to be something that is definitely needed, especially with the racial climate that’s just starting to swirl,” she says. “It’s definitely not new for me, but it’s new for a lot of other people. Before I had to do a lot of explaining, when employers would say ‘We want the best talent, why does it have to be diverse talent?’ Now, it’s ‘We need diverse talent, and can you get it quicker?’”
Morales is also the Philly director of Techqueria, the national nonprofit that nurtures and supports Latinx people in tech. And Stealth.ify, the app she created to gamify social distancing, is currently undergoing a rebranding.
This past spring Morales graduated, as part of a cohort of 20 rising business leaders, from Philly Startup Leaders, the local incubator that nurtures entrepreneurs. And in the spirit of paying that forward, this weekend she’ll be hosting Echo Me Forward’s first ever (online) mini-accelerator program for teen girls, ages 13 to 17.
Called Bossie—as a way to put a more positive spin on the often negative criticism that girls with power are too bossy—the free two-day program will feature eight hours of workshops facilitated by other female business leaders, and will culminate in a pitch competition on Sunday, where 10 contestants can compete to win $250 or more. Girls with all levels of business experience and interest are welcome. Programming will take place via Zoom.
“It’s all about how far you want to take it this weekend—sit back, relax and enjoy the programming, or get out there and be all about spreading your wings and being competitive,” Morales says.
Facilitators will include Noa Mintz, a student at Brown University who, at the age of 10, founded Nannies by Noa, a successful nanny placement service in New York City and the Hamptons. Girls can also learn from Zia Heller, head of finance for The Well, a digital and physical wellness platform headquartered in New York, and Ashley Aydin of VamosVentures, which supports under-represented founders, and more. Funding for the program comes directly from Echo Me Forward.
“I just wanted to create something where I could pull all these girls together and say Hey listen, I created this program especially for you,” Morales says. “And we want others in the community to really stand behind the mission of helping girls become more aware of their leadership skills. We need to do more [in terms of] empowering them to use their energy towards something productive.”
Saturday, August 22, noon to 5pm; Sunday, August 23, 1:30pm to 3:30pm, with pitch competition from 4:30pm to 5:30pm.Header photo: Echo Me Forward founder Shannon Morales