WE Can Thrive: Empowering Female Entrepreneurs

By Lauren Foote

Youngstown Business Incubator launched the Women’s Entrepreneurship (WE) program this summer to promote the growth and creation of female-owned businesses as a channel for creating personal and community wealth.

The program is focused on helping women achieve their full potential in their careers by providing participants with personal and professional networking opportunities.

They also receive access to knowledge and skills through a series of workshops, seminars, professional development programs and mentoring.

As of the 2012 Survey of Business Owners, there are 9.9 million businesses owned by women in the United States, representing an increase of 21.5 percent from 2007.

YBI received several phone calls from women asking for help in their business ventures. Most of the business ideas were focused on lifestyle, but because YBI functions as a business-to-business incubator, they needed another way to help these women.

Colleen Kelly, director of development at YBI, started the WE program along with Brittany Housel, YBI’s client development coordinator. She commented on its focus.

“This program will connect women working in all areas to create a sustainable network of members focused on the advancement of women in traditional and non-traditional industries and roles,” Kelly said

Kelly said WE helps the Youngstown area by increasing company benefits, including wages (women friendly, i.e. fair pay, maternity leave, healthcare and childcare), lower local unemployment rate and higher tax revenues for community. It keeps the talent from leaving.

In July, the WE program had its kickoff event, which was an open house style networking event, with a preview of upcoming events and information regarding the program.

“At this event, we collected data from the attendees telling us what resources they need, programming ideas, topics for speakers and workshops and also information regarding where they were in their entrepreneurial journey,” Kelly said.

Currently, the response rate for events has averaged around 20 attendees. Kelly said she has a positive outlook.

“While we would love to see this grow in the near future, we are ecstatic to have had a full room at our first three events. We hope to keep that momentum going, and as development takes place, growth would be warmly welcomed,” Kelly said

Cris Young, executive vice president of Hudson Fasteners — a 100 percent women-owned-and-operated YBI portfolio company, said she is excited about the program.

“Women entrepreneurs need leaders and mentors who have been there before to draw knowledge, experience and support from,” Young said. “This talented group of leaders will prepare them for the ride.”

She said programs like WE make a difference for women and the business world in general.

“Anytime you can empower a group of women entrepreneurs, it will inevitably benefit the community,” Young said. “There are just not enough women leaders to go around. Showing each other that we understand the issues that come up in business, and then working together to mitigate them, is a key factor in the success of any business.”

Upcoming events include a three-part series called “The Art of Business and Banking,” presented by Diana Hogg, vice president and commercial relationship manager of Home Savings & Loan, on Sept. 16, Oct. 21 and Nov. 18 from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at YBI.

In the future, they will hold a few networking events, entrepreneurial personality assessment and training events and relationship driven marketing events.

“We are seeking out the input and needs of the ladies involved in WE to really drive meaningful programming for the months and years to come,” Young said.