In the past 13 months more than 1,000 women have trained in Fairfax County to become entrepreneurs.
Many of them are now operating their own businesses in the Mount Vernon area embracing the Route 1 corridor. And their numbers are growing thanks to the Community Business Partnership and the Women's Business Center (WBC) of Northern Virginia.
"Forty nine percent of our clients are women. And 62 percent of them are women of color. We have a $1 million finance pool from which we can make startup loans up to $25,000," explained Kathy Wheeler, the Partnership's Executive Director.
"But this is not a revolving pool. We have to keep finding new sources," she emphasized.
Most of the money comes from the federal, state and county governments. There is some private capital.
Active since 1998, the Community Business Partnership, located at 6911 Richmond Highway, is the parent organization under which the Falls Church based Women's Business Center of Northern Virginia operates. The Partnership is a non-profit organization with six employees, counting Wheeler. It was established to specifically help small businesses.
It is a collaborative effort among several organizations in Fairfax County designed to provide high quality, professional small business services. Created through a joint effort by the Small Business Commission and the County Board of Supervisors, its programs target individuals interested in starting or expanding small businesses.
Clients, which can be both male and female, come from throughout the metropolitan area. Many are simply looking to better organize, plan, and manage their businesses, according to the Partnership's publication.
This has taken on particular significance since the Board of Supervisors has designated March as Women's History Month in Fairfax County, highlighting women in business. It emphasizes the county as a place with services that encourages women to become entrepreneurs.
According to county information, women begin businesses at twice the rate of men while facing training and networking hurdles. Businesses owned by women employ more people than all of the Fortune 500 companies combined. But only five percent of venture capital is received by women.
WOMEN'S BUSINESS CENTER
Barbara L. Wrigley and DeShawun Robinson-Chew serve as Director and Assistant Director respectively, of the WBC which officially opened October 2000. They became its only staff in January 2001.
"We are funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration and the Fairfax County Office for Women with additional support from George Mason University's Mason Enterprise Center. Our job is to get women entrepreneurs up and running," Wrigley said.
But it's not just about money. The Center's mission statement notes the primary goal is "To provide women with the training, assistance and support needed to start and expand successful small businesses in Norther Virginia."
That training and assistance has been particularly helpful for Denise McNeil who started McNeil Communications last July. Like most new women business owners she works from her home on Canterbury Lane.
"I specialize in writing, editing, graphics, and web design. My last employed position was as a newsletter/proposal writer but I wanted more opportunity to grow and expand professionally," she said.
"My first client was my former employer. I do their corporate newsletter. I also do a lot of work for other women owned businesses. Being in business for myself gives me the flexibility to do a variety of projects," McNeil explained.
She has participated in a number of WBC workshops. She also developed the Center's printed program for their first annual conference.
One of the first tasks when starting a new business is the development of a business plan. It can be a daunting experience.
That is where the Center came to Tricia Glover's rescue. "The Business Center showed me how to write a business plan. This was essential because I actually started with no capital," Glover revealed.
As the sole proprietor of Permits USA of Virginia, located on Mount Vernon Highway, Glover operates a permit expediting company that serves contractors in Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia. "When a contractor needs to pull a permit for an upcoming job I do it for them," she said.
"I put up with all the bureaucracy that nobody wants to put up with. It's seasonal but so far it's working out well," she said. Glover opened her own firm on May 1, 2001, just 24 hours after her then boss went broke.
"I was working for a permit expediting company and would have had my one year anniversary on May 1. On April 30 they announced, very unceremoniously, we're broke and were closing. We didn't even get the pay we were owed," Glover said.
Now, the single mother of four, has an income range of $400 to $2,900 per week depending on the time of year. Three of her children are in school which also complements her schedule. The youngest, a four-year-old toddler, accompanies mom to the municipal offices.
"She works when I work. She does her crayons and I pick up the permits. She's getting to be a real fixture at the various offices," Glover noted.
ABC'S OF BUSINESS
Wrigley explained, "We target women who have not been comfortable getting business services elsewhere. They are the ones who want to start their own businesses but nobody is there to help them.
"We put all the women through our basic ABC's of starting a business. This involves all the basic elements. There is particular emphasis on how to get funding and business plan preparation. This tends to weed out a lot right at the beginning," she assured.
"We've been very busy since January. A lot of women that were laid off in the economic downturn now want to start their own business. We trained 48 in January and we have 60 signed up for our course this Saturday," Wrigley said.
The courses bring in guest speakers on a wide range of subjects pertinent to business know-how. The typical subjects cover marketing, finance and tax planning along with administration and management subjects, according to Wrigley.
September 11 has had very little negative impact on the new entrepreneurs, Wrigley noted. She attributes this to "89 percent of our businesses are home based with few employees other than the owner, if any. Therefore, there is little overhead which is the killer in an economic slump."
One exception to that model is Peggy Severson who owns and operates ReCreations Consignments on Route 1 in Pear Tree Village. "I've been serving the community for 503 days," she proudly proclaimed.
"I have been helped by several organizations including Community Business Partnership and the United Christian Ministries. The Partnership particularly helped me with banking details," Severson emphasized.
Prior to opening her firm, she was a decorative painter and faux finisher. "Community Business Partnership has been very helpful on a continuing basis. It's not like they give you a loan and then leave," she said.
Severson recently tied for first place in a contest sponsored by the WBC. "The prize is a computer software package for consignment stores. That will sure help," she said.
In the case of Sharon Miser, her nine month old Sharon's Day Care on Eubank Street, just off Richmond Highway, is serving a dual purpose. "I like to teach kids. I hope to become a teacher someday and this will give me some very practical experience," she explained.
As the mother of two children, ages eight and 10, she oversee five in her day care facility. "The Center helped me create flyers to advertise the business and develop my business cards," she said.
In addition to the WBC, the Partnership's other two main programs are the Small Business Development Center and the Micro-Loan Program. The former is a program providing small business training classes and one-on-one counseling with business professionals.
The loan program operates under the Business Finance Center which assists potential and existing small business owners with understanding and managing the financial aspects of their enterprises. It also offers individual counseling.
One of the targeted efforts of the Finance Center is the Micro-Loan Program designed to provide direct and guaranteed loans to benefit low-moderate income individuals. Direct loans from $3,500 to $25,000 can be provided, or commercial loans from $5,000 to $50,000 can be guaranteed.
Information on all the various opportunities under the aegis of the Community Business Partnership are available at their headquarters or on the web at www.biz-solutions.org.