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Women’s History Month: Women on the Move!

We recently had the opportunity to talk with Nicole Vasquez, owner of The Shift, a local coworking and community space located in Chicago’s uptown neighborhood for Women’s History Month to ask her a few questions about her new successful business and what’s ahead for the future.

Nicole Vasquez The Shift, Owner

Nicole Vasquez
The Shift, Owner

What has been the greatest achievement in the past year? 

Launching The Shift of course! It took a year of researching, planning, and countless meetings over coffee with advisors, going to events to strengthen my professional network and drum up excitement ahead of time, and last but most intense was the buildout and design process. On November 4th we opened our doors, and every day here I watch our coworking community grow, and I see our Members pursuing their own passions and working to develop their own careers. It makes me really happy to know I provide a space where people can work to achieve their dreams, and I feel proud that I’m a part of that.

Tell us about one woman who inspires you and why?

Sheryl Sandberg. In her book Lean In, she describes the many ways men and women are perceived differently in the workplace, at home, and in their abilities. There was nothing in her book with an “I am woman hear me roar” or “up with women, down with men” attitude. Rather, it was a simple unveiling (supported by statistics and case studies) that women are perceived negatively when they are driven, successful, or in positions of power, whereas a man in the same position would be respected and admired. Her book ignited a passion in me to work towards changing those unequal perceptions by supporting and empowering women to achieve their career and personal goals, and helped me to understand that I can make a difference in the way women are perceived just by being a confident, strong, and supportive leader.

What does the future hold for your business?

The Shift is constantly evolving based on the needs of its members. I don’t make a change or new purchase for our space unless I run it by our Members, to make sure it will improve their comfort, productivity, and engagement with other members. As for additional locations…I’d love to open more! I’m currently looking for partners and sources of funding, but not just anyone – I’m looking for a community steward from a neighborhood, someone who is vested in the area, and has a pulse on the local scene and its residents. The Shift is a neighborhood coworking and community space, so it must be reflective and understanding of it’s location.



What advice would you give to early stage entrepreneurs?

Start building your network NOW. I was making the rounds at professional meetings, panel discussions, networking events, etc. for years before I opened The Shift. I attended anything that peaked my interest (a class, workshop, seminar), and I made sure to talk with people there. I asked them to meet for coffee, learned about what they did and what they were passionate about, and told them my interests and goals too. It takes years to build strong relationships, so start now! Plus, it’s fun meeting new people and you’ll learn something new or interesting from every single person you sit down and chat with.

You can learn more about Nicole Vasquez and The Shift on and on Twitter @TheShiftChi.


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Client Success Saturday!

Yovette Drake, owner of Flirtatious Lingerie Boutique, first accessed the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) through a Business Plan Critique Clinic, a small group setting that provides expert advice and precise feedback along with practical strategies to develop your business plan in conjunction with the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which helps entrepreneurs start a new business or expand or improve an existing business.

With 25 years of executive level experience and after conducting months of research and development, Yovette thought she knew what it would take to begin this entrepreneurial journey. However, within 3 months of opening her business, she realized that she couldn’t sustain the business with just selling lingerie.  Shortly after realizing this, and that she couldn’t rely solely on foot traffic and word of mouth, she went back to the drawing board. The idea of expansion and building out space not being utilized was the key to unlocking an entire set of new goals and developing a new plan. Flirtatious Lingerie Boutique now offers Kiss Studios, a space that allows their customers the opportunity to take fitness and dance classes, plus host parties and events.


While going through the process of finding methods to improve her business, Meg Herman, the Director of Entrepreneurial services at the WBDC helped Yovette see things from a different perspective. The experience with WBDC helped her validate some of the things she knew but it also lead to question ideas she thought she knew in a more practical method.

When it comes to balancing personal life and work, she says “There is no real balance – it’s all a juggling act in which I work 90 percent of the time and sleep only 10 percent of the remaining time.” If you’re not ready to make that type of commitment to the business, you won’t last.”


Yovette is very excited about the direction her business is going, but as any entrepreneur thinks, she is already strategizing ways to grow her business with the WBDC and other business partners. That is why she developed a series of workshops and events that will serve to bring the next generation of women entrepreneurs together to help empower and improve their businesses. In the next five years, Yovette hopes to see her business profitable with a strong client base.

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Client Success Saturday!

Paula Rodriguez, owner of Paula Interiors, learned of the Small Business Center (SBDC) at the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) in November of 2013 through Starting a Business in Illinois, a workshop that explores the legal, licensing and general requirements of business ownership. At the time, Paula’s only objective was to see if her business idea was good enough to become reality. At an early age, Paula knew she wanted to be a designer but was uncertain as to what type of designer. When it was time to decide which path to follow, she asked herself what she wanted to accomplish in life. Paula knew that she wanted be able to create functional spaces and help people create a beautiful home and a space where family and friends can gather and create new memories. Through interior design, she is able to fulfill her creativity as well as express the passion that she has developed for structures and planning.

On August 2, 2014, Paula’s dream turned into a reality with opening her own design studio and retail space full of original pieces of art and sculptures along with a mix of vintage, antique and new furniture. She contributes her success to the help and support of the Illinois Small Business Development Center (SBDC) at the WBDC.

“They (WBDC) guided me in all steps and laid down a path of how to start. I went to the WBDC to be paired with someone who helped me create a great business plan.”Paula_Interiors_Client photo

Paula goes on to say, “The counselors gave me a lot of feedback, answered all my questions and pointed me in the right direction. They also helped me analyze my financial options.”

Paula’s goal is to continue to strive to create a style that reflects the uniqueness of a house and its owner(s) by creating a space where functionality meets innovation.

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Get out and #shoplocal on #SmallBizSat o

Get out and #shoplocal on #SmallBizSat on 11/29! Snap a pic, tag WBDC and we’ll share it!

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Women’s Small Business Month at the WBDC

We live in a world where women truly mean business. Women businesses have made great strides in the last decade. 60 percent of all personal wealth in the U.S. is held by women. 85 percent of all consumer purchases in the U.S. are made by women. Women over the age of 50 have a combined net worth of $19 trillion. And globally, women are responsible for $20 trillion in spending, a number that is expected to rise to $28 trillion by the end of 2014.


The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) through the Office of Women Business Ownership (OWBO) and Women’s Business Center programs (WBCs) has paved the way for women business owners (WBOs) to succeed in business and expand in the opportunities created from the Women’s Business Ownership Act. The 25th anniversary of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988, a landmark piece of legislation that put an end to state laws that required women to have male relatives sign business loans, has also given women entrepreneurs increased access to counseling and training, capital and contracts.

Despite October being Women’s Small Business Month, the WBDC recognizes and commemorates the fact that women are a dominant driving force to economic growth and development – creating jobs with 8.6 million women-owned businesses in the U.S year round.

It was not that long ago in 1986, when less than 10% of U.S. businesses were women-owned.  In the workplace, women earned only $24,479 to men’s $38,088 in annual wages. These statistics, and the lack of women in positions of power and leadership, spurred Hedy M. Ratner and Carol Dougal to create the WBDC, one of the first women’s business assistance centers in the U.S. The WBDC has grown from a two-person operation to a national leader in women’s economic development.  The WBDC has grown to a staff of 32 full-time employees and consultants, a roster of expert trainers, and a powerful Board of Directors comprised of successful women business leaders from across the WBDC’s nine-state Midwest region.

But importantly, our clients, speak for what we stand for. Ninva Concepcion, owner of Little Kid n Me Daycare/ Learning Center, explains “As a woman entrepreneur, there will always be obstacles and people who try to bring you down, but for every person who doubts you, there will be three people, like Janice, Eva and I, who will encourage you to keep going, stay determined and follow your dreams!” Women like Ninva Concepcion helps to propel the mission of the WBDC, which is to provide services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen their impact on the economy.

Think of women like Hedy, Carol, Ninva and the millions of other women business owners as you build your business or make your purchasing decisions.  Make every month Women in Small Business Month.

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28th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference Award Winners

Meet the 28th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference (EWC) 2014 Award Winners being honored at the Opening Night Reception, September 16, 2014 at the Prairie Room Hyatt McCormick Place – Chicago. Click here to learn more about EWC.

28th Annual Entrepreneur of the Year

28th Annual Entrepreneur of the Year Rosemary Swierk President, Direct Steel and Construction  Crystal Lake, IL Years in Business: 10

Rosemary Swierk
President, Direct Steel and Construction


As with every success story, Direct Steel has faced its share of challenges. Swierk founded the company in 2004 after over 16 years in construction-related sales and marketing, and real estate development and management experience. At the beginning of the recession in 2008, the demand for commercial construction declined dramatically. To keep her business viable, Swierk leveraged her certification as a Women’s Business Enterprise (WBE) to target governmental organizations and large corporations. The strategy not only kept her enterprise afloat but propelled it to even greater success. Direct Steel has completed commercial building projects for companies such as Unilock, Navistar and Intermatic. Swierk has received numerous awards for her accomplishments and business success.


28th Annual WBE of the Year

28th Annual WBE of the Year Linda McGill Boasmond President, Cedar Concepts Corporation Chicago, IL Years in Business: 23

Linda McGill Boasmond
President, Cedar Concepts Corporation


A chemist by trade, Linda left a management position at an international manufacturer of chemical and petroleum products to work for Cedar Concepts, eventually becoming its owner and president in 2004. As the country’s only African American, woman-owned chemical manufacturer, Cedar Concepts processes raw materials for use in a wide variety of personal-care, household, industrial and agricultural products marketed under many brand names familiar to both consumers and businesses. Her customers include some of the nation’s largest companies, such as Proctor & Gamble, Colgate Palmolive, Citgo Petroleum and Boeing. Under her leadership, Cedar Concepts just completed the construction of Chicago’s first ground-up, chemical manufacturing facility in more than 50 years.



28th Annual Woman Veteran Entrepreneur of the Year

28th Annual Woman Veteran Entrepreneur of the Year Kaney ONeill President, ONeill Contractors, Inc. Des Plaines, IL Years in Business: 7

Kaney ONeill
President, ONeill Contractors, Inc.


An accident while serving in the U.S. Navy left Kaney ONeill a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down. She set out to rebuild her future by attending Northwestern University, earning B.S. and M.A. degrees in Organizational Change and Science. When jobs did not materialize after graduation, she followed in the footsteps of several generations of her family by entering in 2007 into the roofing business. ONeill Contractors specializes in roofing, roof waterproofing, carpentry, insulation and flooring installation for corporate and government clients that have included Boeing, Northern Illinois University and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Her goal is to grow to $5 million in yearly revenues in the next five years.



28th Annual Foundation Impact Award deluxe corp
Deluxe Corporation Foundation


28th Annual Foundation Impact Award Amanda Brinkman Chief Brand and Communications Officer Deluxe Corporation Foundation

Amanda Brinkman
Chief Brand and Communications Officer


The Deluxe Corporation Foundation focuses on long-term solutions that help people, businesses, and communities thrive and grow. Since 1954, the Foundation has donated nearly $100 million to charitable organizations. The Women’s Business Development Center is proud to honor Deluxe Corporation Foundation as its 28th Annual Foundation Impact Award recipient for their ongoing commitment to the advancement of women and minority-owned businesses.

Accepting the award on behalf of the Deluxe Corporation Foundation is Amanda Brinkman.

In January of 2014, Amanda was recruited to Deluxe to help tell their amazing new brand story. As a big supporter of “buying local,” Amanda was excited to help entrepreneurs focus on their passion. Actively involved in the community, Amanda serves as the Vice Chair for the Children’s Cancer Research Fund Board of Directors, on the Make-A-Wish Foundation Board and Jeremiah Program’s Circle of Influence.


28th Annual Public Sector Impact AwardSBDC Logo 2013
Illinois Small Business Development Center


28th Annual Public Sector Impact Award Illinois Small Business Development Center Mark A. Petrilli State Director

Mark A. Petrilli
State Director


The Illinois SBDC, a division of the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity (DCEO), is receiving the award for its leadership and guidance of the state’s small business assistance efforts. In partnership with the U. S. Small Business Administration, the Illinois SBDC Network has been providing information, expert one-on-one business advice and management training to pre-venture and established small businesses throughout the state of Illinois since 1984, and now celebrating 30 years of success. Accepting the IL SBDC’s award is the Illinois State Director, Mark Petrilli.  In his position, Petrilli has oversight of the 36 Illinois SBDCs, 12 Illinois SBDC International Trade Centers, 9 Illinois Procurement Technical Assistance Centers, and the Small Business Environmental Assistance Program.

In 1985, Mark Petrilli joined the Illinois Department of Commerce with ten years of small business management and ownership experience. The Women’s Business Development Center is proud to honor the impactful work, guidance and leadership of its longtime supporter and collaboration of Mark A. Petrilli and the Illinois Small Business Development Center.



28th Annual Corporate Champion of the Year

28th Annual Corporate Champion of the Year ManpowerGroup Shaleta Dunn Manager of Supplier Diversity

Shaleta Dunn
Manager of Supplier Diversity


ManpowerGroup’s Supplier Diversity Initiative was designed to provide innovative approaches to recruiting, developing and increasing their diverse supplier base. Their program includes women, minorities, veterans, disadvantaged and small business owners who share their mission of providing quality services to customers. They collaborate with diversity suppliers who share their vision of being the best provider of higher value staffing services and the center for quality employment opportunities. Through these collaborative efforts, ManpowerGroup can help strengthen the economic wealth of the diverse business communities, which will, in turn, contribute to overall growth.

Shaleta Dunn is the Manager of Supplier Diversity for ManpowerGroup. In this role, Shaleta cultivates and supports strong relationships with diversity suppliers and strategic external organizations to enhance ManpowerGroup’s brand and leverages them to support company objectives.




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Crisis Manager Judy Smith to Deliver Keynote Address at Women’s Business Development Center’s 28th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference

Smith_Judy NEW 3-3CHICAGO, IL, July 7, 2014 – Judy Smith, the crisis management expert portrayed by actress Kerry Washington on ABC’s hit series “Scandal,” will deliver the keynote address at the Women’s Empowerment Luncheon during the 28th Annual Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference, presented by the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), on Wednesday, September 17, 2014, from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Chicago’s McCormick Place-West, 2301 S. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive.

Smith is the founder and president of Smith & Company, a leading strategic and crisis communications firm with offices in Washington, D. C. and Los Angeles. She honed her skills through experiences with some of the most historic and sensational events of our time, including the Iran Contra investigation, the 1991 Gulf War, the U.S. Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas; the President Clinton scandal involving Monica Lewinsky, and the General Petraeus CIA scandal. She has also provided counsel to several heads of state and numerous Fortune 500 corporations.

Before starting her company, she was the senior vice president of corporate communications at NBC and was a special assistant deputy press secretary to President George H. W. Bush and his Cabinet. She appears frequently on major television networks to offer commentary on topical issues of the day. She also lectures on crisis management before corporate boards and other professional institutions. As a result of her groundbreaking career, Smith became the subject of ABC’s hit TV series “Scandal,” which resolves around the life and work of a professional fixer. She serves as co-executive producer of the project and provides insight and technical expertise on its crisis management issues.

In addition to the luncheon, the Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference – themed “Your Growth Is Our Business” – will feature an opening night Awards Reception honoring successful female entrepreneurs and supporters of women’s economic development; the Women’s Business Fair Midwest; Contract Connections, the WBDC matchmaker, and four breakout sessions featuring expert panels speaking on topics ranging from online branding to mergers and acquisitions. Marquee sponsors for the event include BMO Harris Bank, BP America, Inc., The Deluxe Corporation Foundation and US Bank.

For more information, visit

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Affordable Care Act and Your Small Business

You want the best for your employees (and their families), and you know that making sure their health needs are met has been proven to decrease turnover, increase morale and keep your employees well enough to do their jobs worry-free.  With the changes in healthcare, you may question what this will mean to them and your business.  Even though the answers may be different for each business; here are a few facts to help you make important decisions regarding your employees’ wellness, regardless of your business.

–          Notifications – Employers covered by the Fair Labor Standards Act must make sure all newly hired employees (as of October 1, 2013) are provided with notification about the new Health Insurance Marketplace.  Employers must let employees know they may be eligible for a premium tax credit if they purchase coverage through the Marketplace, and that they may lose the employer contribution (if applicable) to any health benefits plan offered by the employer.

–          SHOP: Access to Health Care Marketplace – Employers with up to 50 full-time or full-time equivalent (FTE) employees will have access to the new health care insurance marketplaces through the Small Business Health Options Program (SHOP).  Employers with 25 or fewer full-time or FTE employees may also participate in SHOP and may qualify for a small business health care tax credit which is worth up to 50% of your premium costs.

–          Medical Loss Ratio & Rebates – Employers could receive a premium rebate if their insurers do not meet their Medical Loss Ratio.  Employers who receive these rebates and determine that the rebate constitutes a plan asset may determine a reasonable and fair allocation of the rebate.

–          Employer Shared Responsibility – Though employers are not required to provide coverage to their employees under the Affordable Care Act, employers with at least 50 full-time or FTE employees that do not offer health coverage will be subject to a shared responsibility payment under the health care law.  View the chart below.  Businesses with fewer than 50 full-time or FTE employees are generally not affected by these provisions.   Click here for more information.

–          New Wellness Incentives – The Affordable Care Act creates new incentives to promote employer wellness programs and encourages opportunities to support healthier workplaces.  A wellness program can be provided to promote health and fitness at the workplace or insurance plans can offer them directly to their enrollees.

The WBDC is holding a workshop to address the questions of small business owners on March 12, 2014.  To learn more and to register today, please click here.  For more information about the Affordable Care Act, please visit


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By: Kristin Travis, Illinois PTAC Associate

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Five Tools for Developing Your Forecasting Plan for Government Contracting

By the time you visit government contract opportunities websites, you usually have a limited amount of time to submit proposals or bids. However, firms wishing to contract with local and Federal governments have several tools at their disposal to help extend the time they have to plan for procurements and to respond to RFPs. Knowing what these tools are and how to utilize them is critical to contracting success. This post will discuss five tools you can use to forecast government contracting opportunities and to fuel your strategy. Focus on these tools to develop your forecasting plan: 

  1. Build business relationships – Contracting or procurement officers, supplier diversity representatives and small business specialists are routinely listed in forecasting plans. Often, their direct contact information is included as well. This can give you some time to begin to develop relationships with key procurement personnel.
  2. Develop a team – Based on the potential procurement listed in the forecast, you may decide that you are interested, but need to increase your capacity in order to fulfill the contract. Teaming allows for businesses to combine their expertise and talents to perform on projects that are larger than they could take on their own.
  3. Research – Requests for Information (RFI) are research tools used by procurement personnel to help them identify potential solutions to existing problems. Even though respondents’ results often show up in subsequent RFPs, an RFI is not a promise to issue an RFP in the future. Many times, responding to RFIs provides a unique perspective regarding challenges the agency is facing and gives you an opportunity to make suggestions regarding what they should include in the future RFP if it goes forward.
  4. Decide on certification – Sources sought are used primarily in Federal government procurements and their purpose is to determine who is available in the market to perform a particular task. In the case of the Federal government, if two or more qualified businesses of a certain socioeconomic group respond to a sources sought request, the contracting officer may choose to set the contract aside for that group. With this knowledge, you may decide that it is to your advantage to certify as a Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB), Disadvantaged Small Business (DSB), Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone), or any other designation in which you qualify to become certified.
  5. Create a timeline – Forecasting and buying plans will usually have a general time frame denoting when the contract opportunity will be posted to the public. It is best to use that date and work backward, so that you can determine when tasks need to be completed. This can include actions such as building business relationships, developing a team, conducting research, obtaining training, or getting certification prior to submitting a proposal.

All in all, as a business owner interested in doing business with the government, you must understand that using forecasting as a tool can allow you to glean crucial information that will enhance your government contracting strategy.

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By: Kristin Travis, Associate, IL PTAC at the WBDC

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Business Mentoring is a Business Builder

mentoringA mentoring relationship can take form in many different stages of your career.  Recently it has become one of the most important relationships a young entrepreneur can establish.  The unconditional knowledge and advice a trusted and established entrepreneur can offer is invaluable.  Many successful business owners will credit a large portion of their success to a few key individuals who helped mold them into the business owners they are today.

It has been proven that new business owners see concrete results in their companies when they enter into a mentoring relationship.  New entrepreneurs who received mentoring increased their revenue by an average of $47,300 or 106% ( Htet).  It has also been shown that businesses who received mentoring created 4.75 jobs on average (2.5 jobs more than those that did not receive mentoring) (Htet).

Stephanie Hickman, owner of Trice Construction Company, found her mentor through the Clinton Foundation and strongly believes that finding the right mentor is extremely important..  She explains, “the mentoring relationship is one of the most personal relationships of your life, so there must be a level of chemistry and like-minded alignment that comes naturally between both individuals.”  Hickman cites trust as a necessary component for the relationship to be truly beneficial and valuable.

Now the question becomes how do you have a successful mentoring relationship?  Here are four tips to make your mentoring experience most successful!

  1. Set up specific goals and expectations with your mentor from the start of the relationship.
  2. Create a realistic implantation plan with specific steps towards achieving these goals.
  3. Establish regular meetings (even phone meetings) in order to assure the relationship is a priority for both parties involved. 
  4. Track and evaluate the progress throughout the duration of the relationship.

The Women’s Business Development Center offers a mentoring program through an online portal supplemented by programming including webinars and in person meet-ups to strengthen  the relationships between mentors and mentees.


Works Cited

Htet Lin Thu, Jason. 2013 Business Outcomes Report. Rep. Micro Mentor, n.d. Web.

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