Two years in, the Rockville Women’s Business Center is providing counseling, resources, training and other business development support to entrepreneurs whom officials said demonstrate the changing way women are approaching business ownership.
Last week, the center marked its second anniversary with a celebration at VisArts at Rockville Town Square featuring elected officials, business leaders and local success stories from among the more than 1,200 entrepreneurs served by the center so far.
The celebration recognized the success of entrepreneurs through their stories and through the center’s service numbers.
The center “has a real and tangible impact on local entrepreneurs, helping them take the next step to start their business as well as grow their business,” said Laurie Boyer, executive director of Rockville Economic Development, Inc., which houses the RWBC in its offices at 95 Monroe Street in Rockville Town Center.
The demand from entrepreneurs who take advantage of RWBC services shows a shift in the way women look at business ownership, said Lori Gillen, the center’s managing director.
“Women are now seeing entrepreneurship as a career choice, as an option,” she said.
The center launched in November 2010 after a 10-month feasibility study to identify the needs of women-owned businesses. Citi Foundation, the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development, the City of Rockville and corporate donors provide funding for RWBC.
The center has helped foster entrepreneurship in a variety of ways, including through support of the StartRight! Business Plan Competition, which REDI launched in 2003 to provide women-owned startups with coaching on their business plans and the opportunity to win a $5,000 prize.
The center’s clients include women striking out on their own after years of working for large companies and women in traditionally female-dominated industries such as childcare who want to learn how to navigate the business world.
To that end, the center recently launched a website that features online courses in accounting and finance, college readiness, law and legal fields, technology and more. Beginning early next year, the center plans to offer a series of workshops and training specifically designed for childcare providers.
The center is not just for Rockville—or just for women. While located in the county government seat, it is aimed at serving all of Montgomery County, where 96 percent of businesses have 49 or fewer employees, said Steven A. Silverman, the county’s economic development director. Eighty-eight percent of the entrepreneurs using the center’s resources have been women.
“And there’s that 12 percent,” Silverman joked during remarks at Thursday’s celebration.
Among the 12 percent is Rockville City Councilman Mark Pierzchala, who said he has attended more than 10 RWBC seminars.
“Just to have this resource local, focused on Montgomery County, it’s such a great asset,” Pierzchala said.
After being laid off, in 2010 Pierzchala founded a consulting service that helps government and private clients develop and conduct data collection surveys.
“I had to start from the ground up—how do you get an [Employer Identification Number], how do you register as a business?” he said.
The center has been inexpensive, and invaluable, he said. “I’ve learned from people,” he said.
Pierzchala’s business is international, consulting clients working in Africa, Australia, the Netherlands and the Philippines. With RWBC, “My business isn’t here, but everything I need to run my business is in Rockville,” he said.
Karen Zuckerman delivered a keynote address highlighting her own local success story. Zuckerman founded marketing agency HZDG in the basement of her Rockville home in the 1980s and grew it to 100 employees with offices in Rockville and Manhattan and international clients including Volkswagen, USA Today, the Washington Redskins and the Washington Capitals. (HZDG created the Caps’ well-known “Rock the Red” campaign.) In 2009, Zuckerman launched Dormify, which markets decorating ideas for dorm rooms and apartments to fashion-conscious young women.
Zuckerman said she wonders what a resource like RWBC would have meant to her agency in her early days as a graphic designer making her way in business. Just having a place to go to get advice on developing a business plan would have been helpful, she said.
“Any opportunity for people to have a mentor—people take so much less time if people are there to help you,” she said.
When budding entrepreneurs look to her as a mentor, “I’m sending people here,” Zuckerman said of RWBC.
As more launch and grow businesses—and in turn hire employees— they can have an even greater impact on the economy, Gillen said.
“My goal is to have more women like Karen Zuckerman who start in a basement and end up with offices throughout the world,” Gillen said.