Ohio Women-owned Businesses Start and Grow with Help from Women’s Business Centers of Ohio
According to a 2016 study by Womenable, there are 11.3 million women-owned businesses in the U.S. These businesses employ nearly 9 million people and generate more than $1.6 trillion in revenue annually. Between 2007 and 2016 the number of women-owned firms grew at a rate five times the national average.
The number of women-owned businesses in Cleveland is growing as well, albeit at a slower pace—27 percent of all firms in Ohio are women-owned, compared to a national average of 38 percent. To help these entrepreneurs, The Women’s Business Center (WBC) of Northern Ohio was launched in October 2015 and is supported and funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and others.
Since then, the WBC of Northern Ohio has gained more than 379 members, given business training or coaching to more than 1,100 entrepreneurs, and has helped create 35 new women-owned businesses and 86 new jobs. Even more impressive, WBC has raised more than $1.4 million in capital for female business owners. Part of this success is attributed to WBC’s parent institution, the Economic Community Development Institute (ECDI). As a micro-loan fund, the ECDI provides seed capital and is particularly focused on helping entrepreneurs who may be underserved by traditional resources, specifically low and moderate income and foreign-born individuals, minorities, and women. By leveraging ECDI, the WBC is able to provide debt capital to companies, such as startups, that would otherwise be ineligible for bank financing.
The WBC’s mission is to empower women entrepreneurs with resources and tools to create strong, sustainable businesses. Successful women in business network, so the institution’s created Think Tank Thursdays and the Professional Advisory Network. Among WBC's most popular resources, these events give female entrepreneurs a pro bono network of community professionals who provide their expertise four hours a quarter in a one-on-one setting.
The WBC is a resource for female entrepreneurs “at every stage and every age,” says Carrie Rosenfelt, executive director of the WBC for Northern Ohio. The youngest female entrepreneur helped by the WBC is 23, and the oldest is 80. Some more recognizable members are Valerie Mayen , Project Runway alumna and founder and owner of Yellowcake Shop, and Halle Kogelschatz , CEO of shark&minnow and Co-Founder of TEDxCLE. While some may be surprised that established businesses leverage the WBC’s resources, Rosenfelt says, “Everyone needs to grow their business.” The majority of WBC’s clients are unsung heroes who may not have the same level of visibility as Mayen or Kogelschatz, but who are creating businesses that quietly have a meaningful impact on the economy of Northeast Ohio.
“What ties all these women together is grit,” says Rosenfelt. “They do not give up and they don’t take no for an answer. They’re just so passionate.” A hallmark of the WBC’s success is the peer-to-peer collaboration between the women-business owners. Through networking and co-working spaces, members often collaborate and share experiences to solve business problems together.
Small business loans for women are available, and a high priority for the WBC is to educate female entrepreneurs on preparing for capital and leveraging debt capital to grow their business. They’ve tapped KeyBank and its Key4Women program to help in the education process. Key has a long history of championing women in business, and has financed women-owned businesses for more than 50 years. This philosophy flows from top leadership, with CEO Beth Mooney serving as the first female chief executive of a top 20 bank. In 2005, Key launched Key4Women®, a nationwide community of entrepreneurial and executive business women brought together to help each other thrive.
As a WBC partner and through Key4Women, Key invests professional expertise and volunteer hours to support WBC members.
“I’m so impressed by how passionate WBC is about helping women-business owners,” says Kristyn Squires, area retail leader for KeyBank in Cleveland, and member of the Advisory Committee of ECDI – Cleveland. “They are very genuine in making sure that their members have the resources and connections to be successful. They are truly empowering women.”