By Alexander Soule
On Wednesday. women will converge in Hartford at the second annual Women Owned Business Day at the state Capitol, hoping to raise awareness of issues they face in gaining access to capital for their companies — and to remind lawmakers of the clout they carry.
The gathering is being organized by the Women’s Business Development Council, which has its main office in Stamford and satellite offices in Danbury, Shelton and other locales.
While the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women holds an annual awareness day in Hartford, council CEO Fran Pastore said women entrepreneurs had not previously held a rally there before last year’s inaugural confab.
“This day is really about sharing the economic impact of women-owned businesses,” Pastore said.
She has a friendly face in the Connecticut General Assembly this year in newly elected state Rep. Caroline Simmons, D-Stamford, a WBDC staff member who organizes programs in entrepreneurship and other areas. Pastore credited Simmons with creating a web-based remote learning hub that allows WBDC to extend its reach to eastern Connecticut and rural corners of the state.
Among other goals, Pastore also hopes to highlight what she says is a need for better data collection to track progress women are making as small-business owners.
Pastore, Simmons and others have found one Connecticut statistic particularly problematic: After Gov. Dannel P. Malloy created a Small Business Express program to provide grants and loans to small businesses having difficulties finding capital following the recession, it came to light that just 14 percent of participating companies were owned by women.
With state Rep. Livvy Floren, R-Greenwich, and state Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford, Simmons has co-sponsored a bill that would allow more Small Business Express funding to be funneled to businesses owned by women, minorities and military veterans. Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development, has conceded her department needs to improve its track record on that front.
“We’ve been making a severe effort to try to get into … the communities that have the highest unemployment rate, and some of our minority and women-owned businesses as well,” Smith testified in January. “We’re below what you would call the average for those business lines in the state.”
For its part, WBDC has since been running periodic workshops to help women tap the Small Business Express program, having held its most recent session March 23 in Shelton and with additional sessions scheduled for April 30 at the Danbury Public Library from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; and May 6 at Fairgate Community Center in Stamford from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Pastore credits the sessions for steering a dozen WBDC clients and women-owned businesses to about $2 million in capital from the Small Business Express program, and said awareness of the issue came to light partly the result of the first Women Owned Business Day in 2014.
“That was the tangible change from last year,” Pastore said. “We realized that what was missing was more outreach on (Small Business Express) and as partner of DECD, we worked hard bring the program to more women entrepreneurs.”
Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-964-2236; www.twitter.com/casoulman