In another attempt to get a Women’s Business Center in Idaho, the federal Small Business Administration held a series of workshops in three Idaho cities, and at least one coalition is forming to apply for the grant.
Among the participants in the coalition will be the Idaho Hispanic Chamber of Commerce; Norris Krueger, founder of Entrepreneurship Northwest; and the Western Alliance Economic Development and Region 4 economic development in Twin Falls, according to members of the respective organizations.
“The Hispanic community is the fastest growing demographic of the state, and with the rising numbers of women starting business, the need for a Women’s Business Center has never been greater,” said Diane Bevan, president and CEO of the Nampa-based IHCC, who said she would be presenting this to the organization’s Board of Directors with a proposal that it apply. “We are looking at this grant as an opportunity to increase collaboration and resources with other partners in Idaho and see it as an enhancement to programs already in place and new ones to be formed.”
Krueger said the Women’s Business Center “needs to be a connector itself and not territorial/imperialistic like too many prominent ecosystem players here.”
“I intend to work with Diane, but I’m happy to help others,” he said. “Idaho has left too damned much money on the table in past years. Time for that to change!”
The Coeur d’Alene Innovation Collective attended the Coeur d’Alene workshop but isn’t planning to apply for the grant, though the organization will continue supporting women entrepreneurs, said founder Nick Smoot. The other workshop was in Lewiston, the first time one has been held in that city, according to Kathleen McShane, assistant administrator for the SBA’s Office of Women’s Business Ownership, who led the three workshops.
In addition, the SBA is changing some of the requirements of the grant, which attendees said would make it more relevant to Idaho. These changes include no longer requiring the WBC to support the entire state, no longer requiring an audit, and adding 15 points in application scoring when serving rural and Native American populations.
“The most useful change is the non-requirement to be a statewide WBC,” Bevan said. “Although it is the mission of the IHCC to be a fully supporting state wide organization, we are not there yet.”
Cece Gassner, director of economic development at Boise State University, applauded the removal of the requirement to submit an audit, which can be quite expensive for a nonprofit, as well as the additional points for rural and Native American populations.
While public universities don’t appear eligible to apply, the university is willing to partner with others, she said.
Idaho is one of just three states, along with Alaska and South Carolina, that doesn’t currently have a WBC, which provide business counseling, training and other resources to women entrepreneurs. The state has had several Women’s Business Centers over the years but each has been shut down over time, typically due to lack of funding or inability to meet the stringent requirements of the grant, worth up to $150,000 per year.
Organizations concerned about meeting the $150,000 cash match after the first year could apply for a smaller amount, but would be limited to that amount for the five-year period of the grant, McShane said.
Last year, Idaho Women in Leadership — a bipartisan nonprofit organization that advances Idaho women’s leadership in government and business through leadership training programs— applied for the grant, but was turned down due to a lack of longevity of financial reports to show sustainability.
The SBA had intended to hold the workshops in mid-January, but they were delayed due to the government shutdown.
It’s not that there isn’t a need for a women’s business center in Idaho. The state typically ranks dead last, or nearly last, in national research on economic opportunities for women.s