As Plato wisely declared, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Susan Miller, founder and president of the Women’s Small Business Administration (WSBA), understands this phrase all too well. As a single mom with children to support, she started her own business because she needed flexibility.
Hoping to build her business through networking, she joined several established business networks Unfortunately, she didn’t find the benefits for which she’d hoped. “I just didn’t feel that there was anything there that encouraged or fostered small business owners,” said Miller.
She also didn’t feel the male-dominated networks in place at the time benefited female entrepreneurs. As a result, Miller reached out to other women with small businesses. “We’d meet for lunch and just talk about our struggles and how we could help each other,” she explained.
As interest grew, Miller opened up the meeting to other women. “The first time we met, there were 50 women and the next time, there were 75!” she said. Today, WSBA has five active chapters and is investing in a platform for national expansion.
Since its start in 1998, WSBA’s focus has remained true to its roots. “Educating everyone on how we can support each other remains a priority,” said Miller, adding that WSBA focuses on providing mentorships and education relative to its members.
Some entrepreneurs need a marketing plan, others need a website and others need tax advice. “Educating everyone on how we can support each other works for all of us,” added Miller.
One key to its success is that WSBA encourages members to find a common thread. “When you invest in helping each other, it comes back to you tenfold,” said Miller.
Acknowledging the reality that many women face almost unsurmountable struggles, Miller branched out beyond the WSBA to create the She Deserves Foundation. The organization helps survivors of domestic abuse become self-sustainable. As a domestic abuse survivor herself, Miller knows firsthand how difficult the struggles can be.
“When I started my business as a divorced mother of two with no child support, I initially struggled,” she recalled. “I lacked the confidence to succeed.”
She Deserves provides the resources to help women get out of such situations. It also offers support to help them understand how to take back control and how to break the cycle of abuse.
Women’s Business Network: Going Strong Since 1989
As the owner of several personal care homes in the 1980s, Dee Doder recognized a need to bring women together to help them succeed in business. The original Women’s Business Network (WBN) chapter of six women began in 1989. Today, WBN boasts 21 chapters with 250 members and is located throughout the southwestern Pennsylvania area, reaching from Beaver to Ligonier.
With a focus on professional development, WBN welcomes all types of businesswomen from Mary Kay consultants and Tupperware representatives to attorneys, accountants and executives. “Our members represent community business owners like hair salons and restaurants as well as bigger companies like insurance companies, law firms and accountants,” explained WBN Director of Public Relations Nancy Boyer.
To give each member an opportunity to stand out, WBN limits the membership in its chapters to one person from each type of business. “Most of our chapters follow a format for meetings,” said Boyer. “Every member gets a 30-second to one-minute commercial to introduce her business. One member gets an expanded 10-minute business highlight to provide additional details.”
Beyond networking and introductions, WBN provides table topics each meeting that are valuable to women in business including subjects like stress management and wellness.
Reaching beyond its own community, WBN also chooses a service project each year. “We pick a charity that directly impacts women in some way,” said Boyer. “We provide fundraising and support for the chosen charity all year long.”
Each chapter figures out their own way to support the organization. “This year, we chose Angela’s Angels, a charity that provides prom gowns and evening wear for economically challenged girls,” said Boyer, adding that Angela's Angels offers everyday apparel for young women as well.
By pitching in together with financial support and volunteer hours, WBN makes a difference for women in the community.
Inspired Women: Supporting Education and Equality
An advocate for women her entire adult life, Debra Dion Krischke founded Inspired Women as an organization not only to benefit women through networking, but also to offer financial support to women around the world.
Dion Krischke’s vision was clear. “The mission had to be about education and equality for women, locally and globally,” she explained.
Previously, Dion Krischke spearheaded major fundraisers like the Glass Slipper Ball and Cocktails & Cuisine for women in crisis. “I worked really hard—it takes a lot of muscle to pull these events together,” she said. She realized that there was an easier way to fund women’s initiatives.
“Through collective giving, we achieve collective impact,” she explained. “We’ve democratized philanthropy with members nominating and voting on projects.”
In existence for seven years, Inspired Women’s success stories include providing funding for a girls’ school in Pakistan and financing a well to bring fresh, clean water to a village in Uganda.
“Throughout the pandemic, most women in our group never missed a paycheck,” said Dion Krischke. “Coming from a place of abundance, we recognize our blessings and strive to pay it forward.”
During the pandemic, Inspired Women maintained a local focus. “Naturally, we wanted to help the Lighthouse Foundation with meeting the needs of women in crisis in our community,” said Dion Krischke.
Members of Inspired Women not only benefit from the visibility and networking that come from being part of the organization, they also meet people who share their values—and that’s priceless.
To learn more:
Women’s Small Business Administration: www.wsba.biz
Women’s Business Network: www.WBNInc.com
Inspired Women: www.inspiredwomen.com