Women’s Business Center spurs the growth of local companies

By CJ Gates

On the afternoon of Monday, 2 Nov., First Niagara Foundation Executive Director Elizabeth Gurney presented Canisius President and former Griffin editor John J. Hurley and the Women’s Business Center a check for $26,300 – the second check in as many years as the financial institution provided $20,000 to the program last year as well.

“We’re thrilled to support this venture,” Gurney said “providing the education connections to the community that built collaborations and fosters opportunities.”  

The WBC, founded in 2003, is designed “to empower entrepreneurs to succeed through education, connections and community,” according to their official website. They accomplish this by bringing in experts and pairing them up with women in the same stages of business development to provide support for them as they begin their journey.

While the WBC is not directly affiliated with the College, the two have entered into a partnership with each other and Canisius hosts the WBC with their offices located in Demerly Hall.

“The impact on the community is something that we, historically from our founding in 1870, that we’ve taken seriously,” said Hurley. “And we view the activities in the Women’s Business Center as an important part of the outreach of the College.”

Despite the fact that there’s no official affiliation with College, the WBC currently has three Canisius alumnae in their Forum program according to WBC Executive Director Sara Vescio. The Forum program, which is a four-year, four-level program, is partially funded by First Niagara and works with businesses from their infancy onward throughout their first four years.

Level one lasts 10 months and focuses getting the businesses off the ground. This past year was the first time First Niagara was involved in the program, and businesses in the first level had a majority of their membership to the Forum program paid for by the bank. Businesses paid $100, a fraction of the membership dues, while First Niagara contributed the remaining $650.

Lisa Krug, owner of Snowmobaby, a company focused on snowmobile themed clothing and accessories for babies & toddlers, is in year one of the program and has found it to be a tremendous benefit to both her and her business.

“Being part of a group of business owners [who are] going through the same thing is huge,” Krug explained. “I think that owning your business can be lonely at times, especially when it’s a small business. But with this group, I look forward to it every month. It’s group of people that I can bounce things off of.”

One of the other features of each level is that none of the businesses are direct competitors with any other business in that particular level, which allows for a level of openness and freedom when sharing ideas at their monthly meetings.

“Knowing there’s not someone there who’s looking to do the same thing as you, means you don’t have to worry about someone stealing an idea that you have,” Krug said. “We’re sharing knowledge that can help all of us and you can be very open in the group and I think that’s a huge advantage.”

After 10 months, business owners move up to level two, the stage known as the “growing” level. Krug is looking forward to reach this stage, and is confident about the future of her company. She continues with the program, looking forward to future revenue and continued assistance from First Niagara.

Businesses stay in this level for a year before moving on to levels three (Sustaining) and four (Established). Each of those levels also take about a year, and companies are expected to be prosperous enough to no longer need subsidizing from First Niagara.

Overall, there are 46 participating businesses in the Forum Series. The WBC caps the number of businesses that can be in each level at 12 meaning that they are just two short of capacity with a full class of 12 businesses launching both this and last year.


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