Salt Lake Community College (SLCC) has established a unique network of programs specifically designed to help women succeed as entrepreneurs. In 2007, SLCC formed a Women’s Business Institute (WBI) that partners with the Utah Small Business Association and strategically collaborates with the Salt Lake Chamber Women’s Business Center to provide specialized entrepreneurial training geared specifically to women. Several thousand women have already received the training and support they need to operate their own businesses.
“Women entrepreneurs face many challenges when looking to either start or grow their small businesses,” said Danielle Lower, Director of SLCC’s WBI. “By connecting them with access to capital and funding, access to education and skills training, or access to markets, we are removing the barriers women have faced in realizing their entrepreneurial vision.”
The WBI is a comprehensive resource center, supplying women with the full array of resources – from one-on-one counseling and mentoring, market research assistance, workshops and courses, even an entrepreneurial readiness assessment – they need to turn their ideas into successful businesses. In addition to fostering many of the kind of start-up successes business support centers traditionally assist, the Women’s Business Institute helps women who would typically never be involved in starting their own businesses.
In this vein, the WBI founded a collaborative venture with the Women’s India Trust, a non-profit organization in Mumbai, India, that offers training and education to women with little income. This partnership gives women in Mumbai everything they need to earn their way out of poverty – providing them with the skills training, access to micro-loans, and even the materials they need to create home goods such as bedspreads, pillow covers, tablecloths, and bags. The women then can take their goods to market locally or in markets around the world.
More than 60 low-income women received training in the college’s first trip to Mumbai; they are already profitably engaged and on their way to running independent small businesses. Recently, the WBI held a benefit luncheon promoting the Women’s India Trust – and bringing the goods made by the program’s participants to Utah for sale. “This benefit assures that SLCC will return to Mumbai to continue training women in India,” said Karen Gunn, Dean of SLCC’s School of Professional and Economic Development. “We believe an important part of our mission here at SLCC is to take the programs and services we’re already providing here at home and extending them to an international audience.”
Closer to Home
The women who have participated in the WIT program are making a significant global impact; they’re also living examples of what women from all backgrounds can do for their families, their communities and the world they live in when they have the skills to be productive in industry today. Of course, women in India are not uniquely capable of making these kinds of contributions. By focusing its efforts on creating similar opportunities for women closer to home, the WBI recently formed a partnership with the local non-profit group ArtForms.
This program uses the curriculum developed for the Women’s India Trust – under the theme ‘Common Threads’ – to train local refugees to start home-based businesses using their newly acquired sewing skills. Women in this program –who have come to Utah from Sudan’s Nuer tribe – acquire both practical sewing skills and the business savvy to capitalize on them.
“This program is a crucial opportunity for these refugee women,” said Danielle Lower. “ArtForms has done extraordinary work in providing these women useful skills; we’re looking to offer them all of the expertise and resources available here at Salt Lake Community College to build on that foundation so these women can take command of their futures.”
SLCC’s Fashion Institute has donated resources – including access to commercial sewing machines, cutting tables, instruction and classrooms – so participants in the program can excel. As part of the program, women take part in weekly instructional sessions that impart the skills necessary to start and manage home-based businesses. Currently a dozen women are enrolled in this program and are already making a difference in their communities.
“The work we’ve been able to do both for our local community and in India has been absolutely incredible,” Dean Gunn said. “It is exciting to be engaged in making a real difference to people from underrepresented and disadvantaged situations – whether here in the Salt Lake valley or in Mumbai, India – but also to see the ways the women in our programs are continuing to profoundly change their own communities for the better.”