Last week I went to Washington D.C. with Sue Williams and Victoria
Wang to present The Story Exchange’s recently completed videos and
website focusing on women entrepreneurs.
We were invited to unveil our initiative at the Small Business
Administration’s National Women’s Business Center annual training
conference. A few hundred women and men (often referred to as
“enlightened men” by this mostly female group) were there representing
the 110 women business centers throughout the country.
Or as I like to call them … America’s best kept secret for aspiring
The 110 business centers welcome 160,000 potential women business
owners through their doors each year. Their goal is simple: to provide
entrepreneurs – especially women who are economically or socially
disadvantaged — comprehensive training and counseling to help them
start and grow their own businesses.
Here’s the kicker – their services are provided for free. And they’re
not trying to sell anything, they’re not advertising anything, they
just want women to succeed.
At the conference we showed the video of Deborah Olivo, a successful
entrepreneur who had used the services of a Women’s Business Center in
Chatham, NJ. She is one of five women entrepreneurs whose stories we
are documenting who have used the services of a center.
Deborah told us that the support and services she received at the
center were transformative. But it almost didn’t happen – she found
out about the center when she was talking to someone about her
business idea on the grocery store line (what would of happened if she
didn’t need milk and eggs?).
Like many of the other women I spoke to (I interviewed a total of 30
women who had used the services of the women’s business centers),
Deborah isn’t sure how she would have come this far without the help
she has received from her counselor. Many of the women like Deborah
kept quoting or referring to their counsellors at the centers while
they talked about their businesses with me.
Time and again I heard women saying that their counselor had helped
them figure out what business to start, how to define their market,
how to write their marketing plan, how to get funding, how to find a
location … the list goes on.
That’s an amazing service in and of itself. But what I also heard was
that these aspiring business owners were receiving something that’s
far less tangible than a business plan: Nurturing. They felt that
their counselor was an ally in their corner – sometimes the only one
in their lives– cheering them on to succeed, and repeating the
lessons that needed learning.
When they spoke of their counselors they did so in such a positive
light. And as the conference unfolded I began to see why.
After we presented the video of Deborah at a lunch plenary session,
the directors and managers of the centers came up to us and thanked us
for our work. They visited us at the small booth we had set up and
talked with passion about some of the promising entrepreneurs that
were coming through their doors. They were oozing with enthusiasm for
their work and for ours. (One woman even hugged me and thanked me for
fighting for women. It felt fantastic.)
The other thing that struck me was what a kind group of people we had
met. Sue, Victoria and myself were the outsiders at this conference,
but we felt welcome and we also felt a lot of warmth. We were also
very excited when Marie Johns, the deputy administrator of the SBA,
thanked us for The Story Exchange. After her speech, I was able to
sneak in a few minutes to show her our website.
All of this positive energy has given us even more oomph to keep going
with our project. Sue and Victoria are in California right now
filming more women entrepreneurs and we look forward to telling their
We are hoping that all of this will help get the word out about the
Women’s Business Centers so they can help even more women open their