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.

Additional Resources

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.

Originally posted on on March 7, 2013

Originally posted on NAWBO's national website

QUESTION: What is the best way to furnish 6,000 square feet of office space when you are a newly formed non-profit with an opportunity to provide office space, mentoring and education to women business owners, but have not yet received any grants or donations?

ANSWER: One suite at a time through the generosity of a NAWBO member who owns a commercial business interiors company.

Just last month, Mary McCarthy and Caroline Worley, both members of the NAWBO® Columbus chapter in Ohio co-founded the Women's Small Business Accelerator, Inc. (WSBA), the first-of-its-kind incubator-type organization focused on female-based businesses. "I have had dream for many years to launch something like this to support women-owned small businesses," says Mary McCarthy, who also is co-owner of Your Management Team, Inc., a small-business consulting and mentoring company. "Luckily, Caroline shares that same vision." Caroline owns Worley Law, LLC, a law firm that helps small businesses navigate the legal and regulatory requirements of launching and operating.

It just so happened that another NAWBO Columbus member believed in the mission of the WSBA, too—Darla King, President and CEO of King Business Interiors, a commercial contract office furniture business. When Darla heard about the WSBA, she reached out to Mary and Caroline and told them about her company's "Connecting the Dots" program where non-profits can get free, reusable office furniture to use in fulfilling their missions. "Without Darla's generosity, we would not be able to have our first suite of offices stocked with quality desks, chairs and other furniture customarily found in corporate offices. The generosity of Darla, King Business Interiors, and the "Connecting the Dots" program has enabled us to present our first seven offices to prospective tenants and women business owners," notes Mary. As of today, three of the seven offices in the first section are now occupied. With the continued assistance of Darla and other generous supporters, the WSBA will be able to continue preparing the remaining 25-plus office spaces in the three remaining suites. "However, without the opportunity of NAWBO," notes Caroline, "the three of us would not have come together to build this opportunity that will end up supporting hundreds, if not thousands, of women business owners." Darla's generous donations are valued so far at more than $20,000.

Originally posted on ThisWeek Community News on October 31, 2012

Two Westerville entrepreneurs are looking to give other female business owners a hand up.

Attorney Caroline Worley and Mary McCarthy, co-founders of business consulting firm Your Management Team, have opened the nonprofit Women's Small Business Accelerator of Central Ohio at 403 W. Main St.

Women who are starting or growing their own businesses can rent office space within the business accelerator. As part of the all-inclusive rent, the women will receive meeting, kitchen and reception space, along with coaching, mentoring and peer support.

The Women's Small Business Accelerator currently can hold up to seven business owners, but as the space is built out -- something that McCarthy and Worley hope to have finished by the end of the year -- it will be able to hold between 30 and 35 businesses.

McCarthy said the idea for a small business accelerator came to her while she toured vacant space in the West Main Street shopping center.

"I looked at it, and I went, 'Oh, my goodness, this is an incubator.' It's a phenomenal space for shared office," McCarthy said.

She worked with Worley on the idea and came up with a workable plan for the Women's Small Business Accelerator.

In their own consulting business, McCarthy and Worley have worked with female business owners, and McCarthy said she saw the need for a support system specifically for women-owned businesses.

"A lot of women start businesses in their homes, and they kind of work it around their families. It's a great start, but it's hard to work into a full-time business," McCarthy said. "They're a little nervous about going out on their own and giving up their steady paycheck."

McCarthy said statistics show that women-owned businesses, in particular, need added support as they launch and grow.

"All business owners are very important, but women right now are still trailing men in revenue," McCarthy said. "We're still opening more businesses than men, but we're generating less revenue than men, and we have a higher failure rate than men."

The hope for the accelerator is that it will give women the confidence, support and tools they need to grow their businesses into successes.

"It's nice to work together. Women like to collaborate. It takes pressure off, and it's nicer and more enjoyable to work with others," McCarthy said. "Sometimes (women) need that support to know it's OK that we want to grow a viable business and just have the mentoring and guidance to get there."

Business incubators have been growing in popularity across the country, McCarthy said, citing Tech Columbus as an example.

While many incubators focus on technology, McCarthy said the Women's Small Business Accelerator is different, and she and Worley are hoping it will help spawn a new trend.

"We're hoping to create the model that everyone wants to emulate," McCarthy said. "That's what's going to help our economy grow the most, is this type of support."

Within the last year, the city of Westerville has worked with Tech Columbus and explored the possibility of creating its own business incubator as a way to encourage job creation within city limits.

The Women's Small Business Accelerator provides an excellent opportunity for businesses to start and grow locally, Westerville Economic Development Administrator Jason Bechtold said.

"It's important from a business development standpoint that we need to nurture great ideas to get businesses started and ideas started," Bechtold said. "Having these avenues for entrepreneurs to go and get the right resources is an essential part of this entrepreneurial ecosystem that we're part of."

McCarthy's and Worley's experience working with female entrepreneurs makes them the perfect champions of a business incubator for women, he said

"They have a history of engaging startup companies throughout the region," he said.