As she enters her 20th year as head of Santa Barbara-based Women’s Economic Ventures, Marsha Bailey says she expects the nonprofit organization to be around for at least another two decades.
As it has in the past, however, WEV will have to adapt to changing times.
“We will probably always see a need for a women’s business center,” the WEV founder and chief executive officer told Noozhawk.
With an original annual budget of $75,000, Bailey started WEV during the 1991 recession to provide training programs and support for women and men at every stage of their business. The nonprofit organization helps entrepreneurs start up, launch, grow and sustain their own businesses with WEV’s counseling, advanced training and conferences.
Now with an annual budget of $1.2 million, WEV also provides small start-up and expansion funds up to $50,000 to pre-bankable micro enterprises through its Small Business Loan Fund.
WEV’s service area has expanded over the years to include Santa Barbara and Ventura counties. During the past two decades, it has helped to create or expand more than 2,000 businesses while generating or retaining some 3,000 South Coast jobs.
Bailey said WEV’s accomplishments are the result of a variety of funding sources, such as corporate investments, money from the Small Business Administration, as well as municipal and county community development block grants. WEV also charges fees on a sliding scale for its training programs.
For now, WEV is about the only South Coast lender that will provide start-up business loans, Bailey said. This is vital, she said, because startups create millions of jobs across the country while many large corporations are laying off millions of their employees.
While big lenders such as Santa Barbara-based Pacific Capital Bancorp have only had to pay a fraction of the $180 million in federal bailout funds they received, the Treasury Department again this year denied WEV’s request for funds, Bailey said.
Ironically, she noted, while some $750 billion in federal funds were used to bail out the nation’s banks, those same financial institutions are refusing to extend credit to many small businesses. And most banks and the SBA won’t lend anything to startups.
Back in the 1980s, when Bailey was working with WEV’s predecessor, the Women’s Community Building Program, times also were tough, she recalled.
“A woman was turned down at a bank when she tried to get a loan to start her business,” Bailey said. “She was told she could get a loan to remodel her kitchen, but not to start a business.”
Bailey said it’s easier today for women to get small business loans, but many still can use WEV’s help.
WEV has tried to meet the changing needs of small business people. Small loans may help, but there is a growing need for more training. So, Bailey said, WEV has stressed training while still providing loans if needed.
WEV’s 14-week, 56-hour self-employment training program provides guidance on how to start, operate or expand a business.
“Participants leave the course with a complete business plan, including a marketing strategy, a cash-flow projection, operations plan and a core network to help sustain the business,” Bailey said.
WEV provides week-by-week training in organizing, financing, marketing and managing a budding business. Course topics include finances, sales and marketing, public relations and advertising, legal and insurance issues, record keeping and business plan writing. Graduates emerge with tools and resources they need to start a new business or grow their current one, Bailey said.
According to WEV’s 2010 survey, within 18 months of completing the program, 90 percent of the graduates who were in business at the start of the course were still in business. Meanwhile, 63 percent of the course graduates who did not have a business at the start of the WEV program, and those who did, were still operating their enterprise.
Those graduates who had a business before starting the program saw a 73 percent increase in sales, the survey said. It also indicated that 59 percent of the WEV clients in poverty at the start of the training were lifted out of that status at the time of the survey.
In 2009, WEV client businesses created or retained 396 jobs and employed an additional 198 people apart for the company owner. They also generated almost $1.5 million in state and local tax revenue, Bailey said.
Of the WEV clients who took out loans in 2009, 82 percent still were in business this year despite the recession, she said.