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New Women's Business Center launches, offers tools for entrepreneurs

Simone Cameron, The Annek Group

While Womenable’s April 2016 State of Women-Owned Businesses report shows that women-owned firms are outpacing the national average in both job creation and revenue generation, just 27 percent of all firms in Ohio are owned by women, compared to the national average of 38 percent. Additionally, the report indicates that women are half as likely as men to start a business. 

The Economic and Community Development Institute (ECDI) decided to do something to boost those numbers. In January 2015, the Cleveland ECDI opened a satellite office of the Women’s Business Center (WBC) in Columbus.
 
The satellite office was so well received that ECDI decided to open a full-fledged Women’s Business Center of Northern Ohio in order to serve the entrepreneurial needs of women starting a new business.
 
“We were seeing so much demand, we went to the Small Business Administration (SBA) with a grant proposal and officially launched in October 2015,” explains Carrie Rosenfelt, the WBC director. “Since October 2015, we have provided training to over 150 women, one-on-one coaching to over 50 and created nearly 20 new jobs.”
 
The SBA granted the Cleveland center a total of $750,000 in financing – $150,000 a year over five years. Per the agreement, the center must raise a 50 percent match over the first two years and then match 100 percent of the grant in the final three years. ECDI’s two WBCs are the only two SBA-funded women’s business centers in the state.
 
The WBC is located one floor down from the ECDI offices at 2800 Euclid Ave. The 1,205 square-foot space may be small, Rosenfelt says, but it’s designed to be completely focused on women. “We wanted to have a space that is women-centric,” she says. “Something happens when you put a bunch of women business owners in a room together.”
 
Now more than 200 members have access to a resource library, computer lab and free wireless internet; copy, fax and notary services; business coaching/mentoring and one-on-one counseling; training and workshop programs; networking opportunities; and access to small business loans through ECDI.

“It’s been a very quick ramp up for us,” notes Rosenfelt. “We want to be accessible to all women. When you fuel women entrepreneurs, when you invest in family and community, you’re investing in small business and economic development.”

The center has five computer stations, a project or conference room, co-working space and a training center. One entire wall is a white board, while the opposite wall serves as a projection screen. “We designed it that way so women would be forced to work around the room.”

The WBC also received funding from the Business of Good Foundation, Citizens Bank, Fifth Third Bank, First Merit Bank, Huntington Bank, KeyBankU.S. Bank, and, notably, the Cleveland Foundation, which helped the center meet its matching requirements.
 
“We’ve had overwhelming support from our business partners,” says Rosenfelt. “Even women in the business community who are not necessarily entrepreneurs but want to support us.”
 
The WBC of Northern Ohio had an official launch party on April 19 at Ariel International Center attended nearly 200 people and county executive Armond Budish. On Monday, May 2 at 8:30 a.m. the center will have a ribbon cutting ceremony.
 
The free event will feature representatives from the national SBA, who will present the Woman Owned Small Business of the Year Award, as well as WBC of Northern Ohio advisory board, staff, members and funders. The SBC Volunteer of the Year awards will also be presented. Registration is required.
 
The ribbon cutting also kicks off National Small Business Week. Following the event, the WBC will host two free seminars presented by Fifth Third Bank. Banking Services and Credit Reporting for Small Business runs from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. and includes lunch. Then on Wednesday, May 4 from 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., the WBC will host two more free seminars presented by Huntington Bank, Financial Management for Small Business Owners and Planning for a Healthy Business.

The ECDI Cleveland is part of Fresh Water's underwriting support community.

Read more articles by Karin Connelly Rice.

Karin Connelly Rice enjoys telling people's stories, whether it's a promising startup or a life's passion. Over the past 18 years she has reported on the local business community for publications such as Inside Business and Cleveland Magazine. She was editor of the Rocky River/Lakewood edition of In the Neighborhood and was a reporter and photographer for the Amherst News-Times. At Fresh Water she enjoys telling the stories of Clevelanders who are shaping and embracing the business and research climate in Cleveland.
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