Written by: Barry Waldman
Women comprise 51% of the U.S. population and own 39% of its businesses. Yet women-owned businesses account for merely 4% of the revenue generated nationally. Minority women-owned businesses generate a fraction of one percent of revenue.
Women and minorities lack the business grooming, mentorship, and access to capital that help men achieve success in business. Nearly all women-owned businesses are small enterprises.
Dorothea Bernique has always had an interest in boosting the prospects of female entrepreneurs. Having left a lucrative career in finance, Bernique is a non-profit entrepreneur herself, having founded Increasing H.O.P.E. (Helping Others Prosper Economically), a North Charleston-based financial literacy and training center for underserved communities.
Among Increasing H.O.P.E.’s offerings is H.E.R. Institute, a small business training program aimed specifically at women. The training covers important topics germane to the establishment and operation of profitable enterprises, such as business development and licensing, financial management, customer service, human resource development, and more.
The New Women’s Business Center in North Charleston
In January, the U.S. Small Business Administration invested $125,000 in a Women’s Business Center to be opened and operated by Increasing H.O.P.E. and run out of the new Opportunity Center on Rivers Avenue. Now under construction, the one-stop economic development center is a collaborative effort of Increasing H.O.P.E., the Center for Heirs Property and Preservation, the South Carolina Association for Community Economic Development and Homes of Hope.
The local Women’s Business Center is one of three in South Carolina and is designed to build on the work Increasing H.O.P.E. was already doing.
“The new Women’s Business Centers will provide entrepreneurs with greater access to the training and technical assistance services they need to reopen, sustain or grow their businesses as well as serve as the engine for job creation,” said SBA Administrator Jovita Carranza.
High Demand for Women Seeking Business Opportunities
Bernique says she is already getting calls and emails seeking support from the Women’s Business Center, even before staff has been hired and the office has been established. She says it should be up and running by April.
“The ability to fit into the entrepreneur ecosystem we are already creating at the Opportunity Center makes it a perfect fit,” she said.
The Women’s Business Center will address three kinds of women business owners: dreamers, start-ups, and existing businesses. For dreamers considering entrepreneurship, it will provide online and in-person classes to help them determine if owning a business is right for them. Startups have been in business for a short time and lack the infrastructure for growth. Existing businesses have three-to-five years under their belt but have plateaued, For businesses in all three phases, Increasing H.O.P.E. has devised business analysis tools to ascertain their needs, provide mentorships, and offer technical assistance and online tools for self-paced work.
“One of the biggest challenges that women and minorities face is proper business formation, lack of financial documents to show revenue and validity of the business. The lack of access to capital has been documented in numerous studies,” Bernique said.
Among the lessons in the Women’s Business Center arsenal will be how to secure an EIN, register with appropriate municipal authorities, and trademark the name. These are not concepts that most people who establish businesses know anything about.
As an organization charged with promoting economic development in the tri-county area, The Lowcountry Graduate Center actively supports efforts to open pathways to business success to traditionally underserved groups. The Women’s Business Center will serve a critical need.
A Women’s Business Success Story
Georgia Grace came to H.E.R. Institute in 2013 with a vision of entrepreneurship but no business experience. After completing the course, she used the lessons learned and skills acquired to open Holy City Salsa, a Latin dance studio thriving today in West Ashley.
“HER Institute changed my life. HER institute equipped me with the skills, knowledge, support, and encouragement that I needed to develop my business and get it off the ground. Without HER Institute, I would still be floundering – full of ideas, but unsure how to implement them,” she said.
Increasing H.O.P.E. is leveraging SBA support in the financial community to gain support for the Women’s Business Center. It has already won a commitment from United Bank for an unspecified amount of financial and non-monetary support. Bernique is discussing investment from another bank as well. Further support, both financial and intellectual, is still needed. Bernique is seeking donations and individuals with expertise in finances, business plan writing, coaching, and counseling to mentor women and minority business operators. To volunteer or donate, visit increasinghope.org.