Starting a business is not for the faint of heart. Navigating the labyrinth of obstacles that can pop up in the quest to be a successful entrepreneur can be daunting, but the treacherous journey doesn’t have to be taken alone. Thanks to a surplus of funding in the early 1960s, the Small Business Administration came up with an idea to tap retired executives to share their knowledge and help startups launch successful businesses. That idea turned became SCORE (Service Core of Retired Executives) and over the last 59 years, the nonprofit has mentored more than 11 million small business owners free of charge.
Over the years the demographics of entrepreneurs has changed. Since the early 2000s, the number of women-run businesses has doubled, and SCORE’s client base is now 64 percent female. To better reflect these changes, the organization decided to bring more women into leadership roles.
In addition, SCORE District Director Brigette McFarland created the Women Small Business Symposium: Beating the Odds, which was held in early October at the Sonesta Hotel in White Plains. The event focused on inclusion and equity while also providing women with effective tools they can implement in their startups. “If we’re going to do this, let’s come up with something that’s going to be high impact,” says McFarland about organizing the event.
The objective is simple: empower women and give them the tools they need to be successful business owners in a male-dominated environment. One of the primary challenges women deal with when getting a business off the ground is access to capital. In 2020, 49 percent of new business owners were women, up from 28 percent in 2019. But despite that significant change, female business owners still struggle to receive funds compared to their male counterparts. At this event, women receive mentoring on business finances, create a marketing plan, and learn how to use accounting software such as Quickbooks to run a more productive company.
Another challenge women face when starting a business? Lack of confidence, says Nikki Hahn, the CEO of the White Plains-based Women’s Enterprise Development Center (WEDC) who also served as the Women Small Business Forum moderator. “They’re afraid to feel comfortable in their business, [to] own what they’re doing,” she explains. “They’re afraid to sell. They don’t feel like they deserve it.”
Hahn says that along with helping entrepreneurs understand financial and customer discoveries, the organization also offers emotional support. “We do a lot around the empowerment piece — helping them really own their own voice and see that what they do has value and worth in the community that they serve.”
SCORE serves Westchester and the Mid-Hudson region, offering its services to anyone looking to start a business or expand on an existing one. For McFarland, it’s a priceless asset to female business owners. “It’s free. It’s personal. It’s confidential,” she says. “It really is a broad display of information that comes from a lot of experience.”