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Upcoming small business course gives women leg up

Published March 11, 2014 9:11 pm

Small business • Class is free to approved applicants, but it caps at 15 and the deadline looms.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

There was a time when Vanina Meystre-Pirollo figures she would have never been able to open her Italian restaurant.

On Monday, Meystre-Pirollo's award-winning Cucina Vanina Ristorante celebrated its third anniversary. The difference for Meystre-Pirollo was a small business course, one specifically for women — and it's coming around again.

The Banking on Women course, now in its seventh year, teaches low- to moderate-income women how to run a small business and gives them access to loans that would otherwise be out of their reach. The course is designed for women who either want to start or grow a business that has five or fewer employees, requires less than $35,000 to get off the ground and is not big enough to qualify for commercial banking services.

The deadline to apply for the 15-week course is March 20.

"The entrepreneur is good at what they do, but they are not as good at running the business," said Kathy Ricci, CEO of Utah Microenterprise Loan Fund, the nonprofit that organizes the course with GE Capital.

Before the course, Meystre-Pirollo, a personal chef, had never heard of cash flow — how much money has to flow in and out of the business each month to keep it viable. She learned how to avoid burning out, which happens early and often for new small business owners. And of strong importance to her, Meystre-Pirollo regularly met with 14 other women (the class caps at 15), many of them mothers like her, and found strength in knowing that she was not alone in trying to balance her family life with her professional dreams.

"It really helped. The beauty of this class was that it was really technical — and really human, too," Meystre-Pirollo said.

Ricci has seen the women form support networks with each other that last beyond the classroom. Banking on Women creates a place where "they can bring their joys and accomplishments and fears and problems to this group, give each other information, and do business with each other," she said.

The course's technical aspects have built-in support, too, with one-on-one counselors and GE Capital's upper management acting as mentors. Even women with experience in business benefit from the course.

Stacey Foster was no stranger to small business, having helped her father with the family snow shack and CD store. But when it came to launching her startup, Foster realized there were aspects to running a business that even she could learn.

Two years ago, her husband brought home a newspaper clipping about Banking on Women. Foster went into the course with her dream of starting a brick and mortar boutique with a "natural history museum meets space observatory" theme.

But as the weeks went on, she learned that a seasonal truck would actually serve her better. So Foster put her dream on wheels, called it Mineral and Matter and has enjoyed success parking it at festivals and Salt Lake City's revitalized Granary Row.

Foster also learned how to delegate, and like Meystre-Pirollo, had her eyes opened to the concept of cash flow. Other common blind spots for the participants tend to include how to flesh out a marketing plan and figure out who the business' targets customers are, Ricci said.

But not everyone gets in. The course would normally cost about $2,500, except that GE Capital pays for everyone who is accepted so that they can take it for free. That's why Ricci and her team select people carefully and emphasize commitment to the program.

Most of the applicants lack collateral or something happened that hurt their credit score, Ricci said. That is where her nonprofit steps in, offering loans up to $25,000 to people who lack access to traditional bank funding for small businesses.

You can apply online at gecapital.com/banking_on_women.html.

mmcfall@sltrib.com

Twitter: @mikeypanda