Support for Women Entrepreneurs in Arkansas

by Winrock International
Vetted
Clip-on Pattern Holder
Clip-on Pattern Holder

Donna has a passion for knitting and kept have a reoccurring problem.  She loves to sit in her favorite easy chair and knit, but she had no way to hold her work, read her pattern, and hold a lamp, all the while doing her knitting.  She created a non-skid lapboard that fits comfortably on her legs, has a stand for the pattern, and has an attachment for a small reading lamp, leaving her hands free to knit.  Her new invention worked so well for her she felt others might want it.  That’s when she turned to the Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC).

“After talking to other knitters, I knew my invention could help them as well," she said. “But, I had no idea how to get started.”

The AWBC connected Donna with a business counselor who helped her to identify start up costs, gain feedback from potential buyers, start the patent process, and recommend her pricing strategy. Donna has received her initial patent  and soon will be producing the first run of her Clip-On Pattern Holder with Lap-Workstations.

According to Donna, “The Women’s Business Center helped make my idea a reality.  I can’t wait to launch my business and start making life easier for knitters everywhere.”

AWBC Client LaQuita with AWBC Director Liz Young
AWBC Client LaQuita with AWBC Director Liz Young

Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) client LaQuita won the first annual Spirit of South Arkansas Small Business Awards for Best Minority Owned Business in October 2016. Her 100% woman-owned, minority-owned business, Complete Home Care (CHC), was nominated and voted on by citizens of Union County. CHC provides 24 hour medical and non-medical support services delivered to the homes of seniors. CHC won in a landslide, beating   4 other well-known businesses in their category..

AWBC Director Liz Young said, “The AWBC is honored to have assisted LaQuita with this business endeavor over the last four years by providing continued one-on-one business counseling to help with employee management, business accounting, cash flow management, and other business needs.”

LaQuita first found the Center through a six-week training course the AWBC hosted called Operation Jump Start. She completed 12 training sessions, put together a business feasibility plan for her then 3-year old business, and competed in a business plan competition with her final plan. LaQuita was not new to entrepreneurship, running several other small business operations already. One of her other successful businesses turns 20 years old this year. After completing the training, she realized her need for further assistance, and became a client for one-on-one business consulting.

LaQuita is grateful of her support from AWBC and said the best thing about their services is that “the AWBC is there and has always been available when I need them. They offer a variety of services that I would not otherwise be able to afford, including marketing expertise, accounting expertise, and other services they have provided me as a resources.”

LaQuita is an excellent example of how consistent AWBC assistance can improve small business success, particularly for women-owned businesses. AWBC is still assisting LaQuita with Complete Home Care while also looking at new potential start-up business opportunities, and looks forward to helping her businesses grow and thrive. 

State Representative with Small Bus. Award Winners
State Representative with Small Bus. Award Winners
Youth Entrepreneur Leighton with her apparel line
Youth Entrepreneur Leighton with her apparel line

The Arkansas Women’s Business Center is gearing up for another successful Mistletoe Market, our annual shopping event that showcases over 65 vendors in the ArkLaTex region. This is a great opportunity for small businesses to boost their sales during the holiday season. AWBC staff members enjoy getting to know each entrepreneur and by the end of the event we often feel like family. This year we have a new vendor, Real Life Apparel, with a unique story of how a high school youth’s entrepreneurial idea was born. Here’s Leighton’s story:

My daughter, Leighton, has always had an obsession with t-shirts; therefore, she thought it only made sense for us to create our own t-shirt brand.  I explained to her how difficult it is to have one’s own business and how much time is required, but she was not deterred.  In August of last year, my heart was changed by these words: “Mom, it’s my last year at home and I just want us to do this together.” 

Our life had also taken a significant turn, in that I found myself a single mom of three after being a homemaker and homeschool mom for the last 18 years.  The option of returning to the workforce did not prove to provide the income we needed.  So after much prayer our family of four — Leighton, 17; Reece, 15; and Shepherd, 8, decided to go for it! 

Our dear friend Suzanne, who is a graphic designer, immediately joined the team and amazingly turned the ideas in our head into magic. Our family, church family and friends began to buy and promote our brand and within four months, Real Life Apparel was available in over 30 stores.

As we brainstormed for a name for our brand, we contemplated how life had taken a difficult turn and had not turned out at all how we had hoped or imagined it would. But frankly, that’s life.  Real Life.  Real Life is not a movie on a screen or a play with a script or a fantasy novel with a predicted happy ending; many times it’s hard and unfair. Real Life Apparel celebrates life right where it is, not wasting days hoping for or living for dramatic events, but cherishing the thousands of little moments and the people that make life precious.

The kids and I are blessed and humbled by all the love and support that we have been given over the last year and the awesome opportunities God has given us.

Leighton works very hard developing and promoting Real Life Apparel as she attends Arkansas Tech University to pursue a business degree.  Reece is developing a professional line of clothing, which is known as Real Life Gentlemen.

Boots To Business: One Veteran At A Time

The Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) is helping military veterans find a future in the world of entrepreneurship.

Boots to Business is a two-day entrepreneurial education and training program aimed at helping veterans gain the foundational knowledge required to start their own business.  The program is made possible by the Department of Defense’s Transition Assistance Program (TAP) and the U.S. Small Business Administration. Classes cover topics like business concept evaluations and accessing start-up capital and technical assistance.

The AWBC has been part of the Boots to Business program since 2014, training service members and military spouses who are transitioning or retiring from service from the Little Rock Air Force base in Jacksonville, ARK.

AWBC Director Liz Young created an Agricultural Lunch N’ learn to educate servicemen and veterans on farming as a future entrepreneurial business. From the agricultural trainings, many veterans have become AWBC clients, receiving one-on-one assistance to start farm operations.

Veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans. Young says farming provides an opportunity for soldiers to find peace and solitude, feed their community and their family, while restoring the farming heartland of this country. Soldiers have a high probability for success because of their physical strength, hard work ethic, and fortitude.

According to U.S. Small Business Administration Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet, Boots to Business program has trained 25,000 transitioning service members on 165 military installations worldwide. 

Ribbon cutting for Brush & Canvas, Sept. 2015
Ribbon cutting for Brush & Canvas, Sept. 2015

Brush & Canvas started from a dream and a prayer and grew into a new downtown business in South Arkansas, owned by Arkansas Women’s Business Center (AWBC) client Christina. After a series of challenging life events like recovering from a disappointing educational experience, divorce, and unfulfilling career, Christina decided to pursue her passion with a “go big or go home” attitude. Art was an extracurricular activity Christina’s whole life, as well as for her children. While raising her daughter, who now has an art degree, she would make road trips to buy art supplies or order them online. One day, Christina saw a window of opportunity. She realized the small but growing town of El Dorado needed an art supply store and a place for novices to come and be introduced to the world of art.  

Upon deciding to launch a new business and having no retail or business ownership experience, Christina reached out to the AWBC for assistance. Christina was looking for direction on how to get started, what the process is, how she should file as a business, and what the viability of a store like hers in El Dorado would be. The many homework assignments from AWBC business counselor John Riggins made Christina feel like she had entered college again. But she was grateful to learn how to project cash flow, analyze feasibility, and other helpful tools. Christina mentioned “I didn’t have support like us letting me know I could do it and was so appreciative of the positive reinforcement.”  Together, the AWBC and Christina developed a solid business plan, and that reassured her that the art supply store could be a successful retail operation. The business plan also helped secure  loan from a local bank, which was crucial for starting her business. Christina shared this February “I left the AWBC with realistic expectations about how things could turn out for me and my art store and that has really helped me in the beginning months of opening the store.”  

After Brush & Canvas opened its doors in September, 2015, John Riggins continued to counsel Christina, and assist the store with its events and marketing efforts. When asked about how much profit the events generated compared to retail, Christina said “Had I stuck with retail supplies alone, I would not have made it.” In the first six months, Brush & Canvas expanded their services to include art workshops with various mediums, private parties, groups painting classes, character building workshops, and other fun events. The biggest challenge now is finding cost effective marketing. With continued support from AWBC, we look forward to watching and helping Brush & Canvas grow into a successful operation!

 

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Organization Information

Winrock International

Location: Little Rock, AR - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.winrock.org
Project Leader:
Liz Young
Little Rock, Arkansas United States

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