Empowering Women in Business

Women’s Economic Ventures—also known as WEV—is a nonprofit organization, serving Ventura and Santa Barbara counties, which provides business training, consulting and loans to help entrepreneurs start, grow and thrive in business.

“WEV’s mission is to create an equitable and just society through the economic empowerment of women—while its programs are targeted at women, men are also encouraged to participate,” explains Nicki Parr, the organization’s Business Resilience Specialist.

What makes WEV special is the quality of in-person service that is given and the strength of its community, such as clients, volunteers, donors or staff, Parr says, noting that “I love WEV” is a phrase “we are delighted to hear on a regular basis.”

This was especially true in December 2017 when the Thomas Fire blazed through Ventura and Santa Barbara counties and was deemed the largest wildfire in modern state history. The timing was particularly unfortunate around the holidays, which is typically the most profitable time for businesses.

“WEV recognized that many of its clients were struggling with cash flow and were in need of support,” recalls Parr, adding that this became even more of an issue after the Montecito debris flow, in which pouring rain following the Thomas Fire caused mud and boulders from the Santa Ynez Mountains to flow down creeks and valleys into Montecito, moving at speeds of up to 20 miles per hour.

WEV quickly sprang into action, putting in place the capacity to make “Quick Response Loans” of up to $10,000, as well as secured funding to hire additional staff.

“We were then able to provide economically impacted small business owners with dedicated financial and business support; as well we help them navigate the government-funded disaster loan applications,” Parr says. “Typically, there is very little assistance focused upon small businesses following a disaster—a fact that we are trying to help change.”

Thanks to a generous donation from Wells Fargo Bank, WEV gave out 60 grants to small businesses in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties on the anniversary of the Thomas Fire, including Stacey Moss, owner of Moss Botanicals in Ojai, who thanked WEV for providing “a level of comfort and support in knowing I can move forward with marketing strategies to generate sales.”

Claudia Rucker, owner of Aqua Skin & Nail Care in Santa Barbara, said receiving the business recovery grant “gave us the valuable support, connections and funds that we needed so we could proactively implement new revenue streams that would help generate revenue outside of our brick and mortar retail store.”

Liz Fish, owner of TwoFish Digital in Ojai, said the WEV grant “has been nothing short of life-changing,” adding that the money will be used to upgrade equipment, obtain business consulting, improve their marketing and plan for bringing on employees. “The money is helping us dream and plan for growth after coming out of a rocky year, something I didn’t think was possible.”

For Jessica Simon Baggarly, owner of Tinkle Belle Diaper Service in Santa Barbara, “this grant has allowed me to invest in growth. This is obviously key to success, but sometimes it’s a seemingly impossible step to take. We’ve brought on professional help to ensure that our efforts are clear and effective. We now have a team working together to achieve our goals! This kind of support can be so rare.”

In related efforts, WEV is planning to award 30 more grants in June to businesses that were impacted by the Woolsey Fire, which ignited in November 2018 and burned 96,949 acres of land.

“In addition to the financial support, WEV has provided a series of free trainings around business resilience to everyone that applied for the grants,” Parr says. Additionally, “WEV has provided several hundred hours of free advice and has collaborated with many different agencies and organizations to advocate on behalf of—and provide support to—economically impacted business owners.”

Ultimately, WEV views small business “as being synonymous with community—by helping small business owners get stronger and more resilient, we can help communities become stronger and more resilient,” Parr emphasizes.

Furthermore, “we are also huge proponents of financial education and financial literacy, that individuals can feel more empowered and in control when they have a better grasp of their finances and what constitutes good financial behavior,” she adds. “At the same time, we want to encourage everyone to continue to support small businesses through their spending habits to ensure that money is reinvested locally for the greater good of the community.”

For more information, visit WEVOnline.org.