By Lynn J. Richardson
Anna Davis wasn’t sure what she would find when she showed up at a recent gathering of the Kingsport Office of Small Business Development & Entrepreneurship (KOSBE)’s newly created group, Women of Worth (WOW). Currently the general manager of her family’s business, Seaver’s Bakery in Kingsport, Davis was one of about two dozen women who attended the February 22 event at the Model City Event Center in downtown Kingsport.
The group, designed specifically for female business owners and those who hope to be, offers women from throughout the Tri Cities an opportunity to network, and a chance for mentors to connect with those who are just getting started.
“I was invited by friends and didn’t know what to expect,” Davis said. “But what better way to expand my career, to learn, than to meet new people and learn from their experiences. There is no better way to progress as a female professional and as a woman than to meet new people and share information.”
Women of Worth was born of research conducted by KOSBE showing a lack of resources for women business-owners in the Tri-Cities. Nationally, statistics show the number of women-owned businesses growing at a much higher rate than business in general. Female-owned businesses appear to have increased by nearly 45 percent in the decade between 2007 and 2016, compared to a 9 percent increase among all businesses overall.
Such data locally, however, has been hard to come by. Using surveys and questionnaires, KOSBE Director Aundrea Wilcox confirmed the dearth of information about female-owned businesses, as well as a shared desire among businesswomen to find ways to network with one another. “We looked at all that and we knew we needed to get this done,” Wilcox said. “We have a lot of bright and creative women who can benefit from this type of networking organization.”
Said Davis, “I’m here this evening, representing my mother. She is a woman business owner, but at some point she hopes to retire and that’s when I would take over. But for right now, as is usually the case with a small family-owned business, I wear a lot of hats.”
Though every business is different, the commonalities of challenges for women business-owners create opportunities for sharing of lessons learned through experience. Chaiba Bloomer worked for 35 years in the banking industry, She is no stranger to those who are working hard to either start or expand a business. Today, Bloomer is 60 days away from launching her new business – CKB Business Consulting, a company that will work with start-ups and with existing companies trying to expand.
Bloomer says she would like to help her fellow businesswomen, as she has seen many fail because of lack of information, preparation and research. “We’ve been missing out on learning from each other and this new group (WOW) is going to be fantastic,” Bloomer added.
The cross-section of businesswomen at the February event, which featured a program on logo design by Chelsie Rae of RaeDesign, included all ages and levels of experience. Wilcox also emphasized the group isn’t just for brick-and-mortar businesses, but also for online and home-based businesses.
Since launching her new company, SippaSanity Tea & Events, in May, 2016, Laura Showers has made finding a brick-and-mortar location for her company a priority. Currently operating from Showers’s home, SippaSanity does trade shows, corporate events, and special parties – all featuring Showers’s special teas. “It’s hard to get the word out without a storefront, so I’m very excited about networking through WOW,” Showers said. “There is such a commonality of the things we go through. It’s ever changing. When you’re building a business, you’re fighting a lot of battles. With a support group, you’re empowered.”
That empowerment is what can help any woman with an entrepreneurial spirit, Wilcox said. “The group is open to any female entrepreneurs or business owners who want to network and meet people,” Wilcox said. “They don’t have to have a business today, but maybe have a desire to have one in the future. I think they will be inspired and can connect with other women. We can share and learn from each other and do business with each other.”
WOW’s “Women-Owned Wednesday” meetings will be on the move in the coming months, with a March 22 meeting scheduled at Storybrook Farm Weddings and Events in Jonesborough, Tenn.
“Our goal is identify the women-owned businesses,” she continued. “As our WOW events travel to different locations, we will learn more.“ The group is also open to women who are in business with their husband,” Wilcox explained. “Maybe they are co-owners, but as a part-owner, she should be part of the group as well.
KOSBE has established a Facebook support group for participants: WOW Women of Worth Tri Cities Tennessee. Though KOSBE falls under the umbrella of the Kingsport Chamber of Commerce, the WOW initiative welcomes all entrepreneurial women in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia. “We are definitely a Tri-Cities program and we want to meet more people,” Wilcox said. “This group is open to all ladies in the region.”