Comprehensive Support for Women-Owned Businesses

Founded in 1985, CEI’s Women’s Business Center (WBC) provides business advising, workshops and events for women entrepreneurs and business owners at any stage: from conceptualization to start up to expansion. The WBC also brings sector expertise to CEI’s lending practices, building our capacity for community economic development. The businesses supported by CEI and the WBC include child care, specialty foods, business services, graphic arts, manufacturing, recycling and many more. Through the WBC, women owned businesses receive assistance developing business plans and loan applications, identifying sources of funding for start-up and growth and facilitating access to capital. Clients also benefit from learning business skills such as marketing, financial management, and effective growth strategies.

Women-owned businesses in Maine have added an estimated 274,000 jobs to the economy since 2007, and are growing at a higher rate than men owned businesses or businesses with combined ownership. Concurrently, CEI’s loans and investments to female or co-entrepreneur borrowers have increased steadily in response to and support of the sector (see chart below). CEI is Maine’s largest non profit lender to women business owners. Our five-year, $128MM Platform for Sustainable Lending and Investing, launched in October 2012, specifically focuses on women as a target demographic–resulting in a notable increase in support in the last two and a half years.

CEI WBC Impact Graph


The WBC remains an important part of the entrepreneurial eco-system, as current statistics show that women are starting businesses at a rate faster than the national average, but often struggle to grow and properly capitalize their businesses. In fact, women owned business:

  • employ 6 percent of the nation’s workforce and contribute just under 4 percent of business revenues—roughly the same share they contributed in 1997.
  • employ, on average, just one person in addition to the owner, and
  • have average annual revenues of just under $155,000, far less than the $400,000 figure of the typical privately held business.

As such, providing support to women who are already in business, and helping them to grow their businesses to the next level, is critically important.

“Our goal is to figure out what the strengths and weaknesses are for each business, capitalize on strengths and shore up the weak spots,” said Sarah Guerette, Program Director and Business Advisor at the WBC. “We try and take a holistic approach to our counseling. We focus on the bottom line, but also the entire picture and how the business integrates with other challenges and strengths the business owner may have. This approach ensures success and sustainability over the long term.”


Funded in part through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. Reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities will be made if requested at least two weeks in advance.

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