Wise Women’s Business Center and South Side Innovation Center Help Small Businesses

Meghan Florkowski and Carolyn Tucker outside the WISE Center
Meghan Florkowski (left) and Carolyn Tucker. Please note, this image was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and does not reflect current public health guidelines.

Wise Women’s Business Center and South Side Innovation Center Help Small Businesses

Two entrepreneurship programs, run by the Whitman School, recently received funding to help small businesses affected by COVID-19. The WISE — Women Igniting the Spirit of Entrepreneurship — Women’s Business Center and South Side Innovation Center (SSIC) both acquired funding to offer more resources and support during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WISE Women’s Business Center

The WISE Women’s Business Center is funded in part by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). In May 2020, the SBA awarded WISE $420,000 for use by April 2021. The additional funding is supporting women-owned businesses and their needs directly related to COVID-19. Meghan Florkowski, director of the WISE Women’s Business Center, explains the funding will help the organization respond to new challenges clients are facing.

“The funding is supporting targeted counseling and business training for our clients. It has allowed the center to quickly pivot to virtual operations, adopting the technology needed to provide a high level of customer service, new online curriculum and virtual one-on-one counseling,” she says. “As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reshape the work and priorities of our small business owners, it was important for us to change our approach.”

One of the courses available is the Small Business Resilience Training Program. The center offers this program at no cost, and it is designed to help women small business owners prepare and respond to the economic impacts of the pandemic and its effect on their workplace, employees and customers.

One-on-one counseling sessions are provided by consultants in the field who have practical experience as businesswomen themselves. Some common topics include business planning, reopening, small business loan relief, marketing and managing employees. Training and counseling delve into each of these small business topics and more.

“Coaching helps clients during this time of uncertainty by providing guidance and resources, but, more importantly, a confidential space full of heart and compassion. WISE Business Counseling goes beyond the daily practicalities to really delve into the quiet areas that often hold female entrepreneurs back. With a time, full of uncertainty, business coaching through WISE’s direction provides the added support of mindset, empowerment and confidence,” says Lacey Roy-Ciciriello, WISE WBC small business counselor and owner of Full Bodied Health.

Florkowski adds that the funding was also used to help the center ensure accessibility for all its resources and spread the word about all that WISE offers to women entrepreneurs in Central New York.

El-Java Abdul-Qadir

South Side Innovation Center

The Entrepreneurial Assistance Centers (EAC), through New York State’s Empire State Development program, awarded the South Side Innovation Center (SSIC) $100,000 through the end of 2020 to help the center work with entrepreneurs affected by COVID-19, particularly individuals from marginalized populations. The funding is being used to provide technical assistance and for additional consultants to help support the hundreds of clients who receive support from SSIC.

“The response to COVID-19 is a new reality,” explains El-Java Abdul-Qadir ’98 (A&S), G’01 (FALK/A&S), director of the SSIC and adjunct professor. “We’re advising our businesses to move forward with change, but that requires a high level of support throughout our entrepreneurial ecosystem. We have helped them find the silver lining.”

He adds that the funding will help SSIC lead clients to the suppliers, partners and resources that can help them weather the pandemic.

Abdul-Qadir adds, “We’re uniquely positioned to assist some of the most marginalized populations in Central New York, and others who have been traditionally excluded from economic participation. As a result, many of the clients that we helped over the years have reached out to us for assistance applying for federal, State and local disaster relief funds.”

A subset of SSIC clients has secured over $1.25 million in COVID-19 related disaster relief grants and loans. Abdul-Qadir has also participated in a number of online panel discussions, podcasts and news articles discussing the importance of recognizing when and how to pivot business products and services to meet current needs, strengthening relationships with financial for current and former customers/clients, and shifting the mindset from surviving these unexpected challenges to thriving during these unprecedented times.

With the help of community partners who are experts in the business community, this fall, SSIC is scheduled to host a more robust Small Business Bootcamp with two different tracts: one for early-stage companies and one for more established companies.

Abdul-Qadir says, “The Entrepreneurial Assistance Centers’ technical assistance program will support SSIC’s work to fill the gaps created by the overall economic condition of the country.”

Kimmy Kimball