The Women’s Business Center: A support in the entrepreneurial journey

Story and photos by LIZ G. ROJAS

One of Utah’s best-kept secrets for aspiring entrepreneurs is the Women’s Business Center, located in downtown Salt Lake City within the Chamber offices.

The WBC is a nonprofit organization that is partially funded by the federal government through the Salt Lake City Chamber. Because the center is a 501(c)(3), it is expected to match the funding it receives through fundraising or sponsors.

The Women’s Business Center’s goal and purpose is to help increase the number of women-owned businesses in the state of Utah through consulting, training and networking opportunities.

The center has been operational for 17 years and has a consultant who provides a variety of different services. Services are free to the public and range from helping with business plans and cash flow projections to government consulting.

Former day-care owner Lorena Sierra missed the opportunity to work with the Women’s Business Center.

Lorena Sierra

Lorena Sierra

“I know a lot of times I needed help with grants and I wasn’t able to apply because I had no idea how,” Sierra said. “I wish I would have known of an organization like that [WBC].”

Sierra owned a day-care center in Utah County alongside her business partner for 17 years. In 2012, after her partner sold her half, Sierra ran out of funding options and chose to sell her business.

According to American Express, her center was 1 of 73,000 businesses in Utah that are women-owned, compared to the 9.1 million nationally that are owned by women.

The Small Business Administration defines a woman-owned business as one that is owned at least 51 percent by a woman. In addition, the woman can make independent decisions regarding the business without being undermined by anyone and is responsible for planning the short- and long-term activities.

Ann Marie Thompson- Program Director for the Women's Business Center

Ann Marie Thompson

Ann Marie Thompson, program director for the Women’s Business Center, says there is demand for a woman-oriented organization because there are different stresses for women than there are for men.

Most women are trying to start a business from home or as an addition to full-time responsibilities. They’re driven by flexibility because their first obligation is to their family. The majority of clients who meet with the WBC have these similar backgrounds and priorities.

Evette Alldredge, a local business owner, was guided by the Women’s Business Center and benefited from its services.

In a phone interview, Alldredge said that she arrived at the center with a partial business plan and high hopes. She met once a week for approximately five months with the center to create a business plan and explore all aspects of the planning.

Alldredge was able to present in front of Utah’s Microenterprise Loan Fund and received funding from the nonprofit for her business.

In April 2014, Evette Alldredge’s business, Super Gym Gymnastics, opened its doors.

However, even though the business center does direct its organization toward women, its services are for everyone. Thompson said that 20 percent of the WBC’s clientele are, in fact, men. She said, “We consult with anyone who wants to come.”

The Women’s Business Center has a broad range of connections and partnerships. Some of the partners are the National Association of Women Business Owners, the Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund and the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.

The center also works with the Salt Lake City World Trade Center and Salt Lake Magazine. The WBC refers clients to the World Trade Center if they need help learning how to import and export.

Salt Lake Magazine features the Women in Business section in the September/October issue. The WBC is highlighted in that issue.

Although the center is associated with the Salt Lake City Chamber it is not confined to the Wasatch Front. Thompson said Google Hangout and Skype are frequently used to communicate with clients throughout the state.

According to the Small Business Administration, twice as many women-owned businesses are opened every day, compared to three years ago. However, there are still barriers that haven’t been overcome by women business owners.

One of the barriers is the compensation gap. Even if a woman is the owner of a business, her salary is lower compared to others in her same position.

“Women choose to pay themselves less, not knowing what others are paying themselves,” Thompson said. “Women are also choosing jobs that pay less. ”

American Express reported in 2014 that the goal shouldn’t be to motivate more women to open businesses, but instead to financially support those who are already established and help them expand.

Regardless, the need for the Women’s Business Center in Utah is crucial. As Lorena Sierra said, “We do need a lot of support. We have the desire to have our own businesses but we don’t have a guide.”

The WBC is one of Utah’s best-kept secret support systems for aspiring business owners.

“If it weren’t for the Women’s Business Center I would not be where I am today,” said Evette Alldredge, owner of Super Gym Gymnastics, who continues to work with the center for a business expansion loan. “I am the most happy, successful entrepreneur.”