Game-changing Women’s Business Center will open in Phoenix

The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) announced in January that a $150,000 grant to launch a Women’s Business Center would be provided to the nonprofit organization Chicanos Por La Causa, Inc. After months of preparing, new and experienced entrepreneurs can expect a “soft opening” to be available online as soon as mid May.

The SBA grant in the amount of $150,000 will allow a Women’s Business Center to focus on “empowering” minority women. But resources will also be available to all entrepreneurs regardless of gender or social status. The resources provided will include: individualized coaching, workshops, microlending, networking, technical assistance, and other resources that might enhance the entrepreneurial skill set.

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These opportunities will be available virtually throughout the initial phases, and will eventually adjust to in-person appointments at the Buckeye Commerce Center, where one of the other divisions of Chicanos Por La Causa is located.

This division, Prestamos CDFI (Community Development Financial Institution), will be overseeing the Women’s Business Center. Prestamos CDFI is one of the many community building programs with Chicanos Por La Causa that has been able to provide loans, like the PPP (Payroll Protection Program) Loan, to help small businesses. Lisa Gonzalez, a Prestamos CDFI member of the Business Development Department, says that the Women’s Business Center will go beyond that.

“The PPP Loan is more like a band-aid,” Gonzalez said. “It’s going to help you get by, but the Women’s Business Center is meant to provide security. It can make sure you have the foundation in place so that when a pandemic happens, you’re not as heavily impacted because you have all of the resources in place where you can pivot.”

Minority businesses have been hit especially hard by the pandemic, emotionally and financially.  Figures from a U.S. Chamber of Commerce news release show that 78% of minority-owned businesses had concerns about having to close during May 2020.  Brenda Perez, owner of small business Textiles Curiosidades Mexico, experienced this first hand as she distressfully watched businesses shut down in Desert Sky Mall, the home of her small business, during this time last year.

“Little by little we would see the mall with less and less people. Then all of the sudden one store would be closing down, and then another one. We were worried,” said Perez.

This time last year, Perez was preparing for their most profitable time of year, Cinco de Mayo, but was interrupted by the effects of the pandemic. This year, Perez has a sense of stability after receiving a PPP loan from Prestamos CDFI. She explained that the loan was “huge” for them, but she still hopes to receive more security for her small business from the Women’s Business Center.

“Once I read about what they offer as far as one-on-one classes, especially in accounting and marketing, I signed up. I’m so excited to receive a call from them and to be involved in their program,” Perez said.

Eager entrepreneurs like Perez still have a few more weeks of waiting until these opportunities are within reach. Lisa Gonzalez with Prestamos CDFI specified that the startup process is still in need of some final touches, including signing a lease and launching the official website. In the meantime, Laura Suarez, the Women’s Business Center Programs Director, recommended that entrepreneurs get ready to explore the center’s resources, especially those related to financial literacy.

Suarez said, “Time and time again entrepreneurs are living day to day-to-day with their finances and don’t generally understand what it means to have a profit and loss, a balance sheet, or a cash flow statement, and what those mean for the future of their business.”

Suarez is excited to be a part of providing these resources that will set a foundation for entrepreneurs. She explained that much of this excitement developed from her roots, coming from a family whose income was reliant on her father’s small business. She remembered “living off rice and beans,” so she is optimistic that this program will help this generation of small business owners have a better chance in becoming solid from the ground up.

Lisa Gonzalez with Prestamos CDFI is equally as excited in getting the Women’s Business Center to launch. She called this program a “game changer,” because of its potential to be a “one-stop-shop” for entrepreneurs trying to achieve their dreams, especially during the pandemic.

Gonzalez is looking forward to getting through the startup process and is actively looking for organizations that might want to help keep the Women’s Business Center running and alive.

“Any corporations out there that might want to get involved with this or provide any donations, or even just want to be part of this so that they can watch the next generation of business grow, please reach out to us so that we can find a way to connect,” Gonzalez said.

Anyone trying to coordinate with the Women’s Business Center can reach out to Programs Director Laura Suarez at [email protected].