YWCA Women's Business Center

The Women’s Business Center provides workshops, classes, counseling and capital to emerging business leaders.

The Women’s Business Center of Southern Arizona was recently awarded the 2017 Women’s Business Center of Excellence and Innovation Award from the U.S. Small Business Administration, making it the top center of excellence in the region including Arizona, California, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam. 

The WBC is a program of the Microbusiness Advancement Center, acquired in 2015 by the YWCA Southern Arizona. The free program helps women start and grow their businesses through services offered in English and Spanish. 

“Thirty years ago it was still difficult for women to strike out on their own,” said WBC director Victor Mercado said.

Last year the WBC had $63,000 in access to capital for clients and this year they had $500,000. A few services the WBC offers includes business classes and technical training, free one-on-one business counseling and access to capital. 

The WBC won the award, “for leveling the playing field for women entrepreneurs through programming such as innovative panel discussions aimed at shattering women’s stereotypes, for making world-class innovation tools accessible to Spanish-speaking communities and for dramatically increasing access to capital for its clients,” according to a press release from the YWCA.

The WBC has done about 7,000 hours of training for folks of Southern Arizona, he added.

The only requirement for the programs and services offered by the WBC is participants first go through an hour-long orientation to understand the process. 

Mercado said their goal is to focus on entrepreneur development. Highlighted below are three women who work with the WBC. 


Starting her own business

Currently working as a teaching fellow at BASIS Tucson Primary, Laura Horley is also in the process of starting her own business with a partner. They’re looking to open a mixed used bookstore, bar, coffee shop and community space.

 “We want to create a warm, welcoming neighborhood place that will serve as a hub of Tucson’s literary community,” she said. The business will be called, “Nobody’s Books,” and they’re hoping to have the doors open late summer or early fall. 

Since graduating from Lewis and Clark College with a bachelor’s in English, Horley received her master’s in fiction writing at CUNY Brooklyn College. 

Horley began working with the WBC in February. She went to the required orientation and scheduled a follow-up meeting with Mercado. Since then, she said he has introduced her and her partner to various people in the community with whom  they’re working to achieve their goals.

“The WBC helped us map out our business using a canvas, and then helped us draft and hone our business plan,” Horley said. “Victor talked us through our initial 12-month cash flow projections, which was incredibly helpful.” 

Tucson is a special place that is on the brink of a lot of change she said. She thinks it’s great that the WBC focuses on women, but it still open to any member of the community. 

“The WBC helps ensure that the people bringing about that change are diverse members of the Tucson community, not just large-scale corporate developers who see an investment opportunity but don’t care about the long lasting effects of their businesses on the city,” she said.


Buying out the boss

After working in computer application support for a company that sells software, Sarah VanPelt decided she wanted to buy the business. 

About two years ago her friend directed her to the WBC to help plot a course. 

“I did not know where to start,” she said.

Mercado made it possible for her to work with a business broker in Tucson. During the process VanPelt said she learned the protocol and ins and outs of buying a business. 

“I am currently in the process of negotiations and it looks favorable that I will be the new owner within the year,” she said. 

VanPelt graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in English literature from Louisiana State University in 1998. She describes her relationship with the WBC as one of extreme gratitude.  

“I continue to have so much gratitude for the part that WBC has played in the growing journey and exciting adventure of my life,” VanPelt said.


Moving up the ladder

For over 25 years, Kate Hiller has worked for nonprofits focused on fundraising and marketing. She now works independently with nonprofits and small businesses assisting them with planning, creating clear organizational and communication structures and establishing strong fundraising programs. 

The WBC is helping her transition from being an employee to managing her own business. “For me it’s not so much the nuts and bolts that is important, but to dream in an innovative way,” she said.

Hiller has a bachleor’s in community and organizational planning from Prescott College. She began working with the WBC in January, through a workshop that she attended on the business model canvas. 

“These are not social service agencies—they are social engagement networks that support and train women to be powerful members of our community,” she said. 

“When I attended the workshop, I was inspired by the women in the room.”