Entrepreneurship Program Connects Businesswomen

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Even before the first Women in Entrepreneurship program at the Youngstown Business Incubator began Thursday afternoon, the conversations the organizers had hoped for were beginning to take place.

In the YBI lobby, 50 women from the Youngstown area shared information on the business services they use, about their companies and, along the way, a few laughs.

“They always think I just sit on Facebook all day,” said Carol Koutsourais, co-owner of SocialEyes Media Group with a chuckle. “I do, but there’s a lot more to my job, too.”

For the first meeting of the program, the goal was simply to get businesswomen to connect and start talking, said Barb Ewing, chief operating officer of the incubator.

“We want to get to know people, understand their needs, where they’re at in their process and get a gauge of what they’re doing. With that, we can better target the programs we want to develop,” she said.

The idea was started when the vice president of Hudson Fastener, Cris Young, asked why the YBI didn’t have more female mentors as part of its business-building system.

“We didn’t have a good answer for that,” Ewing said. “Women think differently, develop programs and processes differently and need different support than male-owned businesses. We want to provide that kind of service to have a better impact on the community.”

Over the past decade, women have started businesses twice as fast as men, according to Young, who is a board member of the U.S. Women’s Chamber of Commerce. Still, she noted, 75% of venture capital funds go to male-owned companies.

Even at the rate women start businesses, “They don’t have all the support networks that traditional businesses have had available. So the Women in Entrepreneurship program will help them talk about the issues they face out there,” Young said.

Among the issues Koutsourais has faced, she said, are having new clients take her seriously and raising a family.

“As a woman, we sometimes have to try a bit harder than a man would to break into social media. It sometimes feels like an obstacle when it comes to earning new clients,” she explained. “My partner and I both have children and have to worry about kids before and after work, whereas men are usually just concerned with work.”

On the whiteboards scattered throughout the YBI offices were questions such as “What is your biggest fear?” and “What is your super power?” The female tenants inside YBI had scrawled some answers before the event.

“It’s all about sharing ideas and solutions with other women business owners,” Young explained.

Ewing said there’s no firm time frame for the program, saying that Women in Entrepreneurship will last as long as the interest and need exists. But interest doesn’t seem to be an issue, she said.

“Within a few hours of the announcement going out on social media, we were above and beyond what we expected. And the interest has just been growing ever since,” Ewing said.

The incubator has applied for a five-year loan from the Small Business Administration and, if YBI gets it, the program would be funded the term of the loan.

The networking meetings such as yesterday’s will most likely be held monthly, Ewing added, with workshops held between meetings.

“Historically, YBI has been very diverse with lots of women-owned and minority-owned businesses. On that front, we’re doing a pretty good job with the technical side of helping them grow,” Ewing said. “This program will go beyond that. We aren’t looking just at technological businesses, but any woman-owned business.”

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.