Local goods and services are what make each City unique, and luckily Buffalo is home to thousands of businesses – owned, cared for, crafted, by WNY’ers and a growing number of these businesses are owned and operated by women.
Women-owned businesses are responsible for a large number of professional services or retail sales, and are vital full-and part-time employers for the local economy.
However, being a women-owned business can have its own set of additional challenges, as we saw over the last 18 months. Women often have a greater share of household responsibilities, child care, relative or family care, as well as one or possibly two full-time careers.
Every entrepreneur needs advice and assistance, but sometimes Women need a unique space in which to be heard.
The Women’s Business Center, founded in 2004 as a private-public partnership between Canisius College and the Small Business Administration, is the home of women entrepreneurship in Western New York, and a valuable resource that is available to all female entrepreneurs.
Located on the campus of Canisius College, their mission is to empower entrepreneurs to succeed through education, connections, and community. They offer business counseling, coaching, networking, and advisory and mentorship opportunities. The center develops leaders, fosters opportunities, and builds collaborations. The Women’s Business Center supports all women-owned businesses throughout the Western NY Region. The center is open to women of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, and experience, and women owned businesses of all sizes and industries.
In 2021, The center received a nearly half-million dollar grant from the SBA to fund a program to support women-owned small businesses facing challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Business Recovery Taskforce aims to help women “Reconnect. ReStart. ReGrow” their businesses, and provides free education and guidance for issues such as supply chain disruptions, staffing challenges or a decrease in revenue or customers.
Reconnect. ReStart. ReGrow. can also help women seeking to launch a new business, or those whose businesses are just starting, as a result of the pandemic. Buffalo Rising spoke to three entrepreneurs that have completed programming at the Women’s Business Center, and have utilized some of their offerings.
Nikki’s Chocolates, a full service bakery and chocolatier located at 27 Chandler Street, features an ever shifting menu of cakes, cookies, truffles, chocolate covered strawberries, and other elegant confections. There is always something new and different at Nikki’s Chocolates. In addition, Nikki’s Chocolates is able to customize desserts and menu items for potential customers, ensuring that there is always something for everyone.
Owner Jannell Eason opened Nikki’s Chocolates after a successful life in the corporate world. “I was looking for happiness and to be able to have the flexibility to incorporate some of my creativity. Working with over 12 years of experience as a supervisor in corporate America, I wanted to do something that I really enjoyed, and that was baking.”
Eason heard about The Women’s Business Center from a family member. She connected with the organization looking for networking opportunities. But soon decided to try some of the organization’s 1:1 consulting opportunities.
“As a new business owner, you don’t know what you don’t know. I didn’t realize there were additional services, so I was able to go back to them and utilize some of their free coachings with a financial specialist, some of their marketing tools as well, [for] that next stage of my business.”
“There were a lot of things that I understood in the prior position that I had, and if you had any issues you could go to a supervisor or a manager or another person, but as a business owner you are everything. I was able to go back, and ask questions and talk to other like-minded individuals who were in business for a much longer time than me. So I was able to bounce ideas off of them, and they were able to help me to that next step. They are a part of my network at this point, and as my business continues to grow, I will always use the Women’s Business Center. It’s such a welcoming community, at first it seemed a little intimidating – all of these wonderful people – but once I joined the E-network [group], they have open arms, and connected me with people to help me through my journey.”
Honey Sweet Jam began as a labor of love when Kadijah McKenzie started making jams as gifts for family and friends in 2017. Everyone who tried the jams was delighted and told McKenzie to sell them. Pre-Pandemic, McKenzie started to sell her jams at local Farmers Markets, and the response was so positive, that she decided to expand operations.
McKenzie visited the Women’s Business Center when she considered her expansion. “At the time I was still thinking of different ways of selling my jams and jellies, and [the Women’s Business Center] was helpful in giving me specific things that I need to be researching and thinking about different clientele… I feel like as a woman business owner, I have gained more confidence in my abilities. I didn’t have experience, and being able to speak to someone and having guidance and being able to know what exactly I should be working on has made the process easier. I definitely think it has been helpful.”
McKenzie’s unique recipes set her apart. Rather than sugar, she says, “I wanted to use honey, and have the jams not as sweet as other jams that I normally find that are packed with sugar. And it has herbs and spices [in each recipe]” Rich artisanal flavors like Raspberry Ginger, Blueberry Lemon Basil, and Strawberry Rosemary Jam are available on her website.
Arlene Wasserman learned to sew at an early age. Her passion for clothing and design lead to a career in the Fashion Industry. “I worked in the clothing industry for 40 years. I lived all around the country working for different clothing brands, and had the opportunity and great fortune to travel around the world. I was at a crossroad late in my career, and I took a look backward, and said, ‘Why did I even go into the fashion industry?”
Thinking back to the sewing classes that she took as a child, Wasserman decided to found Fashion Lab New York, a sewing studio that teaches sewing and all other elements of fashion design. “I learned about a business model similar to mine in LA and New York. I was so excited to see children learning how to draw and how to sew. Exploring their passion for fashion, and I decided I wanted to create that in Buffalo.”
Wasserman has utilized the offerings of the Women’s Business Center many times. “I learned about the Women’s Business Center through the SBDC [Small Business Development Center]. When I decided that I wanted to explore being an entrepreneur, and starting my own business, I went to the SBDC to find out what was available. They were very helpful and recommended the Women’s business Center. So, I contacted [them] and started out taking the LAUNCH program for the first year, and the second year, I participated in their GROW program. Along with participating in the E-networking events that they had.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Wasserman was forced to pivot her business. She closed her storefront location, and is considering pivoting her business to a summer camp model potentially expanding beyond Buffalo. She was able to use the ReConnect. ReStart. ReGrow. program at the Women’s Business Center for advice. “I contacted someone to talk about pivoting my business. I also tapped into the Women’s Business Center to get coaching on funding and financing. And that really is kind of my soapbox. To be an entrepreneur, what I learned is especially important is having resilience and being able to pivot. I tapped into the business recovery program, because I was at a crossroads again. It was wonderful to talk to someone and have a sounding board and get some input on what might be the next steps for my business, and what my opportunities might be to pivot or to move.”
To other entrepreneurs that are considering starting a business or pivoting their current offerings, Wasserman says, “My advice would be to explore their options, and take a risk, take a chance, because you’ll never know unless you do it. We never learn unless we do it. We learn by making mistakes. We try to avoid mistakes at all costs, but being an entrepreneur, we have to dive into the water to see how it feels.”
Check out more stories of women entrepreneurs in WNY by visiting, https://thewomensbusinesscenter.com/stories/
Ways to Connect:
Their advisory groups are now accepting applicants for their annual programs. Apply by soon to be considered.
Join the E-network.
Sign up for a Business Recovery Session in the areas of Law, Technology, Sales, Business Development, Access to Capital, Marketing, and Finance.
Don’t know where to start? Schedule a free counseling session with one of their advisors that can direct you where to begin.
This series is sponsored by The Women’s Business Center (WBC) at Canisius College. Buffalo Rising and WBC have teamed up to produce a series of small business recovery stories on three women entrepreneurs through their “ReConnect. ReStart. ReGrow.” program. The WBC empowers women-owned businesses through education, connections and community to gain economic opportunities through all phases of business.
To learn more about the program, visit https://thewomensbusinesscenter.com/covid-recovery-programs/