From the March 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

Just as you can look to Polaris for guidance, so can women-owned businesses now find entrepreneurial direction from the winners of the North Star Awards program, established by the National Association of Women's Business Advocates.

That's because the honored organizations, as you'll see in the profiles that follow, have made strong commitments to the advancement of women's businesses. The three North Star recipients fall into the categories of local, state and national, respectively:

  • Small Business Development Center (SBDC), University of Scranton, Pennsylvania: As director Elaine Tweedy explains, "Knowing the awards program we designed promoted women in our area, we thought it would be a perfect fit to apply for the North Star award." Much to her surprise, the SBDC won the 1997 local award.

That's due mostly to the Award for Woman Entrepreneur (AWE) program established in 1996 by the Scranton SBDC--which also happens to be the only program of its kind serving the Northeast region. In just two years, AWE has recognized nine local women-owned businesses meeting the following criteria: The business is at least 3 years old, a woman owns at least 51 percent of the business, and the company is based in one of the eight counties served by the Scranton SBDC. The center also expects to eventually include five additional counties--thus garnering even more exposure for AWE winners.

Supporting women in their business ventures extends beyond AWE. The center's estimated 40 percent female clientele also gets full-service assistance in launching new companies.

  • Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community (MCWWC), Augusta, Maine: Women entrepreneurs in Maine have a lot to be thankful for, especially with all the goings-on over at the MCWWC. First, consider New Ventures, an intensive, 90-hour training program designed to help women write business plans and gain advanced technical assistance. The program recently expanded to include special classes for refugees, welfare recipients and the unemployed, as well as a small loan fund for all graduates.

Second, the MCWWC helps unemployed women start small businesses while they collect unemployment insurance. In May, the center will launch a new program to offer female welfare recipients entrepreneurial training and technical assistance. Another new program in the works: the Individual Development Account, which will help low-income women save money to start a small business.

"I think [winning] the North Star Award means we'll be encouraged to continue," says Eloise Vitelli, associate director for the MCWWC. "Any time you get positive feedback for things you've done, it's an incentive to keep going. That's how we're going to see this--as encouragement to keep moving forward."

  • Office of Enterprise Development, U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), Washington, DC: Although its third annual conference will be held at headquarters later this month (in observance of March as Women's History Month), the GSA promotes women's entrepreneurship year-round.

In keeping with President Clinton's goal to award women entrepreneurs 5 percent of all government contracts, the GSA continually reaches out to women--through nationwide forums, round-table discussions, seminars and individual counseling sessions. The GSA's goal? To inspire women to apply for and win contracts with the U.S. government. Here's how the numbers stack up: In 1996, the GSA awarded more than $222 million in contract dollars to more than 8,000 women-owned businesses.

Impressive? Sure it is--and last year, this North Star recipient also targeted the top U.S. cities known for high concentrations of female entrepreneurs and hosted educational workshops. Later this year, the GSA hopes to assist in direct contract certification for the SBA's 8(a) loan program. Says associate administrator Dietra L. Ford, "We want to get the word out nationwide that the GSA is anxious to do business with women-owned businesses."

Contact Sources

Maine Centers for Women, Work and Community, (207) 621-3432, fax: (207) 621-3429

NAWBA, (312) 814-7176, http://www.nawba.org

Office of Enterprise Development, (888) OED-IGSA, http://www.gsa.gov/oed

Small Business Development Center, (800) 829-7232, fax: (717) 941-4053