Career, Entrepreneurs — October 9, 2012 11:59 pm

Good for the Girls

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In a world where financing for startups owned by women is essentially non-existent, Bad Girl Ventures is an organization helping bright businesswomen launch their bold ideas.

Finalists in the Bad Girl Ventures micro-lending program might lead vastly different companies, but they share a common goal: to be successful in business. Photo by Lauren Purkey.

When Kentucky native Candace Klein lost her job as a securities attorney, she began working with women-owned small businesses. She noticed many of her clients struggling to pay legal bills, and learned that while women own 50 percent of small businesses, they only have access to 5 percent of traditional capital. Klein, 31, ready to fix this problem, created Bad Girl Ventures (BGV), a non-profit organization in Cincinnati that provides micro lending to new businesses owned by women.

Corey Drushal, director of Bad Girl Ventures, watches one of the finalists give her pitch for the audience. Photo by Lauren Purkey.

“There hasn’t really been a program like BGV before,” says Corey Drushal, 25, the organization’s director. “We saw the problem that women need financing. They don’t have access to it. A lot of that is because most of the time banks want to see some history [showing] that they’ve been profitable. If you are just starting out with your first business, you might have not reached profitability yet, so how do you prove to a bank that you’re credit-worthy?”

BGV, now in its third year, has awarded four loans, worked with 48 finalists and trained more than 400 people through its program, creating more than 125 jobs in Cincinnati alone. BGV has a new office in Cleveland and will soon open an office in Columbus, and Klein hopes to someday expand nationally.  “We have been able to create that culture of women entrepreneurs in the city that wasn’t really there before,” Drushal says.

Finalist Melanie Cedargren gives her pitch for her startup business, Spicy Olive. Photo by Lauren Purkey.

For Melanie Cedargren and her two partners at Spicy Olive, the sinking feeling of not knowing how to get their startup restaurant off the ground overwhelmed them. It wasn’t until they got involved with BGV that they felt reassured. “First of all it gives you vindication that your idea and what you want to do, other people find value in it,” says Cedargren, 50. “It made us feel great. And then coming and meeting everybody else—it is so neat to be with people who have ideas and dreams and want to make something come real.”

BGV offers a nine-week business development course for anyone with an idea and $150. (Participants can also take individual classes a la carte at $25 a session.) Each week is focused on a different subject area and is taught by experts in that specific field. At the end of each class, the women engage in “speed coaching” sessions with the experts and professionals who are coaching that week. The goal is to prepare the women to complete a business and marketing plan and a three-year financial projection. The experts combine the nine-week course and micro lending for their 10 finalists who compete for the $25,000 loan. For these 10 “Bad Girl” finalists who get to make their pitches at the end of the nine weeks, though, calling this a competition might be misleading.

“It’s awesome to see everyone else succeed; you just want to help them,” says Megan Gourlie, 28, owner of Dogtown Cincinnati, an interactive daycare for dogs and cats. Gourlie worked with BGV partner Score, a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses through education and mentorship. Although she’s been running her business for a year now, she has had to overcome many uncertainties and “I don’t know” moments when it came to growing her startup company. “I am a business owner who was not educated in business,” she says. “I went to school for architecture. There were a lot of things I didn’t know and was struggling with.”

Unlike most competitive business start-ups in a challenging economy, BGV finalists serve as a network for each other – and their support seems to be wholly altruistic and genuine. “Everyone wants everyone else to succeed,” says BGV participant Amy Elisabeth Spasoff, owner of Amy Elisabeth Photography. “No matter who wins in the end, we all kind of win in the end.” Spasoff, 38, describes that even when she doesn’t understand what a coach or expert is talking about in class that day—and feels like jabbing a pencil in her eye—someone will always lean over and whisper, “Don’t worry, I’ll explain it to you later.”

For Emily Frank, 37, owner of C’est Cheese Food Truck—an on-the-go restaurant serving gourmet grilled-cheese sandwiches—this validation and support from her BGV peers, along with the strength of her mentors, has really reassured her. “Sometimes it’s just knowing you’re not the only one doing it,” she says. “Before [I met the BGV women], I thought I was the only person sitting at my computer 15 hours a day, stressing out over everything that goes into starting a new business, and now I know that are many, many more people.”

Bad Girl Ventures finalist Kim Howell seeks a mentor's advice for her startup business. Photo by Lauren Purkey.

At typical gatherings of BGV participants, the women talk not about the challenges of being women business owners, specifically, but just about being business owners, in general. Kristen Alvarez, for example, owner of Terra Strenua Outfitters, doesn’t see herself as being a minority business owner even though she works in a very male-dominated industry, trying to create a technical camping product. “For so many of us, does that come first—‘I am a woman entrepreneur?’” says Alvarez, 31. “I know for me it is like I am doing my thing, and I have an idea and I’m just doing it. I think that [our gender] is so much a lens that people see us through. For me, that’s not something I think about.”

The women who are chosen as finalists have smart and innovative ideas, the initiative to seek support and the passion to see their dreams grow, Drushal says. They are relentless, strong and don’t take crap from anybody. And no matter who wins in the end, BGV has given each of them something that can’t be stamped in approval by a bank or critically evaluated by a venture capitalist, its participants say. The organization has given them courage, determination and light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

“I could not public-speak to save my life until I took this class,” says Katie Bunschoten, 30, owner of KHB Office, which provides accounting for small businesses. “But somebody said to me today during break, ‘You know what, your pitch has improved so much from your first day.’ I know I am now speaking more clearly, more confidently and I believe that in itself has just brought a lot of benefit with it. I also know at the end of the day, if I’m having a hard time, I’ve got my girls here.”  

 

 

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