A variety of business organizations and networks thrive in communities throughout south central Minnesota. One such organization, Women Executives in Business (W.E.B.), is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. W.E.B. is an area-wide networking and educational organization for women who are, or aspire to be, business owners, entrepreneurs, executives or managers. W.E.B.’s objectives are to encourage and support members by providing an opportunity to gather together for educational programs that help develop and improve the growth of a member’s business. The 24 current members represent 21 business areas.
W.E.B. collaborates with other organizations in honoring women in the community, provides members with scholarships for continuing education, and of course, offers opportunities for business referrals. The most important aspect, according to charter member and past president Linda Hachfeld, is that members feel a camaraderie within the organization and an understanding of women’s business issues and concerns, as well as having a “safe place” to discuss aspects of their business, especially issues unique to business women.
“Before W.E.B., there was no group in Mankato with which I, as a start-up business owner, could discuss business issues,” she says.
The idea for W.E.B. began in the late 1980s, inspired by both casual monthly breakfast meetings of several women business owners and an outreach program by the Rochester-based Women’s Network of Entrepreneurial Training. Hachfeld, who saw how the two groups could be linked to benefit both, reflects, “The timing couldn’t have been better. Our casual group would shore up its purpose by moving into learning stronger business principles, and WNET would benefit by increasing its outreach.
“We wouldn’t be here without community involvement,” she continues. “In our formative years, a 15-member Advisory Council was established with a representative from three Chambers of Commerce (Mankato, St. Peter and Le Sueur), three area banks, the instructor of the Small Business Program at South Central Technical College and the Mankato Small Business Development Center. Half of the Advisory Council’s members were women business owners.”
With grant funding from the Southeastern Minnesota Initiative Fund, a business needs survey was developed and sent to 158 women business owners in the three counties. A return of 54 percent, the survey results showed that 65 percent of respondents did not have a business plan. Many asked for help in staying motivated, time management and resolving communications problems, as well as strategic growth, financing, sales strategies, writing a business plan and technical assistance. Even more revealing was that 84 percent of respondents said they desired to attend educational and support meetings on issues that pertained to their business.
And W.E.B. was born.
In 1993, charter member Susan Chambers, an attorney, wrote W.E.B.’s articles of incorporation and by-laws. W.E.B. filed documents for nonprofit status, receiving it the following year. W.E.B. now meets nine times a year, September through May. Most meetings are held at women-owned businesses, such as the W.O.W. Zone Entertainment Center in Mankato, as well as at the Minnesota State University Mankato Center for Innovation & Entrepreneurship, which is directed by W.E.B. board member Yvonne Cariveau, who also owns Internet Connections, a company she founded 26 years ago. Three current W.E.B. members are 25-year veterans—Hachfeld, the owner of the nutrition and health publishing company Appletree Press, Karen Palmer, former owner of Hugs N Kids, who moved into retail management, and Chambers.
Hachfeld says W.E.B. has certainly evolved over a quarter century. “We broadened our membership to include women who may not own a business but are instrumental (or seek to be) in running one, perhaps as an executive or manager. We engage our members in providing a business profile of their company, sharing what motivated them to start their business, what’s working, what they find challenging, and what their vision is for their company.” W.E.B. members share their business story. Heidi Wyn, owner of Curiosi-Tea House, who presented the program “Tea 101,” said, “It’s encouraging to be able to share my story and to network.”
Hachfeld says, “Other members can chime in with tips and suggestions of what helped them when they faced similar challenges. We also invite experts, such as accountants, wealth managers and business coaches, from the broader community to address areas in which we can all benefit—latest tax changes, technology, social media skill building and writing compelling copy.”
Carla Mills, owner of Carla Mills Photography, sees “growing your circle” as W.E.B. membership’s biggest advantage.
“I had been looking for a networking group, and W.E.B. came up on Google. I attended a meeting as a guest and was impressed with the laid-back, supportive, friendly atmosphere. Yet they knew what they were doing. I felt comfortable. They have a way of folding you in and want to help people succeed. I’ve had a happy amount of business increase, but membership is not just about numbers,” Mills says.
Jennifer Stuvek, a Doctor of Chiropractic at Aurora Chiropractic, agrees,“Although I’ve had a few new patients referred by W.E.B. members, the biggest plus of membership is the camaraderie, women understanding the challenges. Some women have owned their business for 20 years and know things you can’t learn in a book. As one of the younger members, I bring a new perspective.”
The educational purpose of W.E.B. includes scholarships provided to members to continue their business education. Named for a charter member who passed away, the JoAnne Walberg W.E.B. Scholarship (originally funded by member donations, area banks and a match by the Walberg family), covers up to half the fee of a workshop or program. One year, six such scholarships were granted. A larger scholarship is available for members who seek to pursue a leadership development course. A third scholarship is available to any current member who experiences a financial hardship, such as disruption in her business.
An annual highlight is Women’s Night Out, co-sponsored by W.E.B., South Central Minnesota Lawyers and Business and Professional Women. Each organization honors an outstanding “Yellow Rose” recipient chosen by members of her organization. The event includes a vendor fair of women-owned businesses, a woman speaker and nearly endless networking opportunities. The event’s proceeds are donated to Mankato Y.W.C.A. to fund programs for the next generation of women leaders.
W.E.B. member Christina Flaugher, who has co-chaired Women’s Night Out for three years, is a senior audiology technician at Mankato’s Mayo Clinic. She used her leadership program grant to enroll in the Carnegie Women’s Leadership Program at the Mankato Y.W.C.A.
“It gave me confidence to trust in my leadership abilities,” she says. ”Flaugher was introduced to W.E.B. by Chambers, who happens to be Flaugher’s mother.
“This group of women (from several counties) have been in the trenches, but we also have women who are just starting out and those who have initiated post-retirement or pre-retirement careers. Some members have had several careers,” says Chambers.
Chambers, who has presented programs on topics such as sexual harassment, employee handbooks, and hiring/firing procedures, used her 2017 Walberg scholarship to take a six-day course on child custody evaluation, augmenting her full-time alternative dispute law practice.
Another scholarship recipient, Rebecca Krenik, the founder and owner of Blue Heron Landscape Design, attended a full day of landscape design classes. A 10-year W.E.B. member, Krenik said that in addition to continuing education, she has benefited from indirect referrals from W.E.B. members.
Whatever role W.E.B. members choose to take on, the organization weaves a multi-layered net of support for women in the business community.
To learn more about W.E.B., visit www.webmn.org.