From the July 2008 issue of Entrepreneur

We've heard ad nauseum about old boys' clubs, but what about new women's networks? PowerLink is an organization that facilitates connections between women business owners to help their businesses grow profitably.

It matches women-owned businesses in the Pittsburgh area with a custom team of advisors who help them achieve growth objectives. Panels meet quarterly and usually consist of a CEO, CPA, strategic marketer, an HR professional and a banker or attorney. "We've added advisory services such as Financial Boot Camp, an intensive one-day finance workshop; monthly PowerHour Lunches; PowerLink Prot�g�e, targeted at earlier stage companies; and CEO Circles, our peer-to-peer alumni advisory program," says Lee Ann Munger, executive director of PowerLink. The program is also offered nationally as AthenaPowerLink, a program of the Athena Foundation .

A notable but atypical PowerLink client is Lani Lazzari, 14, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Simple Sugars, which manufactures and sells a line of all-natural, handmade facial, body and foot scrubs. Lazzari founded the company in 2006 after making the scrubs for herself and eventually discovering a market for the products. "I met Lani through her banker, and I was immediately impressed by her maturity," says Munger. "It was clear she was very serious about her business."

Lazzari was accepted into the PowerLink Prot�g�e program and paired with seasoned businesswoman Geri Mataya, president of urban retreat Spa Uptown. "I know how difficult it was for me as a startup to learn where to go for information and contacts," says Mataya. "Since PowerLink helped me with some of my business issues, I thought it would be great to serve on the PowerLink Panel for someone else."

Mataya admits that when she first met Lazzari, she was shocked to learn her age. "She was sweet, intelligent, very well-spoken and determined to make her business a success," says Mataya. "It was inspiring to see someone so young with so many goals. I liked her story: making her scrubs because she had sensitive skin, how she gave them away for gifts, her involvement with charities, her sense of design and packaging."

In addition to helping Lazzari reach her sales goal of $80,000 this year, Mataya offers personal experiences and insight to steer Lazzari in the right direction. Says Lazzari, "I am taking the advice Geri gives me and using it to be sure my plan for putting Simple Sugars in spas will appeal to other spa owners."

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