On May 17, Chicago Innovation, the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC), and Attract, Retain, Advance (ARA) hosted “Celebrating Women in Innovation” to recognize the importance of women in the business world. We spoke with Roxanne Ward, Chief of Staff of WBDC to explain the mission of women innovation centers.
What is WBDC’s main mission?
For over 30 years, the Women’s Business Development Center has worked to foster economic empowerment. The mission of the Women’s Business Development Center is to support and accelerate business development and growth, targeting women and serving all diverse business owners, in order to strengthen their participation in, and impact on, the economy. We offer entrepreneurial counseling, technical assistance, and access to capital for each stage of the business life cycle.
Why is it important for female entrepreneurs to apply for the Chicago Innovation Awards?
According to the Startup Genome’s Global Startup Ecosystem Ranking for 2017, over one-third of startup founders in Chicago are women. This is the highest percentage of female founders in the world.
We need to make sure awards honoring these innovative companies are representative of the people leading innovation in Chicago and we can’t do that if female executives don’t apply for these prestigious awards. Last year, thanks to Celebrating Women in Innovation, the Chicago Innovation Awards honored ten women-run organizations, the highest number of women-run recipients in its sixteen-year history. We want to sustain this momentum.
How are events such as Celebrating Women in Innovation helping the movement of gender equality within the business world?
While we are encouraged by the progress Chicago has made to increase gender diversity in the business world, we still have a long way to go to ensure that Chicago business leaders and owners have equal opportunities.
Celebrating Women in Innovation not only increases awareness of the Chicago Innovation Awards, encouraging more women to apply, it also brings female entrepreneurs and business leaders together and helps us make strides toward increased opportunities for Chicago’s female innovators. During the event, women make valuable connections and have access to the resources they need to start or grow their businesses.
Our work at the WBDC and the efforts of ARA, along with the Chicago Innovation’s Women’s Mentoring Co-op, support this mission all year long and we stand committed to recognizing and encouraging female entrepreneurs who are leading the way for innovation in Chicago.
What is your advice to Chicago women who are looking to start their own business?
Recognize opportunities when they arise, look actively for a new challenge that could open a door to success, and, when all else fails, break down the door and create opportunity for yourself. Seek mentors that will support you in these efforts and learn from their success – and their failures.
It is the WBDC’s mission to help women and other diverse entrepreneurs seize opportunities and achieve independence. One of the services that we provide is women’s business enterprise (WBE) certification. WBE-certified businesses can differentiate themselves when they bid on private-sector and certain public-sector contracts, which helps them build capacity. Although equal opportunity does not exist, there are many resources available to help female entrepreneurs succeed. Seek out these opportunities and independence will follow.