“Celebrating the Journey”
WEV’s 25th Anniversary Gala Speech
by Kathy Odell, WEV Board President-Elect
October 27, 2016
GOOD EVENING, and welcome to the Women’s Economic Ventures 25th Anniversary Gala. This is a very special evening for us, and we are delighted to celebrate it with each of you.
In particular, we want to thank our Passion Sponsors – City National Bank, Pacific Western Bank and Union Bank for their support of not only this gala, but the continuum of WEV programs. These lead sponsors and our other generous sponsors listed on the screen, have made, and continue to make it possible for us to fulfill our mission.
Twenty-five years, a quarter of a century – that’s a long time for an organization to endure. I Googled notable business launches of 1991. There are only a handful of companies who are still in business today, among them Oracle, Vodaphone, IBM Global Services. The majority of businesses founded that year are no longer with us.
Endurance isn’t easy. Just ask any of the aging baby boomers in the room!
Meaningful endurance is even harder.
For an organization to endure over 25 years and be as relevant today as it was at its founding is quite a feat. To be more relevant and more valuable today is an honor that goes to few.
When I agreed to give this speech I thought I knew the history of WEV pretty well. I have been involved with WEV on and off for almost 7 years and like most volunteers, I can tick off the highlights.
But that’s like saying a 12 year-old knows her grandmother’s life pretty well. You can recite the highlights – you may know when she was born, got married, had her children, but you have no clue about her Journey – what it took to create the vision, the persistence necessary to achieve it; the challenges, near death experiences, the accomplishments, big and small.
What it takes to grow from a small entity based on the firmly held, but not widely, belief that economic equality for women would be best accomplished through self-employment, to recognition as one of the best performing non-profit organizations in the nation – year, after year, after year.
You know the highlights, but you aren’t aware of each thread that has been carefully woven to create the tapestry that is seen today.
WEV was founded in 1991 when women earned 56 cents for every dollar earned by a man. A male college graduate earned almost twice as much as a female college graduate. In fact, a female college graduate made 13% less than a male having only a high school diploma.
Women weren’t routinely viewed as managers or executives, let alone entrepreneurs. There were only a handful of organizations in the entire country devoted to helping women start businesses. There was little research available at the time to identify the barriers to economic development for American women, certainly no consensus on how to remove those barriers.
In 1988, the James Irvine Foundation provided a $15,000 planning grant to what was then the Women’s Community Building Project, to determine the feasibility of creating a comprehensive economic development strategy for women. WEV’s founder, Marsha Bailey, was Executive Director of that Project. Marsha and an advisory committee submitted a proposal for a $100,000 grant, based upon a concept that would serve both moderate and low income women. The Irvine Foundation decided to only support programs targeted at low income women and Marsha’s group did not receive funding.
Challenge #1 – Others don’t buy into your vision.
Persistence lesson # 1 – Believe in your vision and find another way.
Based on the research Marsha had conducted for the Irvine grant, she and a small group of donors decided to establish a micro-loan program and provide self-employment training to women of all income levels.
They renamed the program Women’s Economic Ventures and launched in 1991 with a 4-week business orientation program and a peer based lending program based on the Grameen micro-finance model, which would provide loans of up to $1,500 to participants in the program.
Within a year it became clear that the model was not exactly meeting the needs of the clients. Most of the women WEV served in the beginning had no prior experience owning a small business. Calls poured in – all with the same message “I don’t know how to run a business, I need training!”
WEV’s curriculum was valuable, but obviously insufficient.
So – your business model is flawed, what do you do?
Persist – revise the plan.
The original training programs were revamped and expanded to programs ranging from 6 to 14 weeks. The new programs were so well received that some clients were traveling over 100 miles to attend!
Despite the popularity of the programs with clients, funding the young organization was a struggle.
In 1992 WEV missed its fund raising goals by a wide margin, and many of the board members wanted to shut “the experiment” down. Marsha said no; the validation for the program was there and she was determined to find the money to keep going. Fortunately, her persistence paid off. WEV escaped an early death by attracting public funding. In 1994 WEV received its first public funding – $54,000 from the Private Industry Council.
Training programs were growing dramatically, and with more trained entrepreneurs, access to capital became a problem. The $1,500 peer lending program wasn’t working – the entrepreneurs needed more funding. One of the stories typical of our clients was a woman who had been operating her business out of her garage for 7 years and had 5 employees. She wanted to move to a commercial location so she went to a bank asking for $15,000, offering her house as collateral. The bank told her they would loan the $15,000 to remodel her kitchen, but not to open a business location.
Challenge – How do we fund the entrepreneurs we are training?
WEV answered this challenge in 1995 with an innovative community re-investment partnership, one of the first of its kind in the nation. The WEV Small Business Loan Fund was established with a grant of $75,000 from the Santa Barbara Community Development Block Grant program and investment totaling $225,000 from six forward thinking local banks. This allowed WEV to begin providing loans of up to $25,000.
WEV was now more unique than ever before – no other program was positioned to make loans to pre-bankable enterprises – WEV had become the “lender of first resort”.
Growth Continued – And WEV’s Achievements Gained Recognition
With the impact of the loan fund and growing interest in entrepreneurship among women in the late 90s, WEV saw a dramatic increase in its client base and received many requests to expand its service area. Offices were opened in Ventura County and Santa Maria.
Recognition of WEV’s economic impact grew, exemplified by a SBA grant in 2001 for $250,000, followed by a larger grant of $750,000 in 2003.
Requests to license our curriculum and train other organizations were received from around the United States and internationally. In 2001 WEV staff were invited to Hungary to train women entrepreneurs.
So What’s Your Next Act?
“If you are not fulfilling a need, your organization is not going to be sustainable because people will stop coming to you”.
That’s a Marsha Bailey quote, and it exemplifies how she has led WEV to its success – always focus on the client’s needs. Listen and respond.
In 2003, WEV responded to our clients by adding Spanish language classes and bi-lingual staff.
Thrive in Five was launched in 2010 in response to requests from clients needing to stabilize and/or grow their businesses. This innovative program provides individually tailored, longer-term support for business owners from our Business Development Specialists.
And this year the program expanded further to Thrive in Five High Growth, serving clients who have achieved 20% annual growth and/or created 8 jobs in the past three years.
So Why Do You Care?
These are all wonderful stories, great to hear over a fabulous dinner in a beautiful setting. But why should you care? How does WEV affect your life if you are not a WEV client?
WEV businesses have created an estimated 8,700 jobs and generate nearly $300M in sales revenue annually in our communities.
WEV businesses are classified as “Small Business”, but there is nothing small about the place of small business in our economy.
Small businesses make up
Small business is the heart of our economy, producing good paying, locally based jobs.
A strong local economy is dependent upon small business. And WEV’s businesses outperform the national statistics for revenue achievement and longevity.
Nationally, only 9% of women owned businesses have employees. 42% of our Self-Employment graduates have employees and 71% of our Thrive in Five clients have employees.
Only 45% of all women-owned businesses survive the first five years; WEV clients have an 80% survival rate after 5 years. That is a better survival rate than the best Venture Capital firms achieve.
VISION, PERSISTENCE, ACHIEVEMENT, ENDURANCE –THESE ARE THE THREADS OF WEV’S TAPESTRY
WEV’s vision today is the same as when it was founded – economic equality for women is best accomplished through entrepreneurship.
WEV has persisted for 25 years in developing programs that create confident, successful entrepreneurs. Over 6,500 clients have participated in our core training programs, over 4,000 businesses have been created with assistance from WEV and $4M has been loaned to small businesses in our community.
WEV is ranked among the Top Ten women’s business development organizations in the nation.
Our CEO is an appointed member of the National Women’s Business Council which conducts research and advises the White House, Congress and the U.S. Small Business Administration on policy matters pertaining to women’s entrepreneurship. For the past four years, Marsha has chaired the Board of Directors of the Association of Women’s Business Centers, an organization committed to increasing the capacity of more than 100 Women’s Business Centers across the nation.
But the real measure of WEV’s achievements are the entrepreneurs and businesses of our communities that are the heart of our local economy. 34 of those businesses are represented here tonight. I would like all of our WEV clients to stand and allow us to celebrate you.
These women and men have woven their own threads of vision, persistence, achievement and endurance into the WEV tapestry.
It is important to note that WEV serves entrepreneurs across the continuum. We target women, but as you can see, we help men as well – 14% of our clients are men.
We train solo entrepreneurs and those that employ others.
We assist service providers and retail store owners.
You don’t have to go through a WEV program to get a loan; you don’t have to have attended our Self-Employment Training to be in Thrive in Five.
Our programs are broad and we are proud of them.
But we have learned one thing from the last 25 years – enduring requires remaining relevant. Remaining relevant requires meeting the needs of your clients and your community.
We hope to continue to endure and continue to add value for the entrepreneurs who seek our services and for the communities we serve.
We look forward to the threads we will add to our tapestry in the next 25 years, and celebrating the continuing journey.