There is an old adage that says “experience is the best teacher.” Alice Williams, the initiator of Women Empowered for Entrepreneurial Excellence can attest to that fact and as a result equips women entrepreneurs to assure their businesses are properly organized.
Once the owner of Strategic Consulting Concepts, a nuclear staffing firm, Williams said because she did not have disclosure forms in place to protect her business, when she experienced a major emergency her staff person took her business concept to her largest competitor and the rest is history. “I learned a lot from that experience,” she said.
Today Williams through WEEE is involved with close to 20 women owned micro businesses. Operating at 620 Island Avenue in McKees Rocks the mission of her organization is to stimulate and support sustainable economic growth and prosperity for a diverse population of women by providing microenterprise businesses with strategies, resources and business incubation, and a trusted source for information and guidance.
Pleased and excited about WEEE, the program and the women it serves, the Presbyterian Committee on the Self-Development of People recently awarded the organization $33,200 for their efforts.
“We are proud of what you are attempting to do, to train, assist, and support each other,” said Rev. Maxine Jenkins. “The Synod of the Trinity SDOP Committee counts it a delightful privilege to partner with WEEE.”
Jenkins is the chair person of the Synod of the Trinity. Also on hand during the ceremony were the Rev. Dr. Douglas Portz and the Rev. Dr. Henk Bossers. Portz serves as assistant executive of the Pittsburgh Presbyterian Committee for SDOP and Bossers, a retired minister is the chair person of the local Pittsburgh SDOP Committee.
“This is a perfect example of the types of groups the Pittsburgh Presbyterian likes to fund,” pointed out Portz. “It is a joy to see the resources of the church to be used to build businesses and transform lives. It is a work of God to see what can be done when Christians give help to others in the community.”
Bosser describes the SDOP mission statement as a ministry that affirms God’s concern for humankind. Presbyterians and ecumenical partner, dissatisfied with poverty and oppression, united in faith and action, through sharing, confronting, and enabling. He explained that the group participates in the empowerment of economically poor, oppressed and disadvantaged people seeking to change the structures that perpetuate poverty, oppression and justice.
Indicating that the program is a nationwide initiative, Bosser said their mandate is a global commitment that was established in 1970 by the 182 General Assembly and reaffirmed in 1987 by the 199 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
WEEE has had a relationship with the SDOP since its inception in 2009. In addition to the group recently receiving the $33,200 for incubator space, two of its business clusters also received grants. Living Well Home Care Solutions operated by Arlene Hicks received $5600 and Envoi Consignment operated by Dianne Lemon received $6500. “We are pleased to be of assistance to position these businesses to receive funding,” said Williams eluding to the fact that SDOP funding stipulations vary for each category.
Williams’ describes WEEE as a group of entrepreneurs who have formed a community of women owned businesses. She says one of its goals is to boost the economic status and development of women who have been ignored or underserved by traditional business development organizations and banking institutions by providing business incubation during the start-up phase when businesses are most vulnerable. “This diverse community of women business owners are focused on moving talents and skills into income generating projects and businesses with the objective of closing the “net worth disparity gap” that plagues the Pittsburgh region, for themselves and their families with their own ingenuity.”
With aspirations to form a physical incubator for microenterprise business growth that will reinforce a collaborative business culture and develop entrepreneurial skills among women who have low- to-moderate incomes, Williams said their current facility is equipped to handle ten to12 women on a full time basis and 20 through shared space. The building provides a conference room and training area, work space and is WiFi and cable ready. An annual entrepreneurship and professional business membership for $100 is available.
In addition to incubator space WEEE offers Personal Finance for Small Business, Bootstrapping and Quick Books classes. Their major course is a 36 hour; non-credit Microenterprise Certificate Program called Operation Jump Start designed to help entrepreneurs hone the skills needed to create, manage, and grow successful businesses. The course provides the framework and tools for participants to explore their readiness and ability to be an entrepreneur by teaching how to develop a feasibility plan and to evaluate business concept. Participants work closely with other entrepreneurs, sharing ideas and experiences and laying the foundation for future business relationships. Throughout the class, in small coaching sessions and assignments completed outside-of-class, issues related to key aspects of business are explored. Completion of the course enables participants to determine whether the business concept has “legs” and if starting a business is the right decision. Existing business owners also benefit from the process of systematic planning.
Aiming to have 10-15 people in each class, Williams says information sessions and open houses are conducted on a regular basis and prescreening is underway for the November Operation Jump Start sessions.
Businesses assisted by WEEE have included a café, catering, an entertainment venture, a cleaning business, a consignment boutique, homecare solutions, a keepsakes business, a hair stylist, seamstress, accountant, event planner, a greeting card business and a real estate agent.
Williams said the organization is staffed with a group of dedicated women including two volunteer professionals; two business coaches and five professional Board members who serve on community boards, charities, churches and other service organizations.