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Business as Usual Takes a Closer Look at the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship

Business as Usual
Education & Non-Profit

For more than 15 years, the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship at Chatham University has been a top resource to help women successfully start and scale businesses.

We welcome Anne Flynn Schlicht, Director, Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship, to overview how the center helps women entrepreneurs and detail its impact to date. The center creates economic opportunities for women through entrepreneurial counseling, education and training.

Anne received her Masters of Business Studies in Entrepreneurship from the University of Limerick, Ireland and a Best Practice in Teaching Entrepreneurship Certificate from the University of Cambridge, UK. Anne brings a wealth of international experience as a professor of entrepreneurship and as a business consultant. 




So good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to Wednesday, St. Patrick's Day. And had I thought of it, I would not have been wearing black, I would have figured out something green and Sham Rocky, just to bring in the sunshine and celebrate this day. So and particularly in Pittsburgh, we have a very strong Irish community and our Irish heritage. And today we're going to have a chance, in a moment I'm going to introduce and flinch slipped. And I hope I said that correctly. And if I said it correctly, there you go. And she's the director for, for the Center for Women's Entrepreneurship, which is located at Chatham University. In a moment, I will give us a better intro to her. Jonathan kersting is with us today. As always, he's vice president of all things, medium storytelling, he'll keep his eye on the chat. And hopefully, we'll have a good exchange on this beautiful sunny day in Pittsburgh almost spring. And deep thanks to Huntington bank for all the work that they do in supporting business as usual, as well as many of our other experiments and storytelling really, that goes way back with Jonathan's work in terms of podcast as well as when we used to be live. And we used to go into the community. Remember that Jonathan, go into the community, I hope we go back soon, and talk with people on the street, talk with people in the banks talk with community leaders. So I'm missing this date. So thanks to Huntington, they've been tremendous leaders and very active in the Civic community. And then 40 by 80. That's the wholly owned subsidiary of the Pittsburgh tech Council. That's the longitude and latitude of Pittsburgh. And you're going to hear more about the work that we're doing in building in apprenticeships, as well as an entrepreneurship and our commitment to building the ecosystem. So couple of rules, we've muted your mics, and we've muted your mics on purpose so that we don't hear some noise in the background. And hopefully, my dogs will behave and there won't be any barking as well on my end. The other thing is that we ask, this is not a time to sell your wares or promote your business, this is the time to focus on our guest. Okay, and, you know, ask questions, get engaged, figure out ways to network with our guests. That's really what today is about each and every day. So now I'm going to jump right in and welcome in. And you can see that Anne is wearing a lovely scarf. That has shamrocks on it. And she's going to tell us in a minute what St. Patrick's Day actually means to her. So welcome. And

thanks for inviting me to speak today, especially on this important day for us Irish people, which is

so Irish because we've noticed your accent. So what does that mean? You're actually born and raised in Ireland. Yes, I

was born and raised in Ireland. I grew up on this in the south of Ireland in County Cork and lived there for many years, studied and then went to University of Limerick, which is near Shannon airport. Some people might be familiar with that the Shannon region. And I worked at the university for many, many years and got to travel all over Europe. And then back in 2014, God two or 2004 sorry, got to travel here to the United States as a visiting scholar.

So couldn't have picked a better day.

I know it actually worked out Jonathan and Steve and Brian had scheduled another day. But there was a conflict. So today actually worked out so

great. That was really great. And before the show started, we were actually talking about her family and friends from back from back home where they've been under quarantine since January.

That is correct. It's a very, very quiet day. St. Patrick's Day in Ireland this year. all the countries in lockdown, you know. So I think if you can't go further than five kilometers from your homes, there's no bars or restaurants or anything open so people are celebrating in their homes this year. St. Patrick's Day, and you know, it'll be a quieter one. I'm sure we'll make up for it next year. No worries about that. But

this year will be quite good. Great. Great to have you on and it couldn't be it couldn't be more timely. That's what that's just fabulous. So let's talk about your background a little bit, your professional background, and then we're going to talk about the center.

Yes, so as I mentioned, I worked at the University of Limerick, which is a large university in Ireland and and in these in this kind of southwest of Ireland. And I worked there in the business school but we also had a business incubator program, working with a lot of businesses and universities in Ireland are very large and We have what we call business incubators as well. Ironically, one of the businesses that was located at the university and still is, is Johnson and Johnson. So one of our clients there, and we also had IBM on campus. So a lot of technology transfer, which is very relevant to what you do Audrey. And then we got to work with a lot of small business owners in the region, as Ireland, Ireland is an island. So a lot of the products we produce our exports exported, and, and European, the biggest market and then United States very important trading partner for Ireland as well. So I have a lot of, obviously, you know, connections in winning the United States as well. And back in 2004, had the opportunity to come here as a visitor visiting scholars program and come to Pittsburgh, because when you come to the United States, you have a visa program. And actually the sponsors for the PCL program were the Rooney family. So that's how I got here.

It was an ambassador.

Yes, that's right. And that's how I ended up here in Pittsburgh and learned all the rules of American football very quickly. And so it was a short stay. I was supposed to be six months. And here I am. 16 and a half years later, so I Pittsburgh has become my new home. I love living here. I have to say I view it as a small town in a big city. I love the neighborhoods. I live in a small neighborhood. I love being able to walk to my local bakery or local grocery store. And knowing the small business owners connecting with them. So it is Pittsburgh has been a very good city for me. And I've lived in other cities over the years and lived overseas. So but this is probably the longest I've lived outside of Ireland. That's great.

And Mr. Rooney, may he rest in peace? Yes. Is an on this St. Patrick's Day, that he would be very happy to know that you were here.

Thank you. Thank you.

So let's talk about let's talk about the the the center. Let's talk about when it started, you know how you're funded, what your priorities are. You start wherever you want.

Okay, so our center started back in 2005. So this past fall, we celebrated our 15 year anniversary. And Shannon has a long history of supporting women where women's college for many, many years and and then when co Ed undergraduate A few years ago, so we had a center for women in politics and the president at the time, Dr. Barzani was very interested in supporting women in business as well. So they established a center for Women's Entrepreneurship. And this is how small the words is Audrey as the the person they brought in to run the center, Dr. Mary Ruby came from Minnesota. And she was a running as similar center out in Minnesota. So she came to Pittsburgh to open the center. I was here on a different program at the time in Pittsburgh. But Dr. Ruby had done her PhD in Ireland a few years before that. And, and her second reader on her PhD was my direct boss at the University of Limerick. So my boss sends me a text. And she says, Go and meet this wonderful lady that I worked with. And she's coming to Pittsburgh to open this center. And that's where you are. So that's how it worked, you know, so,


I ended up you know, meeting Dr. Ruby became good friends, I ended up then joining the university and the center, and have been very enjoyed my stay there. And, and you know, we've had changes over the years really expanded our center. I think one of the key things is we're supported by the university. And we're also supported by a number of different foundations here and corporate sponsors as well. But we back in 2016, our center applied to the federal government, the SBA for funding under a program they call women business centers. And so we were awarded that grant, it's a five year program. And we just got renewed this past year. So and that's where partially funded as well to the federal government. And we're one of I believe, 130. Now women business centers throughout the US. So some of your guests might be familiar with the Small Business Development Centers at University of Pittsburgh and UK. We're very similar to a program like them. Ours just focuses on supporting women.

And so I love the way you say Minnesota, it almost sounds like you spend some time in Minnesota as well. accent is delightful. And so you know the time the work that you're doing, give us some examples because we run a lot of you do a lot of things, right. I mean, I know that you run You run some breakfast, you run networking, but you also run classes. Crap. Yeah,

welcome women to help him at old stages. So you know, and obviously in the past year, things have changed quite a bit. But our programming has always looked at to support the women, wherever woman wherever she is true, her or her business cycle. So if you're thinking about starting a business, or maybe you have a job right now, and you're looking to transition, we have programming. Right now, it's online training programs to help you we call it concept launch to think take your idea concept and how you would launch it. And then we have programming depending, we usually do zero to two years in business, two to five years in business, five to 10, and 10. Beyond, right, so then we have some programming specifically for businesses in different sectors. So we've worked with a lot of programming right now supporting the food industry. We've also worked with creative artistic entrepreneurs as well. So different programming, and then we do counseling and counseling as well. And that's where the SBA funding has really helped us to provide one on one business counseling, which is all free to the business owner. And then technical assistance. So probably what differentiates us is our technical assistance, we have a team of technical assistance experts, not staff, but people we contract with. And so attorneys, CPAs, accountants, digital marketing, website developers, and, you know, all HR experts, branding and marketing, we actually have a funding clinic as well. And diversity certifications. So if a woman is interested in getting certified as a woman owned minority or veteran owned businesses, we can assist with that as well.

So we've put out a link. Thank you, Michelle, put out on the link about the counselors, as well as Chatham and the and the actual site. So anyone who wants to contact you, yeah. What are what are some of the things that you have seen in terms of patterns and kinds of companies? Can you talk about that? Are there

I mean, you know, I would say a lot of our businesses that we work with are in the service industry. And so they are supporting, you know, services that we all avail of, and I think one of the things that surprises people sometimes is they don't know that a lot of the products or services they buy are from a woman owned business. So and, and COVID-19, then has infected that those businesses dramatically. So they're often working with people. So whether it's, you know, going to local store to buy food, to buy beach products, to buy supplies, you know, could be a hair salon, so a lot of mainstream businesses, but some of them are professional services, as well. We have clients who are, you know, attorneys, CPAs, and starting their own practices, maybe they've worked in companies for a number of years and wanted to go out and start their own. And one of the things actually, one of the trends we have seen, and you brought it up in your events before is, we've seen people who are in the medical field of occupational therapy, physical therapy, a large number of clients going into those areas, but also those who have worked as professional medical doctors who've gone out and launched their own practices, and do private pay. So they've worked with me and do what we call aldicarb private practices. So we've actually had quite a few clients go there. And this past year, the businesses and I would say I mean, we've had businesses affected by the pandemic, but we've also seen a lot of clients starting businesses, and our startup training classes are full 100 word,


Our six week concept launch class, we capped it at 25. It's full, we have another one starting next week, it's full again. So and some of those women are leaving industries that they worked with some being pushed out, some are being pulled. But you know, the pandemic has seen a lot of changes. You know, we call it the doggie pandemic, in some cases, because I think in our last startup training class, Audrey, we had four or five different businesses that were catering to like the dog market, dog walking dog.

I think it's still a good market.

Oh, yes. I mean, it's a huge market, but I think you know, everybody during the pandemic or a lot of people bought got a dog. So, yeah,

that's probably true. Well, and plus, you know, they need some support for their dogs correct. What you know, it's interesting though, because research has shown I think by catalyst out of New York City, that meant that the amount of women that are have exited the workforce during the pandemic has been extremely high. Like, it's it's I don't know, the exact numbers, but I saw it on a graph. And it's a combination of, you know, childcare, right. You know, being able to have the kind of, we have flexibility. But the point is, is that the inflexibility sometimes for schools, and you know, some of the things there that women really are leaving the workforce in significant droves. Okay, so good. Put it in there. 100.

True, I mean, the number of organizations and it was only on 60 minutes, actually, last last Sunday night, a report on women leaving the workforce and many factors for that, sadly, but my sisters have experienced that with childcare needs as well. And I think the pandemic has really heightened the challenges for the childcare industry. And that exists is this is really heightened, you know, so there's a bigger demand on childcare right now than there ever was before. And so it has to do with supply and demand, you know, schools, remote learning, you know, we're all maybe working remotely, which is works for some people, not for everybody. But you know, schools being remote, and there's a challenge for how do I go to work if my child is at home, you know, so there's that. And also, for the business owner, you know, you're trying to run a business, but you're also trying to take care of your kids and maybe homeschooling or helping them with their schoolwork, taking care of family, you know, getting you're trying to get vaccines for your parents online every night, you know, so there's a lot of challenges there. Yeah, so, um,

so do you think that that has spawned the interest? And people putting out their own shingle?

I do, I do. But I would also remind, I mean, think a lot of women have lost their jobs, you know, so part of it is being at home and having to take care of children. But also, you know, a lot of women, the industry is women working and, you know, have let people go, and, you know, we've seen it where a lot of companies have decided to go remotely, and and that could be the financial institutions, the banking, we know, I mean, I'm sure how many when's the last time someone walked into a bank. So a lot of people have started to go remote. That means sometimes people lose their jobs because of technology. But we have also seen women who have decided to maybe take early retirement, we've actually had a number of teachers in our last program, as well as decided, you know why? And they've taken a step back, and we consider during the pandemic, what's important to them. And in terms of starting businesses, I would say there's, you know, I'm thinking there was a few that were looking at tutoring businesses and helping, because even though kids may be doing remote learning, they're falling behind, you know, so they may need extra support. And so yeah, so there's a lot of push and pull factors in that. And but you're right, women have been impacted dramatically through this pandemic.

And so you see women across, most of these women are building businesses that are Main Street businesses, or they

offer professional services as well, we have women who manufacture items. For those businesses, we've seen the challenges they have is sourcing supply of materials, you know, and, you know, I'm sure that you've seen that with many of your clients as well, when the pandemic hit, you know, supply chain was dramatically affected as well. You know, whether you're selling, you know, within the United States or within Europe, or in the world of sources of supply and workforce in the New Age, depending on what you're doing, you have two changes to your workforce, and many workforce may not feel safe coming back to work. Like every night, all businesses, like a hairdresser cannot cut your hair remotely. So you know, there's a lot of businesses that really have to think about, okay, how do I put safe measures in place? And the other thing is, remember, we had restrictions on how many people indoors and outdoors as well. So one of the industries where we saw a lot of impact was us obviously in the hospitality entertainment industry. You know, so businesses, event planners, you know, you know, I my niece was getting married, we had to reschedule her wedding three times and went from 100 people to five in the end. And so event event planners, you know, caterers, you know, their market just disappeared overnight.

And pam, pam office putting out in front she's exactly right, that the hospitality industry is down to 4 million, and most of them have by women. What's really interesting though, is I'm starting to read that people who have been in the hospitality industry, don't ever imagine going back, I feel like that is a phenomena that we're going to experience. And I'm hoping that those women have opportunities, not just for new jobs, but for new careers. That includes entrepreneurship.

And I would say one of the things we're looking at now in our training program is, you know, this pandemic has really showed how important and my background is in finance. So I should, you know, say that before I go forward, so I'm always looking at numbers, you know, clients, and this pandemic really showed how important access to cash is, you cannot play pay your employees with supplies, right? So access to cash is really important to liquidity is really important. Most small businesses, their cash reserve was very small. So maybe no interruptions for a week or two, maybe a moment, ask for relief from your landlord on your rent for a month or two. But this, we're now a year into this pandemic. And some of those industries, especially in the hospitality, they're nowhere near where they were a year ago, you know, before this happened, and so their interest rates have dramatically changed. I think the other thing is changes in consumer behavior, you know, and consumer confidence, Will people feel confident going back into large groups back into gyms, you know, back into those back into a movie theater full of people. You know, I personally have to tell you, I have not been indoors in you know, I've supported local restaurants with takeout uncomfortable sitting outside, but not necessarily. So right now. So a lot of his confidence as well for people to will that bring people back. And, you know, people always keep saying, oh, back to normal, you know, well, it's not normal, it's going to be a different environment, a different workplace for all of us. And there's good change brings around, you know, changes always bring around opportunity. We've seen that with all challenges that are out there. So there's going to be changes, but I think you need to adapt and change to those and more people selling online looking for opportunities to sell their products and services. And I will say, you know, because we are funded to the SBA, we have worked with a lot of clients on the federal programs that are out there to support businesses. And even though it got out to a really rocky start, and B and to be fair, you know, they were, you know, the SBA was given a mandate to get this new program called a PPP out very quickly. And the PPP has saved a lot of businesses. I mean, I got an email this morning from a business who just got approved for her second round of people. And she would be honest, and she said straight out, I would not be here without us. So it has helped, and there's been a lot of changes to the PPP loan program, and they are favorable for small businesses, and if any businesses on here today and has an applied and is not sure if you should apply, reach out to our center, that's one of the services we provide Audrey is to help us good. Don't have to be women business owners, we help all business owners, if they are unsure about if they should apply, the program does and close at the end of March. We're hoping Congress will extend it to June since there is money left in the program. And we shall see, but it is a lifesaver for a lot of people.

Yeah, I mean, you know, the habits form, right? There's there's a rule like a habit takes what like 90 days, and here we were a year. So it will be very fascinating to see if this was a habit, an aberration, you know, in terms of our consumer behaviors, and what what has changed there. But you what challenges are there any theme that you see in terms of challenges of the people that are that attend your programs? Are there any common themes? Is there any and not in terms of making a generalization? But like, Are there different inflection points in their journey of becoming, you know, starting a company? Is it when they've reached a certain milestone? Are there like certain patterns?

Yeah, I do. I mean, I access to funding has always been a challenge for business owners and access to funding for startups has always been a challenge. Now And remember, you know, a lot of lenders have given out a lot of money to these PPP programs. They are hesitant and supporting startups is hard, tactfully. We have new platforms now like crowdfunding, which you've covered a lot in your program here, which does help startups. I think, you know, one of the things businesses will have to be more conservative in their starting up process now. Before, I would say another challenge has been, you know, in terms of scaling their businesses, Audrey, only about 3% of women owned businesses across the United States make it to a million dollars and beyond. Sometimes, that is because of the industries that they're in. Okay. So, you know, if you're in Main Street businesses and things like that, unless you and it all depends on how you start to mean to go on. So if you build a business to sell, which a lot of your clients do, and technology, and that's a very different of building a business for a living, right. So it is understanding that and how you finance your business, and going on and understanding that money costs money, you know, you I won't say this is a general term, but you know, people can be risk adverse and don't want to take on debt. And in order to grow, sometimes you have to take on debt. Or you have to take in somebody, maybe as an investor in your business and be open to that. But you have to be looking for opportunities to grow. And in those industries and markets, we are seeing more women getting involved in technology, getting involved in healthcare, you've covered it in your programming, which is great. And those are, you know, and you have to look at industries that are scaling, that are growing and really expanding. So we hope to get more women involved in that. And that goes back to the education system, it goes back to, you know, access to those opportunities.

Yeah, I mean, it's not easy. It's just as in many ways, it's just as hard to build a lifestyle business as it is to build a business, that's gonna have $100 million exit, you face some of the similar things, particularly at the early stage. And you have to have a lot of confidence, you have to have a lot of confidence and surround yourself with amazing people who can help you. And you're just one of the tools and definitely an important part of trying to help people through that. So before we wrap up, how have you pivoted? How have you pivoted over this last year?


it's interesting, because this time last year, so we have you mentioned earlier, our women business leaders breakfast series, we usually do that second Friday of every month, we have a woman or panel, women speak in different industries, and, you know, mentoring and sharing their expertise and how they lead their companies. And going forward. Well, we had to move that from an in person event, which was 100 100, you know, to vert, up to a live stream online. And, you know, has worked very well, it has worked because our audience, in women, and you know, are at home, and their children are at home. And so that has helped, we've moved all our training online and our counseling, either by phone or online. So it has worked, we do our our counseling is available during the day and in the evening, time and weekend as well. Because we have to think of the working woman and to support them. So that has done we have, we also have a membership program with our center, where we you know, we have different events every month for our members. And that has worked well as well. We've moved that virtually online and offered more benefits. We've done a lot of training and helping clients grow their businesses online. You know, I think that even this pandemic has shown business owners is you have to become comfortable with technology, you know, it just you just have to, you know, become comfortable with it, embrace it, bringing your business, automate things as much as you can streamline. So, so yeah, so we've we've done a lot in that area. You know, we'll hope to get back to some in person events later this fall a bit later summer fall, but there'll be small groups, Audrey, there won't be large, 100 people, there'll be smaller. Yeah. But it hasn't really stopped us from providing our programming.

And, you know,

I think I was looking at, you know, because we're federally funded, we do have to report quite regularly on our on our impacts. And, you know, in terms of tracking clients getting access to funding, and just in terms of in the last eight months, we were looking at close to, you know, 5 million in federal funding that our clients got, whether it's through the PPP or idle,

that's good.

So it is getting out there. I mean, but any any Loan Program, or any one of these grants are out there, you know, there's always paperwork, and it's figuring out how to fill out that paperwork.

Right. So as we wrap up, do you think there's anything that I didn't ask you or there's any thing that you want to share that you think is pretty important to the work you do?

Yeah, well, I just want to you know, for our audience here today to to you know, if you are know a woman, you are a woman yourself or you have a friend or colleague who is interested in starting business or has a business, please refer them onto us. Most of our services are free or low cost. We've a great membership program. And you know, we do events every month for our members to support them to help them network and grow their businesses and a support network as well. And but also, you know, we do support mail on businesses. So you know, don't feel that our services aren't available. We do support mail on businesses. You know, I was just working with mail on businesses yesterday, on applying for the hospitality grant through our Governor Wolf has put out. So I mean, so there's grant programs out there as well, we help clients with that. And, you know, whether it could be a technology problem or an application or a question, and you know, it's just a real person to ask, you know, that's what we're there for. But, you know, some of the misconceptions people often have is they think they have to be a graduate or Chatham. No, you don't. You know, we support women all throughout Western PA, we have clients all in many, many counties.

That's great. Well, thank you. How are you going to celebrate St. Patrick's Day today?

Well, you know, essentially, I have an Irish friend here from Ohio, who's visiting this afternoon. So we might have we might have a small beverage on the porch and and probably that will be about it. It'll be pretty quiet one, you know, so. But like I said, we can always make up for it next year.

So So it's, it's a good story. Thank you for sharing them thanks to Mr. Rooney and his legacy in all things in terms of his love of Ireland and Pittsburgh for your being here, which is way cool. So I thank everyone for being here today. Stay safe, don't drive and drink and Happy St. Patrick's Day. Thank you. Thank you.

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