Long before it was considered politically and culturally advantageous to help women and low-income minorities start and grow businesses, The Women’s Economic Self Sufficiency Team (WESST), was born. In 1988, three professional women in Albuquerque identified a gap and a need among women entrepreneurs in New Mexico. With a seed grant from PNM, they opened a downtown office in donated space to house the new nonprofit entity.
Based on the strength of WESST’s business plan, a $50,000 loan was received from the Sisters of Catholic Charity so WESST could begin offering start-up loans for viable low-income, female entrepreneurs. Women with very diverse backgrounds, ideas and needs began to identify WESST as their go-to place to brainstorm ideas, start and grow businesses, learn from skilled business professionals and connect to other female entrepreneurs.
Creating strong, lasting relationships is very important to women in business. Time and money are always huge issues for entrepreneurs. But equally important is the ability to maintain personal and professional strength and integrity while staying true to personal and professional goals. When resources are stretched to the max, women reap great benefits from supportive relationships.
In 1995, CNM (then TVI – Technical Vocational Institute) in Albuquerque contracted with WESST to expand entrepreneurial opportunities for females and minorities. That led to the opening of five additional offices around the state. That same year, a woman-owned business in Taos received a loan to purchase equipment that would allow the new business to mix big batches of product so the proprietor could fulfill private label manufacturing contracts. That business owner, Krysia Boinis, has now received nine WESST loans. Her beauty- and certified organic skin-care products are sold worldwide under several labels. She employs 22 people locally, and 97 percent of her revenues are generated outside of New Mexico.
Interestingly, many of WESST’s loan clients continue to work with WESST long after their loan has been repaid; the ongoing technical assistance provided is considered invaluable for business growth.
Santa Fe’s recycling program was spearheaded by a young woman, Nancy Judd, a skilled artisan. Her goal was to educate the public about the benefits of recycling through artistic expression. She needed to figure out how to monetize the concept. In 2007 she connected with WESST and made full use of WESST’s business development services. Eight intense years later she is a world-renowned sculptor of repurposed trash, an internationally-known museum exhibitor, teacher, public speaker and a woman who—through hard work and some tumultuous times—turned her passions into a viable business.
Española Valley Fiber Arts Center (EVFAC) is a membership organization that combines training and marketing for regional fiber artisans. Many literally work from the ground up raising and shearing sheep and alpaca, spinning and dying yarns, weaving beautiful products that are sold online and in EVFAC’s retail store. For more than 20 years, WESST has been instrumental in helping the organization stay viable in a global marketplace by consulting with management, providing workshops and one-on-one consultations to artisans who are motivated to transition their weaving passion from a hobby to a business.
Peaceful Pet Sitters, a relatively new business owned by Leah Chávez, was created when she was working as the adoption manager at the Santa Fe Animal Shelter. Repeatedly, people asked her where they could find high-quality walking-, transport- and overnight services for their dogs and cats. Identifying a need, PPS was born. It has been a success. Leah and her husband, Gabe, are extremely conscientious when screening owners’ and pets’ needs, knowing that most pets are an important member of the family. Leah gets frequent requests from owners outside of the Santa Fe area and plans to expand her services. Peaceful Pet Sitters is fully licensed, bonded and receives rave reviews.
Recently, WESST/Santa Fe offered ETSY (a peer-to-peer e-commerce website focused on handmade or vintage items and supplies) workshops in four rural communities. Four workshops a week, four weeks in four separate communities, resulted in 53 people opening online shops, increasing business knowledge and promoting the sale of their handmade products in a worldwide marketplace.
Today, more than 80 percent of WESST’s clients in northern New Mexico are women. From artists to patent holders, women benefit from having a trustworthy, skilled and dependable business development team that is consistently available when needed. Each WESST location is a stand-alone Women’s Business Center, funded in part by the SBA (Small Business Administration). WESST Santa Fe’s staff is bilingual.
WESST is proud to serve the entrepreneurial adventures of talented women in New Mexico who want to start and grow their businesses.
Bette Bradbury is regional manager of WESST. 505.474.6556, www.wesst.org/santa-fe