NASHVILLE — If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in any field, as some experts suggest, Mildred Walters is an expert three times over for building successful small businesses.
She brings more than 31,000 hours to her position as program director for the Pathway Women’s Business Center. She came out of retirement to take the job in February 2015, and already 168 women have come to the center for counseling or classes. Walters was previously the director of the Nashville Business Incubation Center and has taught at Tennessee State University.
The Women’s Business Center is an initiative of Pathway Lending, a 501(c)3 company that serves women and minorities.
“The mission of Pathway Lending is to work with an underserved market that may not have been able to get loans in commercial markets,” Walters said.
In 2014, Pathway Lending submitted a proposal to the Small Business Administration to expand its work in underserved communities. The grant was awarded in October 2014, and Walters came on as director earlier this year.
“There is a strict separation between the lender and the women’s center,” Walters said.
The goal of the Women’s Business Center is to help women “create strong structures for their businesses, so their businesses can grow,” Walters said. There are 10 women’s business centers in the country, including one in Chattanooga.
Amy Bunton, president of the Women’s Center, primarily raises funds for the center. But this year, the center is “friend-raising,” by not charging fees for courses and other support this year.
Since the beginning of June, the center has offered a one-day course on writing a business plan, as well as a six-week course on the entrepreneurial myth. A class of 10 women is reading The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber and discussing “why most small businesses don’t work and what to do about it.”
Taking the E-Myth course at the Women’s Business Center has “caused me to re-evaluate the business systems at my company,” said Jennifer Allen, executive director of Paper and Ink Art, a business specializing in the sale of pens for calligraphers. “The insight has been wonderful.”
She said it has been great to meet other women who are in business.
“It’s good to learn from women who are at various stages in their businesses,” she said. “It has been very beneficial. I am now starting to look at other course offerings and meeting with Mildred [Walters] one on one for coaching.”
Walters said she is also matching people for mentorships. “I match women with someone in the industry they are trying to break into,” she said.
Courses on finances and legal structures are offered each month, as well as a once-a-month coffee chat with business women from the region.
Walters said she is most excited about upcoming courses for women. One on cyber-liability will focus on how small businesses can mitigate the risks.
“We like to bring information to small businesses that large corporations will have,” she said.
In August, the center will offer the Women’s Automotive Academy, a four-day session for women who want to enter the industry as suppliers. The women want to know about catering, content writing or planning trade shows for the automotive industry.
“They are looking for another revenue stream,” Walters said.
Walters said Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen and General Motors will all have representatives at the academy. The women will also hear from three people who have already won contracts discussing how they got them.
“Women are opening businesses at record rates,” Walters said. “But they are bringing in fewer employees. We want to help them grow and bring on more employees.”
More information about courses and the Women’s Business Center is available at www.pahtwaywbc.org
Sandra Long Weaver is a writer based in Tennessee.