CEI Women’s Business Center Launches Portland Office to Serve Southern Maine’s Diverse Female Entrepreneurs

Caption: Sarah Guerette, Director, CEI Women’s Business Centers; Diane Sturgeon, District Director for the Maine District Office, U.S. Small Business Administration; Betsy Biemann, CEO, Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI); Grace Mo-Phillips, Program Director, CEI Women’s Business Center South celebrate the grand opening of the CEI Women’s Business Center South at CEI’s office at the Marine Trade Center in Portland, Maine.

March 15, 2022 (Portland, ME) – The CEI Women’s Business Center (WBC) announces the grand opening of the CEI Women’s Business Center South (CEI WBC South), CEI’s third center focused on female and femme/feminine-identifying entrepreneurs* who want to start or grow their own business in Maine.

CEI WBCs work to understand the challenges that disproportionately affect female entrepreneurs and provide resources to help address those challenges. To reflect Southern Maine’s more diverse population, the CEI WBC South will focus on fostering the equitable participation and empowerment of female entrepreneurs with diverse racial, ethnic and LGBTQ+ backgrounds.

Based in Portland, the new center will focus on residents of York and Cumberland counties, while CEI’s existing Women’s Business Centers in Farmington and Machias will continue to serve Southwest and Northeast Maine, allowing each center to focus on the specific cultural and economic needs of female entrepreneurs in their geographic region. The CEI WBC South expects to serve over 2,100 women during its first five years, supporting the startup of over 80 businesses.

“I’m honored and excited to take on this role,” said Grace Mo-Phillips, Program Director, CEI Women’s Business Center South. “We acknowledge there’s a disparity in terms of access to professional and financial resources for community members of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Our goal is to provide those who desire to pursue business ownership the tools to start and grow a sustainable business. As a person of color, an immigrant, and a business owner, I have experienced first-hand the challenges and opportunities of starting and growing a business in Maine.  It is important that we meet the aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners where they are in their entrepreneurship journey and offer them the tangible support that they need to grow competencies and build opportunities.”

According to Maine Center for Economic Policy’s analysis of the US Census data, people of color only account for 3% of business ownership in Maine. While there’s little data on business ownership by women of color, anecdotal information suggests that women of color are underrepresented in Maine business ownership. Nationally, women of color accounted for 50% of all women-owned businesses and generated 25% of women-owned businesses’ employment, and 23% of total women-owned businesses’ revenue as of 2019.

“A core part of our office’s mission is to support the development and growth of women entrepreneurs,” said Natalie Madeira Cofield, Assistant Administrator, Office of Women’s Business Ownership, U.S. Small Business Administration. “That is why we take pride in every single center we add to our vast WBC network. The CEI Women’s Business Center South will be vital in helping women entrepreneurs in Maine thrive and survive amid these difficult times. We look forward to continuing to do our part to help grow the small business ecosystem, creating opportunities for women in business.”

“We are thrilled that the tremendous service CEI has provided to clients of the SBA’s Women’s Business Centers over the years was recognized with this award of a third Women’s Business Center in Maine,” said Diane Sturgeon, District Director for the Maine District Office, U.S. Small Business Administration. “As the Small Business Administration works to address historic underinvestment in businesses owned by women and people of color, we are excited to see the positive impact this new Women’s Business Center will have on small businesses owned by members of those historically underserved groups. Maine’s WBC is a key partner in the delivery of programs, and we look forward to continued partnership with the incredible team at the SBA’s CEI Women’s Business Centers.”

“We are delighted to serve as a regional partner with the U.S. Small Business Administration, helping connect women in Maine to resources, training and coaching as they start and grow businesses,” said Betsy Biemann, CEO of CEI. “CEI’s Women’s Business Centers put our mission into practice, helping women secure a decent livelihood, build assets, and add value to Maine’s economy. This new center will enable our team to support a greater number of entrepreneurs, especially women with diverse backgrounds, producing a positive economic ripple effect for individuals, families, and our increasingly diverse communities.” 

The CEI WBC South will be collaborating with several organizations within York and Cumberland counties to best reach and serve women who experience underrepresentation in business ownership, including Portland’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Westbrook’s Common Threads.  

“Helping women entrepreneurs and diverse-owned companies succeed is critical to Maine’s economic recovery and future success. With women disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, the opening of the Women’s Business Center South could not come at a better time,” said Julia Trujillo Luengo, Director of Economic Development Coordination for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development. “Congratulations to CEI on this important milestone.”

“At Common Threads of Maine, our mission is to promote fulfilling careers in the Maine textile industry by teaching people to become skilled stitchers, advocating for fair treatment in the workplace, and assisting business development” said Jo Bell and Apphia Kamanda, Co-Executive Directors. “Common Thread’s core program is a professional sewing training program. Since the program’s creation in 2015, over 160 participants have found work in the textile manufacturing industry. Almost all program participants are immigrants to the United States. Most are women between the ages of 25 and 55, most are parents, and all participants have low to extremely low incomes. For many, the training helps prepare participants for their first job in the US. Many of our students dream of starting their own business, and we’ve begun to address that need by expanding into new program areas to support textile entrepreneurship. We are thrilled to collaborate with CEI and the Women’s Business Center to connect people to their guidance and business expertise to help them follow their dreams.”

The CEI WBC South will offer classes, peer group-based programs and one-on-one advice to help participants build confidence, knowledge and create valuable connection with other women business owners.

In addition to its regular programming, the CEI WBC South is announcing two new programs to assist individuals from underrepresented communities as they start and grow a business:

Inroad into Wholesaling/I.D.E.A. Pavilion – a collaboration with The New England Made Giftware & Specialty Food Shows to host the I.D.E.A. (Inclusive, Diverse, Equitable, Accessible) Pavilion at their trade shows. The I.D.E.A. Pavilion provides female entrepreneurs who are Black, Indigenous or female entrepreneurs of color with new and existing businesses to showcase and market their products at the New England Made Shows. The WBC is offering one-on-one business advising and training courses to position participating entrepreneurs to take full advantage of the show.

WBC Laptop Loaner Program – supporting new and aspiring entrepreneurs with limited access to technology by providing refurbished Dell laptops for three months at no-cost as they prepare to start a business or explore entrepreneurship.

*CEI aligns with the definition of women and female that explicitly includes not only cis women, but also trans women and femme/feminine-identifying genderqueer and non-binary individuals.

About the CEI Women’s Business Center

The CEI Women’s Business Centers are staffed by experienced, knowledgeable business specialists who provide assistance to entrepreneurs at any business stage, from start-up to expansion. Services include business workshops and peer groups, one-on-one advising, and connection to resources for business startup and growth throughout the State. Entrepreneurs seeking advice from the CEI Women’s Business Center are matched with an advisor based on their business needs. CEI advisors work in-person, by phone and virtually. More at https://www.ceimaine.org/women

About CEI

Coastal Enterprises, Inc. (CEI) helps to grow good jobs, environmentally sustainable enterprises and shared prosperity in Maine and in rural regions across the country by integrating financing, business and industry expertise, and policy solutions. CEI envisions a world in which communities are economically and environmentally healthy, enabling all people, especially those with low incomes, to reach their full potential. More at www.ceimaine.org.

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