Category Archives: Technology

WBDC 4th Annual Technology Makeover Contest Winner – Rebecca Fyffe, ABC Humane Wildlife

We are all familiar with pigeons, especially those of located in the metro Chicago area.  And we all tend to have the same feelings about them – “gross, get rid of them.”  One Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) is making that happen: ABC Humane Wildlife. The company is led by Rebecca Fyffe who serves as the president and submitted the winning Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) Technology Makeover Competition.

2013 marked the first year the WBDC Technology Makeover Competition was offered on a national scale and only to Women Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC) Certified WBEs.  The WBDC received applications from California to Florida and found there continues to be a need for updated technology within businesses of all sizes.

Rebecca’s organization has big plans for the software and hardware they won:

“The WBDC’s Technology Makeover is the best thing that could ever happen to my company. It would allow me to make a powerful and instant change that I estimate would increase my leads by 40 percent or more immediately! Within 90 days of having new hardware (server and workstations) ready to run our custom software, we would have the program in place just in time for the peak breeding season for most of Illinois’ animals as well as peak nest building season for bees.”

tech makeover

From L-R: Mark Key, CDW; Rebecca Fyffe, ABC Humane Wildlife; Carol Dougal, WBDC

ABC Humane Wildlife was announced as the winner of the Competition at WBENC’s 2013 National Conference & Business Fair in Minneapolis in June.  As a part of the prize package, Rebecca received hardware, software and marketing services from AT&T, CDW, Market M and Microsoft, as well as tickets to the WBDC’s 2013 Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference and WBENC’s 2014 National Conference.

For more information on ABC Humane Wildlife, please click here.


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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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Business Finance: Anywhere, Anytime

As the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) continues to expand our Access to Capital Program we are focused on extending services through direct lending and the development of online/on-demand course offerings.  Whether your business is in the city of Chicago or throughout our nine state Midwest region, we strive to provide your business with a strong financial foundation.

The WBDC’s online/on-demand educational platform will be launched in spring 2013.  Ingage Partners, a Certified WBE company, partnering with TiER1 Performance Solutions has been selected to assist the WBDC in implementing this new system.  The first course, Take the Mystery out of Finance, will be offered in both Spanish and English and cover the basics of finance for your business.  The WBDC selected this course as the launching pad for our online education because we know how important business financial literacy is in running a successful business.

In the interim we have put together a list of useful, easy to use tools to help manage your financials from your computer, tablet or smartphone.  Take a look and let us know which ones you have used.

  1. Wallstreet Journal Excel Shortcuts: Simply put, these cheat sheets
  2.  help navigate running your finances through Excel, particularly useful when utilizing the WBDC’s Financial Projections Excel spreadsheet.
  3. InDinero: Access and manage your books, file your taxes and take care of payroll on multiple devices through a secure connection.  Plus, the company was founded by a woman – Jessica Mah.
  4. Intuit’s GoPayment: Allows you to accept payments anywhere, from anyone with no transaction fees.  Be careful to read the full details, as there are costs associated, but at least the app and cancellation are free.
  5. LightSpeed Retail Inc.: A virtual, portable hub to keep track of sales and inventory, create invoices and print receipts.
  6. MIT Entrepreneurship Open Courses: While this isn’t an app, it is a great resource for free online entrepreneurial education.

What do you use to manage your business finances?  Have you tried any tools that simply do not work?  Let us know!

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Women in Tech: A Look at’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, 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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Your Business Website: The Open Sea or A Muddled Puddle?

Whether it’s reworking your current site or starting from scratch, building a website isn’t as difficult as it used to be.  It’s a challenge making a concise and effective website, but the initial investment will directly correlate with your return.  As the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) continues to redevelop our website, we are learning a great deal about ourselves and what are clients are looking for.  Take a look at these 5 tips to creating a better website for you, your business and your visitors.

  1. Make it easy: While the content you have may be amazing, it’s completely irrelevant if no one can find it.  Try the “grandma test” to know whether or not your site is easy to navigate. All your content should be available in two clicks or less.  Make it easy to digest by keeping the language simple and direct.  Often times, companies think they need to use a broad vocabulary filled with technical terms only insiders are familiar with.  This may not be the best idea as you never know what parts of your website may pop up for different searches and possibly open doors to new clients. Finally, make it easy to share.  When people can easily share an event or a story from your website, they are freely marketing your business.
  2. Keep it current:  Nothing is worse than a website with outdated content.  If your business is based on trends that change on a regular basis, be prepared to reflect that on your website.  While flashy buttons, zingy one liners and the like were trendy for television commercials and snail mail flyers, they just don’t translate to websites. Try to see your website as a window into your store; what do you want people looking through the window to see?  Certainly not 1970s shag carpeting, or in the internet world – clipart!
  3. Keep a clear voice throughout: The voice of your website refers to the tone in which your content is written.  This doesn’t mean all the content should be written by one person, but the manner of writing should be similar and reflect your business.  If you’re a toy distributor, you may have more whimsical wording, whereas a financial consultant maintains a professional tone.  On the other side, be comfortable with what your website looks like and how it works.  Stay true to your business and brand. On a more basic level, make sure there is continuity throughout with formatting – one font and standard colors for linking, headers, etc.
  4. Put the client first:  Often times business owners want to get ALL the information they know about their business and industry out on the website, making it a huge cluster of content.  This can be a mistake if the content is not well organized (see tip #1).  Make your website a great tease with more to offer once a relationship is developed. Keep it simple, and think like your client.
  5. Listen to the pros:  Whether you’re building your site on your own or having someone do it for you, make sure you take the advice of those who have done it before you.  If you’re using a developer/design team, take advantage of their expertise and lessons learned from other websites they’ve created.   If you’re building the site yourself, be sure to educate yourself on current site trends to have the most logical layout for your site.  It’s okay to look around at other sites and pull ideas from them, that’s the beauty of the internet: it’s open source!

What are some of your favorite sites?  Why is that?  Anything you think the WBDC should have on our site we don’t have already?  Let us know!


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WBDC’s $100,000 Technology Makeover Winner Announced

Have you ever won $100,000 in business boosting prizes? Jennifer Bias, winner of the WBDC’s Third Annual Technology Makeover Competition, knows just how it feels to win this level of products and services to invest in her business.
Jennifer, president of Ficek Electric & Communication Systems, Inc., was awarded the technology prize package in a ceremony hosted at the Women’s Business Development Center in Chicago last week after pitching her company’s needs and vision for the materials.

Jennifer Bias, Winner of the Third Annual Technology Makeover

“The judges were moved by Jennifer’s passion for her company’s mission, as well as her incredible entrepreneurial spirit,” said Hedy M. Ratner, co-president with Carol Dougal of the WBDC.
Click here to read the full article from the Chicago Sun-Times to learn more about the prize package and how Jennifer plans to use the materials.
Take a look at these great ceremony pictures from the event showcasing the finalists and judging panel.

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Four Follow Ups to Your Business Plan – Group Consultations

You developed an idea.  You researched the field you want to break into. You have support of friends and family. You wrote your business plan. You revised your business plan. Your personal finances are in order.  Now what? Has anyone read your plan? Have you met with any banks to discuss funding? Where are you in your planning, really?

If your face has become a scrunched up question mark, maybe you should consider group consultations.  A group consultation is a great way to bounce your ideas off of other peers in the same situation as you, with the help of an experienced business counselor to keep you on track.  Here are the four reasons why group consultations might be just what your business plan needs:

  1. Your Cloud: Just like Apple developed the iCloud, you develop the BusinessCloud.  You have already created a cluster of ideas, notes and projections for your business, and it’s all floating around with a clear path seemingly hard to find.  By creating this cloud of content you are laying the foundation for great ideas to come, and with the help of others, you can pull out the good and toss the bad.  It’s amazing to see what people have floating in their minds, and group discussions can focus in on the ideas that could make your business great!
  2. Building Business Relationships: Is your business going to do business with other businesses?  Chances are at some point it will.  Whether you’re knitting scarves to sell at a farmer’s market or creating software to save the world, you’re going to deal with other business people.   Being involved with a group can teach you how to perform in the business world.  You can learn to see the big picture of how others may see your business and what’s out there for businesses in the current economic climate.
  3. Feedback: One of the biggest perks of group consultations is the quantity and quality amount of feedback you’ll receive. Instead of one business counselor giving you an opinion, you’re getting the reactions of multiple people.  Unbiased opinions are hard to come by in this day and age, especially with technology.  People are often looking for feedback online about their businesses. For instance Yelp! is an entire website devoted to feedback.  However, when you’re starting out, you may not want all the feedback to be public, nor do you want feedback clearly coming from competitors seeking to bring you down.  The controlled setting of an in person small group is ideal for start-ups.  Be sure to feed off the feedback, don’t just take answers from others and run, give your opinion about their business plans too.
  4. Expert Knowledge: Typically speaking, group consultations have a facilitator who is knowledge in business development.  They are a great resource for planning out the next steps of your plan.  Often times it’s difficult to find a setting where you can be comfortable bouncing ideas around, and it’s important to find the right fit for you.  Maybe it’s at a Bank Branch or maybe…the Women’s Business Development Center.

It’s critical to see all sides of your business box, not just your perspective.  Keep these four things in mind as you work on your business plan.  And if you’re looking to join us for a group consult, the next one takes place January 11, 2012 at the WBDC in Chicago, call us at 312.853.3477 x 0.  Oh, did I mention they’re free and limited to five people?  Not sure if you’re ready for group consultations? Download this free resource, “Developing Your Business Plan” from the WBDC.

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Three Essentials to Effective Webinars

After experiencing webinars first hand as a guest, and in preparation for the WBDC’s webinar series launch coming in January, I have compiled a brief list of the “Three Essentials to Effective Webinars” that any organization or business should keep in mind when planning:

  1. Know your audience:  Whether you’re preparing an entire webinar series or just getting your toes wet with a single session, you should research where the market is lacking and combine that with your expertise.  There are clearly fields of knowledge that are saturated with information, like “home based businesses” so even if that is your expertise perhaps trying to tie it in with a specific industry or field.  For instance, “Social Media Marketing for Home-Based Businesses.”  Collaborate with someone familiar with social media strategies and work together to create a great webinar.
  2. Quality above all else:  This means quality audio equipment, quality graphics and quality takeaways.  I recently sat in on a webinar about social media and was blown away by the poor sound quality.  It completely distracted from the subject being discussed.  On top of bad sound quality, the slides were moving at a different pace to the speaker’s discussion, making it difficult to follow and challenging to take notes.  Quality does not mean spending a lot of money on audio equipment or video software, but simply taking the time to test out what you have and adjust accordingly.  Quality takeaways are what you give your attendees.  Do they walk away feeling like they learned something or that they just wasted an hour of their day hearing something they already knew?  Be sure to describe your webinar accurately so people don’t join under false pretences, which can make for unhappy feedback.
  3. Engagement: The main perk of doing webinars vs, “how-to” videos is the two-way communication.  The instant engagement adds a level of enrichment that videos lack.  Make your webinar full of information and be prepared to answer questions and receive different opinions on the subject.  Just because you are an expert doesn’t mean you know everything!  Engagement should go beyond the one hour webinar: create a call to action for attendees.  Maybe you want them to leave questions on your blog, direct them to do so in a way that isn’t pushy and blatantly saying you want more traffic to your blog. Perhaps write a supplemental blog post that publishes immediately following the webinar with a question sheet for attendees.  People enjoy giving their opinion, especially online!

Keep these three tips in mind when you go to create your webinars and let us know how it goes!  Sit in on one of our webinars starting in January, if you’re looking to learn more about starting and growing your business.   We encourage your feedback!  And if you have any more tips, put them below!


Filed under Business, Business Start-up, Entrepreneur, Established Business, Marketing, Small Business, Technology, Uncategorized, WBDC, Webinar

Could Your Business Use a Makeover?

If your business could do with a good technology makeover, there’s still time to submit an application for the WBDC’s Third Annual Small Business Technology Makeover Competition. You could win more than $100,000 in free technology products and business services. The deadline to apply is December 15 at 5 p.m.

Trust us, the two previous winners are thrilled to have entered and won. Julie Savitt, owner of AMS Earth Movers, will tell you that the earth moved the day in early January 2010 when she learned she championed over 100 women entrepreneurs to win $35,000 in services and equipment. Last year, Linda Toops won $60,000 in products and services for her company, Clerestory Consulting.

The WBDC sponsors the competition in a collaborative partnership with such wonderful corporate and small business sponsors as CDW, Constant Contact, COSi, Directions Training Center, Etchasoft, Falkor, MarketM, Microsoft and Microsoft Store.

Julie’s company, AMS Earth Movers, with six employees and four company-owned trucks, is a construction materials hauling company, whose primary service is the hauling of aggregate, brick, broken asphalt, soil and contaminated soil to and from job sites in the greater Chicago area. Its antiquated technology was dragging it down – but all that changed when Julie won the top prize.

Today, she has a new website, an upgraded computer server and network, computer hosting and maintenance, high-speed internet bundled with nationwide long distance and email hosting, a color printer and supplies and a Sharepoint portal set up for team collaboration. Plus, she received the training to use it all.

Winning the competition gave Julie the courage to do something she never anticipated: resigning 25 percent of her residential customers who were slow-paying. Instead, she concentrated on winning federal government “stimulus” projects and began working directly with general contractors to win business. Some 95 percent of her clients now pay within 30-45 days, she says. She is now generating an average of two new customers each month.

Clerestory Consulting is a change-management consulting firm that focuses on helping clients receive measurable business results that lead to decreased costs and increased profitability. They work in a variety of industries including manufacturing, financial services, education, not-for-profit and city government.

In her awards application, Linda wrote that the majority of their laptops, printers and servers were eight years old, and many were used when originally purchased. Laptops are essential to their business because each consultant takes them to a job site and spends between 40 to 50 hours a week using them to gather data, create and analyze spread sheets, and to cost-justify their recommendations to their clients. The economic downturn prevented the firm from purchasing new equipment; the prize package enabled them to improve operations and become profitable once again.

This year’s prize package includes a small business server; 1 networked printer; 1 projector; 2 headsets; 7 laptop computers; $30,000 scholarship to Executive Business Training; website development, including brand design and content; installation and configuration hardware, labor and support; 5 licenses of Microsoft Small Business Server Premium 2008, Microsoft Office Professional 2010 and Windows 7 Ultimate; full suite of email marketing products, and much more.

Click here for more information and to submit your application today!

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