Meet the N.J. entrepreneur whose mission is to help other women succeed

Posted Mar 08, 2021

Alexandra Bernard-Simmons exudes confidence. She’s assertive, knowledgable and witty. She commands your attention just by being in the room.

And she spends much of her time helping other women learn to exhibit those same qualities, especially in entrepreneurship.

Bernard-Simmons, 35, is the owner of Think Like A Boss: No Woman Left Behind. It’s a business focused on women’s empowerment, with locations in Newark and New York City. Through her organization, the Brick City resident says she’s helping to break down barriers to entry for women business owners, while creating a network of women who support one another’s dreams.

“Think Like A Boss actually came to me while I was still working in corporate America. I had a nine to five, working in tech, one of the only Black girls in that field, in that job at that time, it felt like,” Bernard-Simmons told NJ Advance Media. “Even though I was making a lot of money, my soul was not happy. And I just felt like there was more for me to do for others.”

After the success of her first business venture, a youth dance program called Evolution of Hip Hop, Bernard-Simmons decided it was time to help other women, especially women from underserved communities.

“I’m like, I can’t be the only one with this type of can I take everyone else with me?” Bernard-Simmons said.

So in 2014, she launched Think Like A Boss. The business offer paid events and services ranging from business consulting, networking opportunities with leaders from various industries, and women’s retreats to childcare services and a youth mentorship program. It also makes money selling merchandise. The company usually hosts 12 events a year (it hosted 17 events in 2020, thanks to pandemic-related demand for virtual content).

It’s critical work, considering women are still making strides toward equity in entrepreneurship, and in the workplace in general, she said.

“I never got funding (for my business). I bootstrapped,” Bernard-Simmons said about raising her business profile from the ground up. “I didn’t have collateral when I was about to apply for my business loan. Also the loan agent didn’t believe I wrote my business plan...He asked me four times during my interview if I wrote it.”

Women entrepreneurs have a harder time procuring investment dollars, according to a 2017 report commissioned by the U.S. Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship. They receive only 16 % of all conventional small business loans and only 4.4 % of the total dollar amount, the report said. It also reported that women only received 2% of venture capital funding in 2016.

“There are, I think, additional challenges that women are facing both in starting businesses and in the workplace in terms of balancing responsibilities and work-life balance,” said Kimberly Hollister, Dean of the Feliciano School of Business at Montclair State University, adding that women have come a long way, but there is still work to be done.

“I think there are the same gender issues that you’re facing in other places, perceptions of inequality, lacking support systems,” Hollister said. “We don’t always teach women to be as strong, and as assertive. They’re often deemed “bossy,” whereas a man in a similar situation is considered to be assertive in confidence.”

Bernard-Simmons said she’s heard it all before: “Especially for women, Black women, (people) always say, ‘she’s feisty or she’s bossy.’ How about those are just my leadership qualities?”

JaLeena Anthony, an event planner and owner of a New Jersey-based event venue called Create That Party, was an early customer of Think Like A Boss and says she has learned skills she can use in her own life. She described the organization as a “sisterhood.”

“(Bernard-Simmons) is like a voice for all (of us). Her constant enthusiasm, her energy and her overall positivity, I think is contagious,” Anthony said.

“She genuinely wants to support and help other women across the world become the best version of themselves...I call her the next Oprah.”

A “Jill” of all trades, that prediction could very well come true one day. Bernard-Simmons worked in the entertainment industry before she started working in business consulting. She hosts her own podcast, danced in the 2010 summer blockbuster “Step Up 3D,” and has performed in front of audiences at Radio City Music Hall and other major venues in the tri-state area, she said. She has traveled as far as the United Kingdom to give keynote speeches. She’s written a book with tips for building a brand. Her resume includes stints at MTV, VH1 and BET.

And she’s done it all while raising her 16-year-old son.

Still, Bernard-Simmons is hungry for more success. At the moment, she’s building some grassroots traction with her dream of opening a women-led, Black-owned regional supermarket chain in the tri-state area -- a goal that is gaining support via crowdsourcing platform I Fund Women.

“I make sure (women) understand that their dreams are tangible, that they don’t have to, you know, give up everything in life, you know, raise a family...basically stop putting ourselves in a box,” Bernard-Simmons said.

Think Like A Boss NJ is located at 89 Market Street ( in EqualSpace) in Newark.

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published this page in News and Politics 2021-03-09 03:24:19 -0800