Blast for businesswomen set for Oct 78

July 1, 2011
| By Pete Daly |
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The Blast! Business Accelerator Program for women in business isn’t until October, but Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women has no time to lose.

The local introduction to Blast! was last week at the Holiday Inn on Pearl Street, an event that attracted local organizations that partner with GROW as well as representatives of the national organization Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence.

The first of a series of “pitch parties” will be July 14 at GROW, 25 Sheldon Blvd. SE, and all will be open to any woman in business who might want to be considered for participation in Blast!, according to GROW CEO Bonnie Nawara.

The Blast! Business Accelerator Program/Grand Rapids is a pilot project for women business owners in the West Michigan area who want to grow their businesses, Nawara said. It is an initiative of Count Me In for Women’s Economic Independence, a national not-for-profit provider of resources, education and community for women entrepreneurs, in partnership with GROW. The program is funded by a grant from the W.H. Kellogg Foundation and is being designed with help from Count Me In, although tailored specifically to the Grand Rapids region.

Blast! is designed to help 30 women entrepreneurs in the Greater Grand Rapids area reach $250,000 in annual gross revenues through a 12-month curriculum of group coaching and training in business education, expert support and peer accountability, said Nawara.

The program begins with the Business Leadership Institute Oct. 7-8 at DeVos Place. At the one-and-a-half-day event, potential participants pitch their businesses to a panel of experts as part of the selection process for Blast! Attendees also will take part in business-building workshops, hear inspiring keynotes and network in a community of peers and role models.

At the conclusion of the Business Leadership Institute, up to 50 finalists will be selected to go on to apply for the Blast! Business Accelerator Program, according to Nawara. Once the completed application packages are received and reviewed, 30 businesses then will be selected to participate for one year in the program to foster their revenue growth.

The 30 BAP participants will be announced in early December 2011 and the program will commence in January 2012.

CMI is based in New York and has successfully launched support activities for women-owned businesses in many communities across the nation.

As for the West Michigan initiative just being launched, “we are hoping we’ll be able to take this on into the year 2013 and beyond,” said Nawara.

Women business owners in all industries are invited to participate, but there are some qualifications that must be met to participate in the Leadership Institute and the subsequent Blast! program.

Qualifications include:

  • Be a resident of the Greater Grand Rapids region (Kent, Ottawa and Muskegon counties).

  • In business for at least two years.

  • The business must be at least 50 percent woman-owned.

  • Have annual gross revenues of not less than $50,000 and not greater than $150,000.

  • The business owner must be a U.S. citizen or legal resident.

  • Have no bankruptcies or liens within past five years.

One local female entrepreneur who has been helping launch Blast! is Rhoda Kreuzer, founder of Partners in Action Inc., a business founded 12 years ago that offers consulting and executive coaching to companies that want to grow.

Being a part of a process that brings success to women entrepreneurs is “as good as it gets,” according to Kreuzer. She said some of the areas in which women business owners are often in need of help is finding sources of financing, realizing when they need to hire employees, and trying to balance work with the demands at home, including care for children or elderly parents.

Some female entrepreneurs try to “self-fund” the expansion of their business, as opposed to taking out loans, Kreuzer said. That is a difficult way to go, she added.

Making the decision to hire help also can be a hurdle. “We tend to think we should do it all ourselves,” said Kreuzer, regarding women entrepreneurs. That line of reasoning makes some women reluctant to add employees “who can help expand the business and give us more time” to manage that growth.

“The real shift comes internally,” she said. “You have to be able to make the leap and the changes necessary to raise that revenue point of your business.”

The Blast! Business Accelerator Program is inspired by the Make Mine a Million $ Business (M3) program model, first introduced by CMI in 2005 and designed to support women-owned businesses with $85,000 to $750,000 in annual revenues grow their businesses to the $1 million dollar mark, and sustain that growth in the long term.

The Kellogg Foundation requested that a similar business-building program be specifically designed to help women entrepreneurs with smaller-sized businesses, and that the initiative be localized for Grand Rapids, Nawara said.

The goal of Blast! goes beyond just the expansion of businesses. Nawara said the Kellogg Foundation has a focus on eradication of poverty “from the ground up,” and so the long-range goal of Blast! is to strengthen the wellness of children and families, by supporting local women-owned businesses in economic growth and job creation in the region. By providing the tools and support system, more of the women-owned businesses can become sustainable assets in their communities.

Nawara offers statistics pertaining to women-owned businesses that support the need for accelerator programs like Blast!

  • According to 2010 Census statistics, while women-owned businesses represented nearly 50 percent of privately held companies, only 2.6 percent reported more than $1 million in revenue, compared to 6 percent of men-owned firms.

  • The majority of women-owned businesses in the U.S. do not exceed $50,000 in annual gross revenues.

  • 28 percent of all women entrepreneurs who have become awardees in Count Me In programs such as Make Mine a Million $ Business have reached and surpassed the million-dollar revenue level.

Blast! needs assistance from the women in West Michigan who have already been successful in business, Nawara said.

“We’re looking for the more successful women who own a million-dollar-plus business. We want them to come to the table and help us grow this program and judge the participants. They have the experience that qualifies them to do that,” she said.

CMI and GROW will host a series of Pitch Parties throughout Greater Grand Rapids through the summer to help women prepare for the Leadership Institute Pitch Competition. At these free events, women business owners can practice their business pitches, receive expert feedback on their presentations, and learn more about the Leadership Institute and Blast! Business Accelerator Program.

GROW collaborates with many community organizations and will be looking to them for help in promoting Blast! by hosting Pitch Parties throughout the region. These groups include the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce, Alliance of Women Entrepreneurs, Local First, the Urban League, the Asian Center, the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the DDA, Grand Rapids Economic Development Foundation, Michigan Minority Business Development Council, MI-SBTDC and others.

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