Working with an idea and ambition
small businesses are the core of Rhode Island's economy
Special thanks to the Rhode Island Foundation. The following video and story are reprinted with the permission of the Rhode Island Foundation.
We see our role as one of helping to build a strong and supportive environment for successful small business development – a network of services, supports, and resources such as technical assistance, coaching, and capital.
Our observations suggest that Rhode Island's existing business ecosystem is fragmented – with limited financial capital, redundancy and gaps in support services, and a perceived unfriendly regulatory and tax climate. For entrepreneurs attempting to take an idea to market, it can be extremely difficult to navigate.
And, in general, women-owned businesses face even more barriers to success than those owned by men, including income disparity and limited access to capital. Entrepreneurs of color and those with limited resources face significant challenges.
Since it opened its Rhode Island office in 2000, the Center for Women and Enterprise has worked to level the playing field by creating custom educational programs, counseling, and paths to funding for Rhode Island women who have an idea and the ambition to become entrepreneurs. Of clients served by CWE's RI office in 2014, 73% were women, 68% were low to moderate income, 48% were unemployed, and 33% were minorities.
We have supported CWE's work to the tune of $400,000 over the past two years (including $25,000 from donor Bhikhaji Maneckji, who responded to our co-funding initiative which matches donor interests with community needs), helping CWE build two important programs for Rhode Island entrepreneurs.
The Community Classrooms entrepreneurship education program allows CWE to foster small business growth by offering free training and business resources in areas historically isolated by poverty, lack of transportation, slow economic growth, or other barriers.
On a Monday evening in October, some 20 eager women (and men!) showed up at the Pawtucket Public Library for the Center's third 10-week Business Planning program – the first two were in Central Falls (conducted entirely in Spanish) and Woonsocket. In December, these same entrepreneurs were "graduating," making well-thought-out presentations for their new ventures.
"They finish with a written business plan, a living document that will guide them," says Carmen Diaz-Jusino, CWE's Director of New Enterprise. "It's a lot more powerful when it is in writing. They understand where they would like their business to go in x amount of time." While the classes are free, Diaz-Jusino points out that it's a huge commitment of time and energy for the participants.
CWE's Microloan Fund provides affordable business loans of up to $5,000 to low- and moderate-income women entrepreneurs for uses such as working capital, inventory, supplies, or equipment. To date, CWE has awarded eight microloans, ranging from $3,300 to $5000 – including a commercial cleaning service, a pastry food truck, an IT consultant, and a personal chef – with four more applications waiting in the wings. Applicants are required to participate in financial coaching and training and must have completed a business plan.
The Center for Women and Enterprise has a mentality of continuous improvement – they track results and are constantly tweaking their programs in their commitment to quality. We remain committed as well – to their vision of making it possible for more women to bring their entrepreneurial ideas and ambitions to fruition.