Western Women’s Business Center encourages women-owned startupsOct 09, 2023 02:20PM ● By Randee Brown
WNC is a region that stands out from other parts of the state because of the closeness of the community and the desire to support each other, according to Western Women’s Business Center Director Zurilma Anuel.
A program of Carolina Small Business Development Fund, WWBC is a statewide nonprofit Community Development Financial Institution. There are 145 similar women’s programs nationwide, with six in NC, and each offers a variety of online business trainings open to anyone.
WWBC offers a variety of training workshops from the Small Business Administration, and also partners with the Small Business Technology and Development Center and SCORE for collaboration in creating their own training programs.
“We are helping women at the very beginning stages of their businesses,” Anuel said. “The SBTDC is helping with more advanced topics, and SCORE offers mentorships for specific industries. We also often work with the Asheville Chamber, A-B Tech, and Mountain BizWorks, always with the goal of understanding the needs of our clients and matching that need with the organization that fits them best, even if it’s not us.”
There are specific opportunities for underrepresented populations within WWBC’s programming as well. WWBC’s African American Business Association is a program of Opportunity Asheville. Opportunity Asheville is a partnership between Mountain Bizworks, Eagle Market Streets Development Corporation and the City of Asheville. Grants are provided through other collaborations including the Community Development Block Grant Program which supports community development activities to build stronger and more resilient communities.
WWBC offers a Latino business program to support the local Hispanic community. Trainings and coaching sessions are available in Spanish, and include the same types of course topics including business start-up help, access to capital, and more.
“Everyone is welcome here,” Anuel said. “Even men come for some trainings and workshops. While we want to make sure women know this is a program for them because that population is in more need, we won’t say no to anyone.”
Anuel said participants have loved WWBC’s programs. They appreciate support and want to give back to the community, and many clients who received services at the beginning of their business journey have returned offering memberships or free consultations to other participants. Some past clients now serve on the advisory board, and many stay involved and keep their coaches and mentors updated with anniversaries, celebrations, or milestones like hiring their first employee.
Participants of WWBC’s programming include a variety of business startups.
“We’ve seen a bit of everything,” Anuel said. “Beauty salons, photography businesses, makers of soaps and lotions, jewelry, construction, tattoo shops, food trucks, insurance companies, farmers, and consultants — it’s a huge variety of really good ideas.”
Programming varies as well, as Anuel said offerings are always changing to reflect what is relevant and needed. During COVID, coaches spent a lot of time helping people prepare to be loan-ready and receive their PPP loans. They have had programs about doing business on TikTok and a training on how to ‘go live’ on Facebook, and there is increasing demand from participants to receive training about how to do business online.
“There is so much business owners can do themselves if they have an understanding of how to do it,” Anuel said. “Using graphics programs like Canvas, creating online events, improving websites, and dialing in branding are all helpful for businesses of any kind, and as technology evolves we help people learn how to use it to their benefit.”
Challenges experienced by these women- or minority-owned businesses also vary. Many are afraid of the unknown, according to Anuel, and many are not very confident at the beginning because they don’t know if they will be able to find the resources and support they need. She said it’s great to talk to family and friends about business ideas, and it’s also important not to deny yourself a potential business opportunity without talking to the experts.
“Do your homework, get to know your resources, and follow your instincts,” Anuel said. “People will use any excuse not to go for their goals when they are scared, so we have very open conversations with our clients. We laugh, we cry, and we share all the resources because there are plenty to go around. Women have superpowers, and we help them discover those superpowers when they need them.”