As a child growing up in Philadelphia in the ’50s, Anne M. Janiak, executive director of the Women’s Enterprise Development Center Inc. (WEDC) in White Plains, showed early entrepreneurial leanings. During the summers, she and a couple of friends ran their own community theater group, doing everything from directing plays to sewing costumes. “We put on shows and sold tickets to them in someone’s backyard,” she says.
But Janiak’s career took some interesting twists and turns before she returned to her entrepreneurial roots in 1997, when she helped found WEDC, the mission of which is to help women and men (despite its name, men make up 19 percent of its 1,500 clients per year) start or expand small businesses.
Like many young women of the ’50s, Janiak initially became a teacher, teaching social studies at a Chicago junior high school. After finally settling in Scarsdale in 1977, she involved herself in the local community as she raised her family. She describes being president of the Scarsdale League of Women Voters in 1990 as her first real leadership role. “That experience served me well,” she says. “I learned to build a consensus and listen to all sides of an issue.”
Those skills were put to good use when Janiak went on to serve on the Scarsdale Board of Trustees and then as the Village’s mayor. It was after she finished her two-year term as mayor in 1997 (Scarsdale has a one-term limit) that she heard about an interesting project getting underway. Janiak went to an early meeting of what became WEDC—and never left.
The small businesses she and WEDC have nurtured range from businesses selling handcrafted dolls, soaps, hats, and skin lotions to those specializing in bookkeeping, accounting, and grant writing. According to a 2012 study conducted by MicroTest Outcome Tracker Survey, of WEDC’s 2010 60-hour business training course graduates, more than 40 percent of those who opened a small business were still operating in 2012. This contrasts quite favorably with a general national rate of 25 or 26 percent for businesses that receive help from programs similar to WEDC, notes Janiak.
That success rate is due in large part to Janiak herself, says client Melinda Huff of Yorktown, founder of Mirame swimwear and a graduate of the 60-hour course. “She’s always reaching out to me if there’s someone that could help me bring the business along,” says Huff. Janiak helped connect Huff with Eileen Fisher’s foundation and a local venture capital firm, for example.
Though Janiak has helped WEDC achieve a number of important goals recently, including opening a satellite office in Dutchess County and establishing an advisory council chaired by Eileen Fisher, she always has her sights on more, including increasing her organization’s reach to young women and Latino women. Though WEDC provides training in Spanish, Janiak would like to see it offer more. “These recent immigrants have great ideas,” she notes. “I’d like to get the word out more to this very highly entrepreneurial group.”
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