YW program produces entrepreneurs

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From 1947 to 1948 Mary-Lee Taylor studied to become a beautician at Lelia College of Beauty Culture established by Madame C.J. Walker on Centre Avenue and Reed Street in the Hill District. Sixty-two years later, Taylor’s granddaughter, Tiffany Fielder, is following in her grandmother’s footsteps. She and nine other women graduated Jan. 19 from the YW Enterprising Women Program. Her hope is to operate a hair care business.

For 12 weeks students in classes 11 and 12 of the Asset Development Initiative of the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh met at the North Side campus of Community College of Allegheny County to participate in the non-credit course designed for women wanting to start a microenterprise.

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WHAT A CREW—Front row from left: Alice Williams, Connie Robinson and Tara Ellison-Jones, leaders of the YW Enterprising Women Program are proud of the graduates. Back row from left: Wilhelmina Royster, Lakisha Ford, Penda James, Piper De’Andrea, Linda Despines, Jahmel Jordon, Annette Piper, Sabrina Clark and Tiffany Fielder.

“I have learned and accomplished so much from the program,” Fielder said. She said the class has taught her the ins and outs of owning a business, how to calculate start-up costs and the projection of sales. “Most importantly, I now know how to define competitors’ trends.” Planning to open Tiffany’s Hair Boutique, she feels the program has familiarized her with what products and services are needed for her business.

Of the 10 program graduates, four are currently operating. Sabrina Clark, Sabrina’s Fashion Consulting; Piper De’Andrea, Sugar Baby Shoes; Penda James, Inscribed Inspirations and Wilhelmina Royster, Unique Covering Designs. “I made a deep investment when I published my book,” said James, nervously flipping through the pages of her book, “Free to Fly,” a collection of selected writings by various authors published at the end of last year.

Other participants included Eboni Coker, Linda Despines, Lakisha Ford, Jahmel Jordan and Annette Piper. Their business ideas range from Yoga instruction, a dating service, event planning to cleaning and hair styling.

Providing words of encouragement, Jason Capps, the owner of Bella Sera on the Square where the graduation took place, discussed the importance of gaining support, having good credit and maintaining a positive attitude. “Be wise and listen to your employees,” he advised. “People often call me successful. I feel I am succeeding but I am not successful,” he said, indicating that it is important to stay grounded and to associate with positive people. “Have goals and keep reaching. Believe that anything is possible.”

Steve McCarron, a commercial loan officer for Bridgeway Capital, stressed to the graduates the importance of knowing the financial aspect of their business. “Know your books. This is a big step. It is important to reach out to the resources available to you. Use them as a sounding board,” he said. He also encouraged them to be flexible and to work hard.

Instruction for the program was provided by the Kauffman Foundation’s First Step Fast Trac course, which provided the framework and tools for the participants to explore their readiness and ability to be entrepreneurs. Utilizing experts in the field as guest speakers, participants learned how to develop a feasibility plan, to evaluate their business concept about market analysis and pricing and profitability.

The next steps for the potential entrepreneurs are to take part in the post-training segment, according to Alice Williams, the program’s business support specialist. “We encourage the women to utilize other business resources within the county.” She also indicated that there is a micro loan up to $5,000 offered through the Hill District Credit Union available to any graduate of the program that utilized the post-training. Pointing out that the same steps are used to obtain a commercial loan as it is for the micro loan, Williams says credit restoration classes are available to the women that need it. “Our goal is to help them build their business credit so that their next step can be to grow and receive a larger loan from a commercial lender.

As a way to showcase YW Enterprising Women and their businesses, a Microenterprise Symposium will take place Feb. 20 at Carnegie Mellon University. Themed Micro2Millions, the Microenterprise Symposium is designed to help aspiring entrepreneurs start or develop a business, said Williams.

Major speakers for the event will include Erin Patton who branded Michael Jordan, Donna Baxter of TheSoulPitt.com and Dr. Milton Cofield, professor at the Tepper School of Business at Carnegie Mellon.

Partners of the symposium are the YWCA Greater Pittsburgh, CMU’s Students in Free Enterprise, Allegheny County and the city of Pittsburgh, the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Small Business Administration and the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

The next Enterprising Women—Microenterprise Ownership Certificate Program is scheduled for Feb. 16-May 11, at CCAC Allegheny Campus on the North Side.

(For information on the class or for the Microenterprise Symposium, call 412-255-6743.)

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