New business center aims to empower women entrepreneurs

New London — Karin Rinaldi and Cortney Sullivan are in the early stages of starting a float center, a meditation space that involves floating in 12 inches of saltwater in a room with no lights or sound.

Business productivity specialist Lesley Ingves admits that "you don't know what you don't know" and feels she could learn more to grow her services. Cathy Frost is working on her new online business, Forget Diets Forever, and also wants to support other female entrepreneurs.

These were some of the women gathered at the Public Library of New London on Tuesday evening for "Empowered Women, Empower Women: A Conversation with Fran Pastore."

"The resources are here and they exist and the momentum is here, and we want to help you capitalize on that momentum," Pastore said. She later added, "We, as women, have an obligation to help other women in this world, and the time is now."

She is the CEO of the Women's Business Development Council, and the event served as the soft launch for the Southeastern Connecticut Women's Business Center, which WBDC operates. There will be a grand opening and ribbon-cutting ceremony for the center on Aug. 8 from 3:30 to 5 p.m.

The three pillars of service at a Women's Business Center are entrepreneurial training, financial education and access to capital, Pastore said. Of their clients, 25 percent are startup, 27 percent are emerging and 48 percent are established.

WBDC has operated a Women's Business Center in Fairfield County for 21 years and one in New Haven County for 10. The new center, on the fourth floor of 300 State St., is the first in New London County. It will have two full-time employees, with support from existing staff at other WBDC sites.

The center was made possible by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, which is $75,000 for the second half of 2018 and $150,000 per year after. Pastore said this was the first time expansion grants were released for women's business centers, and that she's grateful to SBA Administrator Linda McMahon.

The center began offering counseling services, by appointment only, in May. For example, WBDC project director Janet Siegenthaler said she had a session on Tuesday with a client who has a lot of restaurant experience and would like to launch her own business.

In mid-September, the center will begin offering long-term training, like its 10-week Guide to Plan for Success program, and workshops. The GPS program has a fee but otherwise most have no charge.

Also on Tuesday, Pastore met with Felix Reyes, director of development and planning for the city of New London. She said his charge to the WBDC was to fill the empty storefronts.

"This has been the most warm, openhearted welcome that we have ever received," Pastore said of New London.

WBDC is looking for volunteers, such as accountants, marketing specialists and lawyers. It also will be forming an advisory board, per a mandate from the SBA.

Pastore noted that WBDC doesn't discriminate or turn anyone away, and that 15 percent of its clients are men.

e.moser@theday.com

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