Like the proverbial phoenix rising from the ashes, the new Center for Women’s Business Advancement seeks to build upon the foundation of its predecessor of supporting women entrepreneurs in New Hampshire and to go much further.
The CWBA, located at Southern New Hampshire University in Manchester, celebrated its grand opening in February upon being awarded a five-year, $719,000 matching grant by the U.S. Small Business Administration.
The CWBA provides free, one-on-one business counseling, workshops and other resources to women looking to start their own businesses – although male entrepreneurs are also welcome.
STILL A NEED
The former Women’s Business Center closed in August of 2010 after serving New Hampshire for some 15 years. In recent years, membership waned, falling from a high of 450 members in 2008. Lack of interest in some of the programming, similar offerings from other business resource agencies diluting program attendance, and perhaps unmet member expectations all led to its demise.
As important as supporting small businesses in New Hampshire is, some questioned whether there is a need for a women-focused business resource agency at all, especially in light of the former agency’s closing.
CWBA Executive Director MaryAnn Manoogian answers that with a resounding, “Yes.” She points to a June report by women’s policy groups which found the Granite State was second to last in New England for the number of women-owned businesses, despite a growth trend in New Hampshire itself.
“As an entity, we have an obligation to identify patterns and trends that are obstacles for women business owners in being successful,” Manoogian says. “Empowering women to be financially independent is really important for us in terms of, not only what we contribute to our communities and the state, but also to our own personal livelihoods with our families.”
Manoogian says she’s well aware of the issues that led to the demise of the Women’s Business Center — programming for businesses in later stages of growth is a priority — and has even consulted with the organization’s directors and previous members prior to opening the CWBA’s doors.
“We had a focus group in December with former Women’s Business Center members, and heard that many felt they weren’t getting as much as they were giving for their membership dues. Many said the organization didn’t grow along with their businesses,” says Manoogian, who previously managed nonprofits and was also Energy Director under former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen. “We have to be a good role model ourselves. If we want to be around for the long run – which we definitely want to do – then we have to make sure we build a solid foundation.”
But she is quick to give high praise to the staff of the former Women’s Business Center. “I want to give credit to them because they did a lot of great work,” she says.
SNHU also held focus groups last year with business and community leaders to get a sense of need and interest for a women’s business agency. All were adamant as well to continue the good work started by the prior organization.
Where the CWBA differs greatly from the previous organization is in its unique relationship with Southern New Hampshire University. While both groups required an SBA grant for funding, this time, the money was awarded to SNHU as sponsor and host. The defunct Women’s Business Center, however, received the grant as a stand-alone agency. This new setup with the university means the CWBA can seamlessly tap into the full resources of SNHU, instead of having to find help elsewhere.
For example, the CWBA and its clients can seek the advice of professors, university leaders and even students. Several faculty members are teaching workshops for the center and some CWBA clients are receiving marketing support from students as part of the students’ own classes.
“It’s a win-win for the university’s students and the CWBA’s clients,” says Manoogian.
The CWBA’s partnership with SNHU also makes finding money easier through the support of its Office of Institutional Advancement, a crucial issue as the agency spends far more than the base matching grant, according to Manoogian.
“The resources that have been available to us have been phenomenal,” she says. “I have inherent resources that are available to us that the former WBC as a stand-alone didn’t.”
What’s more, despite the close relationship between the CWBA and the university, Manoogian says the center is “extremely autonomous. There’s a recognition from SNHU our audience is statewide and is a community-based audience, and not just a campus student audience.”
UNDERSTANDING & SUPPORT
What may set the CWBA apart from other business resource agencies is the working relationship between counselors and clients. There is a deep, even personal, understanding that women business owners often have a full plate of priorities outside of their companies.
“We have family obligations, we volunteer a lot in our communities, we may have responsibilities for aging parents,” Manoogian says. “We get that.”
Crystal DeAngelo of Sandown is one of the CWBA’s clients doing that balancing act. A college student and young mother to a toddler, she also recently added “entrepreneur” to her list of roles.
During a painful divorce last year, DeAngelo wanted a neutral place where all parties involved could communicate with each other. When she couldn’t find such a resource, she decided to create her own website, Coparent.org, with the help of the CWBA.
Coparent.org is a Web-based forum and resource for divorcing parents, their children and their families with the goal of “fostering positive and productive interaction.”
While DeAngelo, a business student at NHTI-Concord’s Community College, also uses the services of other business resources in New Hampshire, she says she finds the CWBA ideally suited to her needs.
“MaryAnn [Manoogian] is so personable. I really feel like she’s on my team,” says DeAngelo. “The advice and help the CWBA has given me have been invaluable.”