Program Offers Support Network to Aspiring Women Entrepreneurs

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The University of Scranton Women’s Entrepreneurship Center (WEC) and Small Business Development Center (SBDC) recently wrapped up another successful six-week session of StartUP, a certificate program for women who are aspiring entrepreneurs. Fourteen women graduated the program at the end of April, all with diverse interests, armed with the tools to create detailed business plans and give life to their ventures.

Though the program has been offered in the past, this year’s design was slightly different. Lisa Hall, Director of the SBDC at Scranton, says the Center reinvented the series to ensure all the women participating were pre-venture.

“We wanted to bring in a group of women who were at the same stage so they could be a part of each other’s journeys from idea all the way to launch,” Hall explains. “This will allow them to form a support network for each other, while also continue working with us at the WEC, and possibly down the road, Scranton student interns.”

Facilitated by experienced SBDC consultants, the series is designed to give women the step-by-step guidance needed to develop successful small businesses. Participants in this interactive program were exposed to weekly sessions that covered start-up basics, legal and insurance considerations, marketing and social media essentials, business plan development, accounting and budget skills, financing options and requirements, and goal setting. Local women business owners were invited to several sessions to share their experiences.

Very active in the program was Pennstar, a local bank with deep ties to the community. Hall says the SBDC proposed a partnership with them because of their community-minded reputation, and because the bank was a good fit with the program. Thanks to their sponsorship, the 14 women were able to go through the program at no cost, and additionally received critical financial guidance directly from the institution.

The program’s success and response from the community has led the university to the decision to offer StartUP twice a year: “We have a waiting list!” Hall states.

Interested participants submit applications, but Hall explains that the process is really to gain insight into the background of potential candidates and to ensure the program is the right fit for their goals. If an applicant doesn’t seem like the right fit for StartUP, there are still opportunities for them to benefit from services offered by the SBDC or the WEC.

Through its partnership with the Kania School of Management, the series is gaining exposure throughout the internal university community as well. Hall is hoping to partner with students and other groups on campus to enhance the experiences they can offer to the women in the program, and grow opportunities with all the small businesses they support.

“When you get a group of women together like this, they form an amazing support network,” Hall states. “Participants stay in touch, and help each other as their businesses move forward. As we have more of these series, this network will continue to grow, introducing new opportunities for the future.”

Netoya Nevarez of Effort in Monroe County says she is so grateful for her new support network, and the opportunity she had to participate in this session of StartUP – including PennStar’s role in that. Nevarez, who aspires to launch a mentoring business for youth aged 12 to 17 aimed to help them with life skills training, went into the program thinking she was ready to get started, and quickly realized that wasn’t the case.

“I had my idea and thought I was ahead of the game,” Nevarez says with a laugh. “Once I started the sessions, I realized I wasn’t even close. I learned so much from each session – literally a world of knowledge! You can’t get this kind of help and information without a program like this.”

Now Nevarez is working on her business plan and staying in close contact with the SBDC and WEC throughout the process. She says she is keeping her Tuesday nights open and spending the time she was previously attending StartUP to devote to working on her business.

“I believe being a part of this series was meant to be for me. The staff gave us the confidence to follow our dreams – I left each session feeling inspired and empowered,” Nevarez describes. “It was motivational to hear first-hand accounts from people who were once in our shoes. I was struggling and the program and people made my struggles easier.”

She concludes: “I could not have done this on my own. I owe a lot to this awesome program that has given me new incentive to move forward and develop my business successfully.”

Photo: Seated L-R: Kristen Skoff, Netoya Nevarez, Alison Skoff, Tamar Beridze, and Amy Fotta.  Standing L-R: Lisa Hall and Donna Simpson, SBDC; Matthew Colgan, Pennstar Bank; Julia Falcone; Simone Thompson; Patricia Dickert; Rosemary Davis; Linda Bostinto; Nancy Perri, Carbondale Technology Transfer Center; and Marta Fish.