How did you become a business counselor and what led you to CEI?
I’m part of Maine’s reverse brain drain: after living away for several years I was drawn back to the quality of life in my home state. I was interested in CEI because of its unique mix of programs and services, and its mission of helping people of all incomes reach their full potential.
My parents owned a small business and that must have influenced my circuitous route to becoming a business counselor. I first studied to be a social worker, yet after working in the non profit sector, I realized I was more interested in management than case work. I got an MBA, worked in microfinance, helped start and grow a entrepreneurship-focused consulting firm, and worked in a variety of small businesses. I’ve always been a networker, which is also an important part of my current job. As a business advisor, I combine many of these opportunities and experiences.
Prior to CEI, what type of work were you doing?
Before joining CEI, I co-managed a consulting firm in Ecuador (South America) whose aim was to create economic impact through entrepreneurial development, training, and consulting. We worked with the government and other firms to help create a nation-wide ecosystem conducive to large-scale entrepreneurship and big, bold ideas.
How does the Women’s Business Center at CEI impact women business owners?
We support female entrepreneurs in gaining the skills, knowledge, and confidence necessary to start or grow their own businesses by providing:
- Business advising that’s tailored to each entrepreneur’s business and life. We take the time to understand where each person is in the process, and adapt our approach accordingly.
- A safe space to grow and learn. This includes connections to other female entrepreneurs who are probably asking the same questions, and who can be a great source of information and inspiration.
- Guidance through business planning, funding, and growth.
- Referrals and connections to other Small Business Administration (SBA) resource partners, professionals, and community resources.
What are the greatest changes you’ve seen at CEI since you started working here? What do you see for the future of the WBC?
One of the biggest changes I’ve seen is an increasing focus on financing. CEI is becoming so much more than a gap financer. While we’ll still often fund “the gap,” we now have a range of financing products that can help Maine businesses of almost any size and type. CEI fills a very important need by being flexible financer, and I am excited by the increased breadth of what we offer.
Current SBA Administrator Maria Contreras-Sweet talks about a double meaning of the SBA [Small Business Administration]. She also defines it as “Smart. Bold. Accessible.” I imagine a Women’s Business Center that prides itself on similar values: smart and modern counselors who offer bold and innovative yet prudent ideas to Maine entrepreneurs, while remaining accessible by continuing to provide free or low cost services to under-served populations.
What’s a typical day at work for you like?
One thing I love about my job is that there really isn’t a “typical” day. I can be helping an entrepreneur prepare a loan application for a business she is purchasing. That same afternoon I might be brainstorming marketing ideas for an existing business, reading a feasibility plan for a startup, or developing a staffing plan for a growing business.
I try to be out of the office and on site whenever possible. It’s always really helpful (and a lot of fun) to see an entrepreneur in her business and understand what the space looks like and what its limitations might be, how she interacts with clients, etc. Most days are a mix of client meetings, research for client meetings, and some administrative work.
What other skills do you bring to your work?
Because of my time living in South America, I am fluent in Spanish, and always enjoy the opportunity to speak Spanish with my clients.