SBA recognizes The Women's Business Center of NC for helping entrepreneurs

vbridges@newsobserver.comJune 23, 2014 

  • The Women’s Business Center of N.C.’s services

    • Customized, one-on-one business counseling.

    • Seminars and classes focused on key business topics, such as marketing, finance, certification and small-business resources.

    • Review and feedback on written business plans.

    • Loan packaging preparation assistance and lender referrals.

    • Federal, state, city and private certification for woman-, minority-, veteran-owned and other businesses.

    • Networking opportunities to help find mutual support, access to public and private opportunities and resources.

    • Business referrals and introductions.

    • Global business development.

— Tashni-Ann Dubroy has a master’s degree in business administration from Rutgers University in New Jersey and holds a doctorate in chemistry from N.C. State University.

Dubroy and her business partner, Tiffani Bailey Lash, who also holds a doctorate in chemistry, had won a $20,000 grant from a business plan contest at Rutgers and trained with Macy’s.

Still, the founders of Tea and Honey Blends, a Raleigh-based company that creates and sells all-natural hair-care products for multicultural women, turned to The Women’s Business Center of N.C. to guide, reassure and connect the women to resources that are allowing them to blaze their own, unique small-business path.

The center helped Tea and Honey Blends receive certification as a women-owned small business. The center also helped the co-owners refine and expand their business plan, which now includes the downtown Raleigh salon Element Beauty Bar and a goal to get into a national drugstore chain.

The Women’s Business Center counselors have walked them through the applications processes for loans of $50,000 in 2010 and $100,000 in 2012. The center has also served as a kind of referral and matchmaking source for resources and key contacts across the state.

“They are the liaison between women business owners and additional resources,” Dubroy said.

Earlier this year, The Women’s Business Center of N.C. was recognized as the National Women’s Business Center of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration, after it received similar recognition at the state and regional levels.

The center’s mission seeks to increase the number and success rate of women-owned businesses through workshops, counseling, connecting and guiding owners through hurdles that include everything from business plan writing and finding funding to manufacturing and global distribution.

Counseling and training

In 2013, the center counseled more than 350 clients and provided training to more than 4,300 participants. The center’s clients created or retained more than 400 jobs, received capital and credit totaling more than $1.8 million and earned more than $49 million in revenue.

The center, a partnership between the Durham-based nonprofit N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development and the SBA, has an annual budget of about $250,000, according to the center Director Briles Johnson. Andrea Harris, president and co-founder of the N.C. Institute of Minority Economic Development, said the partnership with the SBA was sought and the Women’s Business Center was started in 2000 after more women started seeking help from the institute.

The center’s initial core services focused on helping new or potential women business owners to understand basics, such as incorporating, setting up their books and finding resources, Harris said.

While the center still helps a lot of startups, Harris said, more established businesses from a variety of industry sectors are turning to the center for help to grow their revenue, work force and service area.

Connecting owners to resources has been one key, Harris said, but another has been partnerships with universities and organizations that enable female entrepreneurs across the state to participate in training programs that create a safe environment in which women can learn and establish strategy.

Within the business world, there is often a sense that a woman will not be as successful as her male counterparts, Harris said, but the programs instill knowledge and confidence that blooms in the all-female group setting.

“The women need the affirmation that they can succeed,” Harris said.

The center’s directive is for women, Johnson said, but they do have a handful of male clients.

The center also includes Assistant Director Alyssa Mako and Program Associate Melissa Terrell. Clients’ top three challenges, Johnson said, include access to capital, breaking into a nontraditional industry and maintaining a work-life balance.

‘Great connector’

Ann Jagger, owner of Southport Graphics, started her digital print and fulfillment company in Cary in 2009. Jagger started working with the Woman’s Business Center a few months later. The center helped connect Jagger to the capital that she used to grow her business from $1 million in revenue in 2012 to $1.5 million in 2013.

Now, Jagger is finishing up a five-book series for pre-teens, and Johnson is helping her plan and connect with resources to create a related video game that she can ship overseas.

“She’s a great connector,” Jagger said.

In September 2013, Denise Tarka launched The Christmas Cookie Factory and tested her concept and processes over a pilot season. The Triangle-based company makes small batches of cookie dough using quality, natural ingredients. The dough is distributed through holiday parties, other events and online.

Tarka encountered The Women’s Business Center last year after attending a pitch party for a program sponsored by Sam’s Club and Count Me In, a national nonprofit organization that provides resources, business education and community support for female entrepreneurs. The Women’s Business Center helped bring the pitch competition to the Triangle in December and 33 female business owners were chosen to participate in a nine-month business accelerator program.

After The Christmas Cookie Factory’s first season, Tarka realized she needed to increase the company’s cookie dough production. Her initial research indicated that the most viable manufacturing option was in California. So, Tarka, who just couldn’t reconcile using mostly local ingredients and then shipping it outside the state, turned to the center for help.

Johnson listed off people that Tarka needed to connect with, which led to conference calls and in-person meetings.

“Briles goes one on one with you. Looks at what you need, helps you where you are at to get to the next place,” Tarka said. “It is very personalized.”

Bridges: 919-829-8917; Twitter: @virginiabridges

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