WISE Center Incorporates New Programs With COVID-19 Response Funding
Last year, the WISE Women’s Business Center received a $420,000 grant from the Small Business Association to support the Center’s COVID-19 response activities. The funding, which was to be used between May 1, 2020 and April 30, 2021, is dedicated to the support of local women-owned businesses in the wake of COVID-19.
Since receiving the grant, the Center has worked tirelessly to put the money to good use, providing additional support and resources to their clients. These efforts include new staff and business counselors, the introduction of new online curricula for clients, and opportunities for one-on-one virtual counseling. “We’ve had a great opportunity to support our community of Central New York women entrepreneurs,” says WISE director Meghan Florkowski.
One of the Center’s earliest responses to the pandemic was the introduction of an online curriculum, providing clients with a COVID-friendly way to access helpful information and support. Later, hiring came into the picture, with a new position at the Center, a program manager who leads the COVID-19 response efforts. As WISE’s pandemic response efforts have evolved, one-on-one counseling has emerged as a pivotal part of their programming and has helped many clients, all at no cost. “We’ve offered direct support in the form of one-on-one no-cost counseling and advising, and that has really helped our business owners overcome their challenges,” explains Florkowski. “It also provided direct support as they were learning about and applying for the different loan and grant programs at the county, state, and federal levels.”
WISE’s COVID-19 response efforts often center around education, which the Center considers of the utmost importance when it comes to assisting their clients. “We’ve worked very hard to be proactive in how we’re educating the community, so we’ve tried to look at what the greatest needs are and be very responsive to those needs,” Florkowski says. “Education has been in the form of various training programs and we’ve collaborated with other community partners as well.” Aside from the online curricula developed as a result of the COVID-19 relief funding, WISE has also curated and continues to enhance what they call the Accelerate program, a business-plan intensive that trains groups of female entrepreneurs who have either created a thorough business plan or recently launched their own business. WISE has already shepherded two cohorts through this process, with seven hands-on sessions focusing on topics such as identifying problem/solution statements and target markets, pricing/marketing/sales, financial forecasting, and pitching.
The Center’s work has been recognized by organizations outside of the Central New York community—WISE was one of a select group of recipients of the Resiliency and Recovery Demonstration Grant through the U.S. Small Business Administration. “That’s another grant that was specific to women’s business centers. We’re one of 135 women’s business centers across the nation, and 14 of those business centers received this funding,” says Florkowski. “What that’s going to allow us to do is to formalize and grow those successful programs and services developed with the COVID-19 impact money we received, and also pilot innovative new programs for our community.”