Start-up accelerator programs are popping up all over the country offering industry-focused programs and support for a variety of business owners. Although traditionally focused on high-tech businesses, accelerators now serve a variety of entrepreneurial needs, including those of women, through programs that facilitate mentoring and education, access to investors, and networking opportunities.
Take for example The Women's Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio, a nonprofit organization launched last year, with a mission to support women as they launch and grow small and micro businesses. The accelerator, located at 403-409 W. Main Street in Westerville, is just over 6,000 square feet of co-working space divided into four suites, two conference rooms, two kitchens, a creative space, and a training space that accelerator participants can lease at a reduced rate. The accelerator offers approximately 35 office spaces, including private offices and cubicles, available to women-business owners at or below competitive market rates (as low as $225 per month).
To further assist women small business owners, the accelerator offers peer-to-peer support, mentoring, and education (on topics such as writing a business plan with the final goal to secure funding).
The Attraction of Business Accelerators to Start-Ups
A growing segment of the entrepreneurial community, business accelerators clearly offer start-ups many benefits. Yes, the potential access to investors and financing is a huge draw, but for many business owners the attraction comes in the access to mentoring and guidance from a group of experts that incubators or accelerators can provide.
Many of the programs offered are structured and offer a clear path in support of strategic business success. Programs such as The Women's Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio typically include educational sessions and interactive monthly roundtables facilitated by small business experts where business owners get to brainstorm real-business challenges and scenarios.
Choosing the Right Accelerators for Your Business
It's important to screen any potential accelerator. Even though the application process can be quite rigorous, do your due diligence first. Who sponsors the group? Can they really bring experts and investors to the table? Research online and talk to previous participants. Have any of them received the funding they needed? Is the accelerator in the right vertical or industry that matters to your business?
Other Sources of Mentoring and Local Assistance for Women Business Owners
There are several alternatives to business incubator or accelerator programs that women business owners can tap. Women's Business Centers (WBCs) are one option. Located nationwide, WBCs provide women entrepreneurs with in-person assistance and business counseling programs that can help them start and grow successful businesses. WBCs offer guidance and training on a variety of topics, including business planning and management, marketing, and loan advice.
If you think you need the services of a hands-on expert, take a look at the mentoring and counseling services offered by SCORE. With a network of over 13,000 volunteers (all of whom have business management and ownership experience), SCORE provides free and confidential counseling, mentoring and advice to startups and small business owners nationwide. SCORE mentors can help with specific functional advice such as marketing, accounting, and business planning or overall business guidance.
For more resources, guides and tools to help women-owned small businesses to start up, operate and grow, check out SBA's Women-Owned Business Guide.