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State-backed programs to boost women entrepreneurs nearing launch

Karlee Weinmann//July 24, 2015

State-backed programs to boost women entrepreneurs nearing launch

Karlee Weinmann//July 24, 2015

More than a year after Minnesota legislators set aside $500,000 for a pair of women’s business development initiatives, the programs are preparing for liftoff.

To split the funding, each of the centers had to develop programs for women entrepreneurs to elevate their businesses through consulting, access to capital and business development. The idea was to create replicable models for boosting women business owners.

The Women’s Business Center, an offshoot of the Duluth-based Entrepreneur Fund,will launch Ignite, a program to link eligible businesses in its home region to resources including expert consulting, networking events and skills workshops.

In the Twin Cities, nonprofit WomenVenture mapped out Scale Up!, a framework that pairs practices developed by groups including the U.S. Small Business Administration with one-on-one consulting and education on how business owners can better access capital.

Both programs line up with a philosophy that small, local businesses buoy the broader economy. They’ll each be up and running this fall, with funding distributed by the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development.

“We know small business is the engine of economic growth for the state and if we don’t have a full representation of both men and women involved in that growth, then it does negatively impact the economy overall,” WomenVenture Executive Director Elaine Wyatt said.

The groups did not lobby for the funding. Instead, lawmakers agreed on their own to set it aside to support women entrepreneurs around the state in a range of industries including construction, transportation and professional services, among others.

For starters, Ignite will likely rope in between 15 and 20 established businesses that have a laser focus on growth, said Meg Thoreson, who heads the Women’s Business Center at the Entrepreneur Fund. Thoreson is recruiting and vetting potential participants and expects to have a roster in place in the next few months.

WomenVenture expects to select between 14 and 20 businesses, split into two groups, to test its program. Ideal candidates will have a growth profile that squares with the offerings and operate a business that could expand into other markets.

Wyatt said most candidates would likely be women entrepreneurs who either inherited a family business or who had launched their own operations in the last three to five years.

“We could definitely see growth in women-owned small businesses that are outside of retail, outside of day care or outside of salons,” Thoreson said. “This appropriation can be really helpful in balancing that scale and getting women into industries where they can certainly make a difference in the regional economy.”

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