Category Archives: Business Start-up

Gear Up for Growth – WBDC’s Child Care Business Expo Boosts Business in Chicago

Did you join the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) for our 15th Anniversary Child Care Business Expo on June 1st?  If you missed it, here’s a rundown of the inspirational and educational day:

Over 500 attendees…

Child Care Business Expo

visited 55 Exhibitors ranging from Illinois Action for Children to Dominick’s…

Exhibitors CCBE 2013

 and heard from 5 Deserving Award Winners.

Watch the video playlist below to meet:

– Arabel Alva Rosales, AAR & Associates, LTD., Child Care Champion Award Winner

– Lindsay Cochrane, representing Robert R. McCormick Foundation, Friend of Child Care Award Winner

– Peg Dunne Pavelec, Little Inspirations, Fast Track Award Winner

– Teresa Gomez, Wonderland Day Care Center & Wonderland Home Day Care, Unsung Hero Award Winner

Dr. Latrice Walker, Pre-Fit, Hedy M. Ratner & S. Carol Dougal Legacy Award Winner

Child Care Business Expo Legacy Award

2 Shift Into High Gear Afternoon Workshops taught entrepreneurs effective marketing and business finance.

CCBE Afternoon Workshop

2 Stellar Expo Chairs – Patty Kryscha, Southwest Airlines & Kimberlee Burt, A Child’s Space welcomed guests.

Expo Co Chairs

2 Dynamic Honorary Co-Chairs

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle & Illinois Lt. Governor Sheila Simon (not pictured)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle opening the Exhibit Hall with WBDC co-president Hedy Ratner (w/ scissors)

Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle opening the Exhibit Hall with WBDC co-president Hedy Ratner (w/ scissors) and Expo Co-Chair Kimberlee Burt (far right).

One powerful Luncheon panel shared their insights into the future of Illinois child care.

Luncheon Panel

(L-R): Kate Cozzani, Monique Draper, Janice Lopez and Arabel Alva Rosales

Did you experience the Expo with us?  Do you have any questions that didn’t get answered at one of the workshops? Ask them below!

To see more pictures from the event, check out the WBDC Facebook page.

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Filed under Uncategorized, Business Start-up, Child Care, Special Events, Marketing, Business, WBDC, Small Business

The Tax (Wo)Man Cometh! WBDC Gets Advice from the IRS

Yolanda Ruiz

Yolanda Ruiz

With Tax Season quickly approaching, we at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) want to make sure you are the most prepared you can be when it comes to doing your small business taxes.  Who better to ask about taxes then the IRS?  For that we turn to Yolanda Ruiz, IRS expert and employee and frequent presenter at WBDC workshops on business taxes.

1.       What is the number one question you get from small business owners seeking assistance with their taxes?

“Unfortunately, many come to me when they are behind in their taxes asking about payment options. One of our partners noted ‘One of the major obstacles that business owners encounter with their businesses was not being aware of their responsibilities to the IRS. Most are repaying the IRS for lack of paying payroll taxes or estimated tax payments.’ It’s hard to catch up when you fall behind, knowledge is key.”

2.       What is a common misconception you see about taxes or the process of filing?

“Trying to reduce your tax bill is illegal. Actually, with tax planning you can legitimately reduce your taxes. Washington is constantly sending out incentives in way of additional write-offs and hiring credits (Section 179, Bonus Depreciation, HIRE). Utilizing these incentives will reduce your tax bill while expanding your business.”

3.        What resources are available to small business owners (especially those on a budget)?

“E-news for Small Businesses is an electronic newsletter that comes out every other Wednesday. It will provide you with information on current incentives (additional deductions/credits) for small business as well as free resources. To subscribe go to: http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Subscribe-to-e-News-for-Small-Businesses

IRS also has VITA sites that offer free tax help to people who make $51,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. For a VITA site near you, go to – http://irs.treasury.gov/freetaxprep/

The IRS is proud to partner with Center for Economic Progress/ Tax Clinic. They can help you if you have a dispute or problem with the IRS to solve your issues quickly.  Also, they will be able to file current and previous tax returns. Call the Tax Clinic at (312) 630-0241 for an appointment, or go to http://www.economicprogress.org/clients/got-letter-irs for more information.

The IRS is proud to partner with The Law Project, a nonprofit that provides free services to qualified business start-ups: http://www.thelawproject.org

4.       What online resources would you recommend?

“The Virtual Small Business Tax Workshop online is composed of nine interactive lessons designed to help new small business owners learn their tax rights and responsibilities. It includes topics such as EIN, Business Structures, Recordkeeping, Classifying Worker and Business Taxes.

Small Business and Self-Employed Tax Center on irs.gov – http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/Small-Businesses-&-Self-Employed/Small-Business-and-Self-Employed-Tax-Center-1

No more spending time navigating the IRS website, all that you need is on this page. “

“The purpose for tax education is not to make you a tax professional but to give you an awareness of your tax responsibilities and the many benefits that are available. By having an awareness of how your business should be run (for tax purposes) you can ensure that your accountant/tax preparer is compliant with filing and payments, you will avoid problems and you will allow your business to grow.”

The WBDC also wants to make sure you and your employees know about the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. If you file as a Schedule C, you as a self-employed individual may be able to receive the credit.  Click here to learn more.

The EITC is a refundable federal income tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and families. With the additional funds, the majority of recipients invest back into their local economy and can truly help grow small businesses.  To learn more about the EITC, please click here.

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Filed under Business, Business Start-up, IRS, Taxes, WBDC, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Social Media for the Professional Woman

Networking is key to building a successful business.  Not only should you attend networking events within your local business region, but also pay attention to online networking.  One of the top business networking sites today is LinkedIn, and with refreshed profiles, updated business pages and highly interactive groups, it’s here to stay.  Here is how you can efficiently and effectively maneuver through LinkedIn.

Profile Picture1. Update Your Picture!  Yes, this point is part vanity, part practical, mostly practical.  Make sure your profile picture is recognizable as you today – not ten years ago. A great picture shouldn’t be a glamour shot of what you look like touched up, unless you walk around with a makeup team on a daily basis.  Make it inviting, warm and add a hint of marketing by matching your attire with your brand colors or strategically post a logo in the background.

Connecting Picture2. Connect! It may seem like common sense, but you have to connect with people on LinkedIn to make it work for you.  When you send out invitations, keep it to people you have actually met or that you share a connection with.  In your invitation, explain why you’re connecting, unless you contact them on a regular basis, and then it’s okay to send a standard invite.  Be sure to check out who’s inviting you to connect; take a look at their profile, connections and groups.  Remember, once they’re a connection they can see your full profile and interactions.

LinkedIn Picture3. Join (and ENGAGE in) Groups: Explore all LinkedIn has to offer by joining groups relevant to you.  Search for your alma mater or one of your offline networking groups to join.  Active groups provide great information and events that can help you boost your business.  If you’re a woman business owner in the Midwest, consider joining the WBDC’s LinkedIn Group, Inspired Women, to engage with other professional women looking for advice, input and inspiration.

Resume Image4. Use It, or Lose It!  Make sure to update your not only your picture, but also your profile.  It’s a living resume, so keep it current.  You never know who’s looking for the skills and experience you have to offer.  Keep things interesting by making your headline relevant and engaging, with trigger words.  Learn more about headlines, and other parts of your LinkedIn strategies, in this free webinar recording.

LinkedIn Picture25. It’s About Business!  If you have a business, you should have a business page.  LinkedIn has come a long way in cultivating the business pages to better serve companies.  They now have header images, status updates, video advertising, product promotions and more for followers to interact with.

Spend 10 minutes a day implementing some of these tips, whether it be commenting in a group or updating your profile, and see what comes of it!  You never know what you’re missing out on until you try new strategies.

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Filed under Business, Business Leaders, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Marketing, Social Media, Technology, WBDC, WBDC News

“Where do I find a grant to start my woman-owned business?”

All too often at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) we hear the question, “Where are the grants for women to start their businesses?” The answer: There are none.  No really, there are none.  If you find a grant for women starting a business, please post the information in the comments below, because in the last 27 years we have yet to see one.

Yes, there are loans for business start-ups, small business competitions with cash prizes and occasionally, you can find grants through Small Business Administration (SBA) non-profit partners, if you are already in business, but you aren’t going to find a grant without showing you have some “skin in the game.”  You need to prove that you are just as invested in your business as investors, grantors or lenders are going to be.  It’s time to get serious and shift your focus from looking for free money to building a solid foundation with a business plan, a thorough analysis of your financials (past personal and projected business) and target market research.

A question was recently posted on PartnerUp regarding the necessity of a traditional business plan.  Some thought they were irrelevant in this day and age of the ever changing business climate, while others saw them as completely necessary.  What do you think? Based on what we’ve seen with clients over the years, the ones that write down their idea into a solid plan and update that plan on a yearly basis have seen the greatest success and continue to sustain a fruitful business.  Plus, when it comes time to look for funding, it’s unlikely you’ll be taken seriously without putting your business in writing.

So what can you do if you’re a start-up looking for funding?  If you’re in Chicago, consider the WBDC Micro Finance Program, a direct lending program where the WBDC, as a core member of the Chicago Microlending Intitute (CMI), is making loans for Chicago business owners seeking additional support.  Plus, the WBDC provides a free webinar, Take the Mystery out of Finance, every month, and below is the most recent recording of the presentation, which covers crowdfunding and more. Watch it, take notes, and if you have questions ask us at wbdc@wbdc.org.

In two weeks, we’ll discuss more about furthering your education as a business owner when it comes to finance.  In the meantime, take time to become educated on financial resources available for you.  Here are just a few more, besides WBDC, to take a look at:

  1. Accion
  2. SBA
  3. FunderHut
  4. Family and friends

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Filed under Business Start-up, Established Business, Finance, SBA, WBDC, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Business Tips for Women in Small Business from the Women’s Business Development Center

Happy Women in Small Business Month!  Today’s post is split into two parts – one for women looking to start their business soon and one for those already in business.  Look through both sets of questions and refer back to them as you continue to build your business muscle!

Women Starting A Small Business

It may come as no surprise to you, but being a small business owner can be a difficult and demanding enterprise.  Here at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) we see many clients when they’re first starting and weighing out the feasibility of their idea. So how do you know if it’s a viable concept?  Does it have lasting power?  Below are 10 questions from www.SBA.gov to help you assess if you’re ready to start a business:

  1. Why am I starting a business?
  2. What kind of business do I want?
  3. Who is my ideal customer?
  4. What products or services will my business provide?
  5. Am I prepared to spend the time and money needed to get my business started?
  6. What differentiates my business idea and the products or services I will provide from others in the market?
  7. Where will my business be located?
  8. How many employees will I need?
  9. What types of suppliers do I need?
  10. How much money do I need to get started?

To read 10 additional questions from the SBA, please click here.  If you need help answering these questions, look no further than you local business center – find yours by searching here.

Women Already in Small Business

Have you been in business for a few years?  Do you feel like you’re an old pro at marketing your product or service?  Well maybe it’s time to take a new approach to your small business and try something new.  Here are 10 questions to ask yourself about your business and personal life.

When was the last time I…

  1. Attended a networking event?
  2. Attended a workshop?
  3. Updated my business plan?
  4. Hosted a customer appreciation event?
  5. Updated my LinkedIn profile?
  6. Updated my website?
  7. Used my own product/service?
  8. Explored new markets?
  9. Went on vacation?
  10. Hired someone new?

If you answer “I can’t remember” to any of these – it’s time to do it!  Go out, meet new contacts, learn new tricks of the trade, say thank you to your loyal clients and so on!  Don’t let your business stagnate! 

We want to know: What do you do on a regular basis to keep your business current?

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Filed under Advocacy, Business, Business Leaders, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Small Business, Special Events, Uncategorized, WBDC, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Encore Business Owners Share Business Tips

(L-R) Judith Roussel, IL District Director; SBA, Merrie Dee, AARP Illinois President; Hedy Ratner, WBDC co-founder & co-president; and Marianne O’Brien Markowitz Regional Administrator
U.S. Small Business Administration, Midwest Region

The speakers and audience may have been 50-plus, but their age wasn’t the issue. Starting a business was.

Nearly 50 mature women and men gathered at the WBDC on Tuesday evening, October 2, during the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) “National Encore Entrepreneur Mentor Day.” Marianne Markowitz, SBA regional administrator, and Judith Roussel, SBA Illinois district director, welcomed the group, then turned the program over to the celebrated speaker and media pioneer Merri Dee, now a business owner in her own right as well as president of the executive council of Illinois-AARP. Dee led a lively panel discussion featuring “encore” entrepreneurs on the rewards of starting a business after age 50.

The speakers were Donna Smith Bellinger, owner of Group Endeavors; Ben Hollis, former host of WTTW’s “Wild Chicago” and now an independent video producer who started Ben Hollis Worldwide; Joanne Cleaver, a former business journalist who launched a public affairs company Wilson-Taylor Associates; and Alan Jacobs, a former entrepreneur-of-sorts who volunteers at SCORE.

Their life experiences were as varied and diverse as they were, which is what made their words of wisdom all the more salient.

Merri Dee

“All you need are three things: passion, purpose – and a paycheck!”

Donna Bellinger

“The resource that helped me the most was my database of contacts. I started my business without a dime, but I had my database.”

Alan Jacobs

“I was a serial entrepreneur – a manufacturer’s rep who never had a regular job or paycheck. I understand exactly what it takes to succeed as a business owner. In my opinion, entrepreneurs who fail weren’t prepared.”

Ben Hollis

“I encourage people to embrace and live the wild life. Harness your passion, your wildness….I used to undervalue everything I did. I was just a funny guy. The limitations we place on ourselves get in the way. By listening to other people, I was able to reassess my own value. Pay attention to the things you do best. It’s what other people appreciate in you.”

Joanne Cleaver

“I restarted my career several times. I decided to base my latest transition on my skills. As a certified media trainer and coach, I now apply my skills to a different set of clients. I’ve transitioned from being self-employed to being a job-creator with a contract staff of specialists. My biggest challenge? In realizing my value. The biggest obstacle? Myself.”

With part of the evening’s focus on celebrating mentorship, the speakers shared advice on how to be a good mentor and mentee. Cleaver, for example, said joining professional organizations helped her develop peer mentors who mentored each other. Bellinger suggested looking for mentors who are honest and direct and who “have achieved what you struggled to achieve.” Don’t overlook the younger generation, she advised. You can learn from each other.

The WBDC will survey seminar attendees to determine whether a special affinity group for women business owners age 50-plus, and regular networking and educational sessions, are of interest.

Contributed by guest blogger Chris Ruys of Chris Ruys Communications.

For more pictures from the event, please click here.

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Filed under AARP, Business, Business Mentoring, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, SBA, Special Events, WBDC, WBDC News

Lisa Price – An Inspiring Guide to Entrepreneurial Success

Below is an article from Saundra Underwood, founder of Lady Alexandra Skincare Systems.  Ms. Underwood writes from a personal perspective of what Lisa Price, keynote speaker at the 26th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference Hall of Fame Luncheon, has meant to her.  Not only has Ms. Price served as an inspiration, but also as a guide to entrepreneurial success.

I love reading autobiographies and biographies to learn about the history of famous and not so famous people.  Reading them gives me more than just the details of their lives.  I get a glimpse into their minds, the times they lived in and the places they visited.  They also give me hope and inspiration especially when they begin their books with very little and end with all of their dreams realized.

I read Lisa Price’s book, Success Never Smelled So Sweet, as soon as it came off the presses.  Though I had been following her story for years by reading articles in Essence and Black Enterprise Magazine little did I know that I’d one day be writing a blog about her and Carol’s Daughter, her company.  The book is rich in details and very introspective.  She shared and bared her soul.  I remember her speaking frankly about the frustrations of going from job to job and not truly fitting in at some places of employment.  I understand more about myself and my quest to do what is best for me.  I too  am a maker and creator of natural skincare products.  I’ve gone from one job to another not quite feeling comfortable in many positions; feeling as if something is not quite right.  What’s not quite right for most entrepreneurs is the feeling of neglecting the entrepreneurial spirit.

That entrepreneurial spirit can never be denied, pushed aside or crushed.  It will rise up when you least expect it.  It will come again and again until it is nurtured and given enough attention to be a force to be reckoned with.  Many have put into words exactly what it is but the best way to define it is by action.

In her book Ms. Price became alive and active when she was making and creating magic with scents, flowers and potions. She became alive with the research of the effects of scent on the mood and mindset.  The feedback from customers drove her forward.    Something that struck me from Lisa’s book was that her family members worked for and with her for years without drawing a salary.  I remember thinking what an amazing family.

While reading Success Never Smelled So Sweet I would often compare my story to Lisa’s.  I figured if my actions lined up with hers then one day I’d become the owner of a multimillion dollar enterprise.  I have passions and dreams, the drive to create and customers who love my products just as she does..   The one thing I didn’t have was family support only because I live three states away from my family.  But what I did have was a network of friends who have come to my aid whenever I needed their expertise or just support.  I still plug along but know that with time and effort the entrepreneurial spirit will guide me.

– Saundra Underwood

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Building a Better Business with Mentoring

The WBDC has been counseling, educating and assisting potential business owners and established business owners since 1986. Now we are expanding our services to include a mentoring program.  “Women helping women” is a common theme here at the WBDC.  Not only is “Women” part of our name (Women’s Business Development Center), but our staff is 96% female.

Let’s take a look at some facts about women entrepreneurs:

  • According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, “male entrepreneurs in the United States outnumber their female counterparts 3.5 to 1.”
  • 2010 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Study that showed that “less than half the women surveyed (47.7%) believe they are capable of starting and running a business (compared to 62.1% of men.)”

These statistics are the reason women’s business centers continue to be relevant and necessary, and why the WBDC is launching a business mentoring service.  If we can close that gap by even a tenth of a percent by directing potential entrepreneurs/start-ups, and even established business owners, towards competent, qualified mentors, then we have successfully brought businesses into fruition and spurred economic development.

Need more reasons to get involved in a business mentoring relationship?

From a recent Forbes article:

Here are some of the key reasons to become a mentor, from the viewpoints of several different female mentors:

  • Better understand the business: “My mentee helped me see issues in the company that I didn’t know existed.”
  • Better understand how people perceive you: “I was able to see the perception others held of me, through the eyes of my mentee.”
  • Create a larger network: “By helping others I’ve also created a network of allies I can rely upon when I need help.”
  • Help solve issues: “I’ve been able to step out of my own shoes and help my mentees see things from other perspectives. This, in turn, has helped me in resolving issues within my own department.”
  • Personal satisfaction: “I have been able to watch and actively help younger women succeed in our industry – and it’s such a wonderful feeling to help another person succeed!”

Learn more at the WBDC’s mentee and mentor webinars on September 7th and September 11th, respectively.

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Filed under Business, Business Mentoring, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Small Business, Uncategorized, WBDC, WBDC News, Webinar, Women Business Owner, Women in Business

Women in Tech: A Look at TaskRabbit.com’s Leah Busque

Here in Chicago the weather is hot, the city is thriving and entrepreneurs are seeing success in all different industries. In late June, Chicago hosted the 2nd Annual Techweek event at Merchandise Mart, as we mentioned in a previous post covering a conversion with Arabella Santiago – executive director of Techweek.  Now it’s time to take a look at another young entrepreneur who recently expanded her online, service based tech start-up, TaskRabbit, into the Chicago market.

Leah Busque is founder of taskrabbit.com, a business focused on providing any and all services at a moment’s notice. From IKEA furniture assembly to walking your dog, the “rabbits” do it all. Leah conceived of the idea after running into a sticky situation when she and her husband were rushing to leave and had no food for their yellow lab Kobe. “What if someone could pick up the food for us and feed him while we’re heading out for the evening?”

Thus, TaskRabbit was born. TaskRabbit’s slogan, “Keep Calm and Task On,” is not only catchy, but indicative of the style in which Leah operates – a relaxed attitude and straightforward approach to what can be a complicated technology world.  Leah is a true woman of technology, being a former coder for IBM and now capitalizing on her female know-how to tap into the most lucrative and highest consuming target market – women. Not only is her company about convenience, it’s also about caring, with their partnership with the Ellie Fund in Boston where services for breast cancer patients, including rides to doctor appointments and picking up groceries,  are provided by Rabbits free of charge.

When discussing what she learned as a start-up, Leah listed the following things:

  1. Talk to everyone about your idea
  2. Network like you mean it
    1. If you can get a meeting face to face it’s invaluable
  3. Iterate on customer feedback
  4. The right investors will have the same passion and obsession with the business that you have
  5. Don’t over-think things

Take her advice to heart, after all, she was a CEO at the age of 12. “Pollution Solutions started in 1991. It was a non-profit focused on saving the planet.  I wrote letters to the President giving him a piece of my mind and made myself CEO after asking my dad what the highest position in a company was.”

Leah’s final words of advice: “See how far you can take your idea.  Go step by step by step.  Don’t be afraid to take the leap.”

As reported by Bethany Hartley, WBDC Marketing Assistant, pictured above with Leah Busque (left) at TechWeek Chicago.

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Plugging in with @thetechweek’s @ArabellaTV

It was a lack of innovation that led Arabella Santiago to become an innovator.  Stemming from a stint as a newspaper intern, followed by a successful run as a web editor for a west coast paper, Arabella realized print media was becoming a thing of the past, unwilling to listen to its customers.

That was Arabella in 2004 at 23 years old; now at 31 she has found her passion for reporting and drive for discovering unseen possibilities mix well with highlighting the talents of entrepreneurs.  When I asked Arabella about why she packed her things and made the trek from Silicon Valley to Chicago she said, “Chicago is the burgeoning tech hub.  You can feel the sense of opportunity and ambition.  There’s something here in Chicago, and I’m intrigued by it and I know it’s already happening.”

Arabella talks of entrepreneurs with a sense of awe, almost unaware that she herself is one, having created StartUp Live, a website filled with a collection of videos based on the start-up culture.  When it comes to the culture of start-ups, Arabella has a great grasp on what makes small business owners tick: “The journey of the business owner fascinates me.  As long as they don’t give up, they always succeed.  Even though there are many failures along the way, they go hand in hand with the successes. The perseverance goes a long way.”

Arabella has been part of TechWeek from the beginning.  Originally hired by one of the founders for the inaugural event in San Francisco, she stepped into the role of executive director for the Chicago event late last year.   There’s something for everyone during the conference, with 101 workshops on development or connecting with people offline.  Even if you’re not in the tech industry you can find out how to start small and work your way up.  Small business owners take note – if you’re looking for a web designer, an SEO genius or simply someone to make it all make sense, take a moment to stop in!

I turned the conversation towards the women of TechWeek, of which there are plenty to pick from.  “It’s important for people to realize that technology will help you do business better.  Women are harnessing the power of social media for their small businesses; now we can see the female programmers and developers that aren’t often in the spotlight.”  When asked which one woman inspired her, Arabella answered first with Hillary Clinton, quickly followed by her close friend and mentor, Yumi Kim, a New York fashion designer who took her business from “barely getting by” to “booming” through the power of e-commerce.

“Chicago is going to be the heart of TechWeek as it continues to grow.  It is and will continue to be the marquee event.  Chicago needs a new industry.  Manufacturing is tough and there’s room for technology.”

Reported by the Women’s Business Development Center’s (WBDC) Bethany Hartley.

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