Alexis Wilson is Founder of The Mentership, a mentoring and internship program exposing girls to both business and the craft of character. Here she talks with us about starting the program, shares business advice, and lets us in on not only why The Menternship matters, but where it came from. You can keep up with all things The Menternship via Twitter, Instagram, and their website.
Tell us a little bit about your background: Who are you and where are you headed? How did you get your start in communications and entrepreneurship? Who or what inspired you?
I’m a seed planter and a brand builder. I’m a learner. I’m a mentee and I am a mentor. I’m an exalter and businesswoman who serves. I recently graduated from the University of Michigan with a focus on communications and entrepreneurship. I’m not an academic by any means and it seems as though the only place I had at UofM naturally would have been communications. However, I really found a sense of belonging through the universities entrepreneurship department when I met my mentor Jeni Olney who is the academic program advisor for Innovate Blue, the universities entrepreneurship ecosystem. I’ve grown up around entrepreneurs all my life. My parents own a nonprofit called the Yunion. My aunts are all business owners, and I’ve known for more than half of my life that I would be an entrepreneur myself. It’s been in me since I was little. I can recall being the top seller in my Girl Scouts. I remember starting a knitting business with my best friend we were 12 (and making a pretty decent amount of money from it too!). Out of all of these things, however, what has inspired me the most is God & the visions He’s implanted in me. None of what I have now would be here without the vision to create it.
Founder of The Menternship, talk to us about where the idea for the program came from?
One day I was sitting in class, not paying attention and I had this thought to develop an internship program. It was an internal battle for me because I didn’t feel like I was qualified to have internship program when I didn’t even have an LLC! I didn’t feel like I could START my company by giving back. I didn’t feel like I had the resources or like it was a good idea to give before I made any revenue. However, this was a situation where God had given me a vision so clear that I could not deny it was meant to be. So I began writing out what I saw. In the midst of my writing, I saw that while I wanted to extend the opportunity to teach business and brand management I also wrote down many things that were in regards to personal development – things I feel have catered to the growth of me internally like natural laws, the power of thought, or even self-discipline. Once I realized I wanted it to provide young women with the opportunity to intern and that I also wanted the opportunity to mentor them I said: “I got it, I’ll call it a Menternship!”. I basically just combined the two words!
You’re in your second year of the program. What were some challenges you faced in getting The Menternship off the ground? What has been rewarding about your work on, with, and for the program so far?
For me, the biggest challenge was time and resources. When I first thought about the program I did not intend on launching it within two months however, it’s what I felt this world needed. I had to constantly build myself up after being talked down. I was told my efforts were too presumptuous and I needed to “stay small” and “just stay in Detroit.” I was told I literally could not do it from businessmen who “knew business.” It took a lot of hard work and sacrifice, financially and mentally, to fund and run the program. What was most rewarding was seeing the fruit and growth from this process. I remember one of my menterns last year told me “I didn’t have a work ethic before I started this program and I didn’t care about helping people either.” Now, her entire focus is helping people through her business endeavors and she’s such a smart and hard worker. And, I’m just like “what!?” Seeing that impact on character and work ethic is priceless to me. One of my other menterns, Myasia, recently told me that The Menternship taught her to use her voice confidently instead of shying away. It’s like yes, I love seeing them take hold of their new network, teaching them the ins and outs of business, and all that good stuff but seeing my menterns grow, on the inside is what is so pure and amazing.
What opportunities are you hoping to create for women of color and girls like you through The Menternship? How does it feel to be creating opportunities for women from your home state?
I’m aiming to expose them to multifaceted people, new experiences, leaders, and even themselves! I feel I’ve been blessed to have a family that has told me since birth I can do anything. I grew up with both parents in my home. I grew up uplifted, but that’s not the story for a lot of my sisters. But, it’s going to be with this program. I am hoping to teach them how to lead through serving. I want to instill character first, craft second. True value. It feels humbling to be able to do this. Thinking about it makes me quiet in spirit because it feels like such a huge responsibility. I don’t think people realize that yes, I’m teaching them, but they still teach me. We teach and build each other up. That’s the beautiful thing about it. It’s all about serving one another.
What message would you give millennial women of color who want to start their own businesses or mentorship programs?
If you want to start a business or a mentoring program get a mentor and understand you cannot do anything alone. You have not because you ask not. So, ask for wisdom, ask for direction, and ask for help. People are more willing to help than you think. We need each other and trust me, if you can learn from someone else’s mistakes to avoid making them on your own, take that route. The other piece of advice I would give is to always be moving forward in your plans. I’m not saying you have to launch immediately, I’m saying there should never be a day that goes by where you’re not working towards the goal. It can be something small, like reading a book on leadership or grant writing, it can even be you getting an internship in your desired field, but always be moving forward without fear of failure.
What can we expect from you and The Menternship moving forward? How can we be of support?
The Menternship will continue to grow and evolve, and at an exponential rate. We have support from so many amazing companies and will continue to garner our relationships with them to benefit our participants. Expect to see an impact, expect to see light, expect to see fruit from our menterns even years down the line, and expect to see sisterhood. The best way to support is to share and spread the word or to make a donation on our site. We need as many girls to find out about this opportunity as possible, even a simple retweet on Twitter can go a long way. Keep up with us on social media (everything is @TheMenternship), uplift the menterns when you see them on the page. If you have a resource you feel may be beneficial, fill out our contact form on the site so we can connect!
In the end, how do you want your story depicted? What legacy do you hope to leave behind?
There’s a quote by Nelson Henderson that says “Plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” Which to me is a depiction of selfless serving. I want to plant seeds that grow trees that I don’t even have to eat from. I want to plant so that those who are here after me can grow endlessly. I want my legacy to be undeniably pure and one that inspires people to actually do good. We often get so caught up in the cut-throat mentality of business & the possession of money that we bypass character. What good is it for a man to gain the world and lose his soul? I’ll pass. I believe nothing but good can come to me, solely because I bring nothing but goodness to others. This Menternship Program is an avenue for me to sow good seed. Seed that will grow and re-sprout lifetime after lifetime.
Just for kicks:
- Erykah or Lauryn? Sheesh, this is hard. It really depends on the day. Today, Lauryn.
- Blog or Podcast? As of late, podcasts
- Ulta or Sephora? Neither, BH Cosmetics!