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SMC promotes entrepreneurship

ALICIA SMITH | Monday, April 19, 2010

In order to promote female entrepreneurship, Saint Mary’s College created the Women’s Entrepreneurial Initiative (WEI), a program designed to assist current female-owned and operated small businesses and create an interest in entrepreneurship among women, Susan Vance, senior project director for WEI and professor at the College said.

In order to help execute the program, the College hired Martha Smith, a local business owner and program director for WEI. Smith has first-hand experience in entrepreneurship.
Vance said she hopes the program will become a helpful resource for local businesses.
Smith also wants to see the program reach out to female entrepreneurs.

“[I hope the program will] provide a forum or a home for businesswomen to come and network and obtain resources and information to run a smoother operation if they already have a business,” Smith said.

Smith said she also wanted to see WEI create an interest in owning a business within the College community.

According to Vance, the College was awarded a $245,000 Small Business Administration two-year grant to support WEI in October 2009. Since that time the College has worked to aid local female business owners.

Vance said the program has a two-part focus.

“One part is externally, in the community, we want to be really viewed as the go-to place,” Vance said. “If you’re a woman and you want to start a small business or you want to launch a small business we want you to think about Saint Mary’s as the first place to go to.”

Vance said the second part of the program was to focus on educating students about entrepreneurship.

“We also are very interested in our Saint Mary’s women as well,” she said. “So what we want to do is engage the Saint Mary’s women with those women within the community, those women business owners. Also in addition to that we want to get students excited about starting their own businesses.”

During the Spring 2010 semester, WEI offered a Small Business Consulting course where teams of students were paired with local female-owned companies. During the partnerships, students worked to create plans for better efficiency for the companies.

According to Smith, one team of students was able to help a company create better efficiency with a computer program.

Smith said Saint Mary’s senior Kathleen Mills was able to simplify a major computer issue at Nicholas J Salon and Spa in South Bend.

Smith said Mills and her team of three other students were able to transform a computer task that originally took five hours into a 30 second job.

“There was a success story, one of the students solved a problem for a local business owner. [The company] had asituation with the computers and it was taking them five hours to do a job,” Smith said.

Smith owns two businesses of her own — a mini storage unit company and a textile company. Both businesses are in the Michiana area. According to Vance, Smith is a valuable asset to the program because she has the capabilities to assist in reaching out to the Latina women interested in entrepreneurship.

“I can relate to other women business owners,” Smith said. “I sort of feel their pain and there’s a kinship.”

Vance said the College has created a new course that will be supported by the grant. The New Ventures course will allow groups of students to create their own business. Vance will be teaching the course. Students will be responsible for creating their product or service, marketing it to the local community and running the company. Students will be required to take the course for two semesters, and at the end of the second semester they will create an exit strategy and close their company.

The money that students have earned from their business will go towards paying of the start-up loan they received at the beginning of the course. After they have paid off their loan, students will donate the money to local charities.

Vance said New Ventures will be offered for the first time during the Fall 2010 and Spring 2011 semesters.