Since 1978, the Women, Work and Community program has helped approximately 1,000 Mainers to succeed in their workplaces or businesses. Based in the University of Maine at Augusta and UMS System, WWC provides free classes and training to help people meet their personal and professional goals.
According to M. Jane Searles, regional manager for the North Central/Downeast Region, WWC is also a driving force in improving the economic lives of Maine residents and their families.
“We provide services statewide to women and men in transition from diverse economic, educational, and social backgrounds,” Searles said. “No matter their situation when they came to WWC, each of these participants is creating a better future not only for themselves, but for Maine.”
One service, New Ventures Entrepreneurship Training, offers 60 hours of free training that covers topics ranging from insurance to legal considerations, financial recordkeeping, and even the emotional realities of running a business. At the end of the course, each participant has written a business plan and decided to either proceed with the business idea or to go in another direction.
“Small and micro businesses are the backbone of the Maine economy,” Searles said. “Look around in your own community and find the small businesses owned by local people who hire local people and then buy and sell in their local communities.”
She indicated that New Ventures enables its participants access to experts through presentations and Maine Small Business Development Center reviews of the participants’ final business plans.
Lisa Giulianelli, owner of Palmyra-based Oats Any Time, is a 2012 graduate. Her business offers healthy, homemade oat tarts with various fillings, cooked in Giulianelli’s licensed home kitchen. New Ventures was her first stop when she looked to start a business.
“Even after being self-employed for 15 years, when I started my Executive Cottages business, I felt I should take the New Venture class so that I could write a business plan and set the business up properly,” Giulianelli said. The experience left her with confidence and inspiration gained from her own work and her classmates.
Now she has completed the Maine Center for Entrepreneurial Development’s Top Gun Prep course and is enrolled in its Bangor Top Gun Maine program.
Julie Virgin, a doula from Portland agrees. Her business — Julie Virgin, Doula — opened in 2012, and she has been working full-time in it since 2013. She completed New Ventures training in fall 2013.
“My passion is birth and providing support to expanding families,” Virgin said. “As a doula, there are no other real options beyond starting your own business … I wanted to try my hand at having my own business.”
“I signed up for [New Ventures] because as I started to look into starting a small business, I realized that there was a lot that I didn’t know,” Virgin said. “It was a structured course that leads you through the planning process and gives you all the information that you need to know.”
Before New Ventures, Virgin felt like she was alone, “fumbling.” Now she has a network of professional resources.
“I really enjoyed [it],” she said. “I was challenged in learning so many new skills, but it was such a supportive environment that I felt safe to ask any questions or express my feelings of frustration, feeling of being overwhelmed, or joy.”
There are New Ventures classes throughout the state; WWC has a staff of 16, including 12 trainer/instructors in nine outreach centers in Maine.
“Their successes belong to all of us from Aroostook County to southern Maine from the coast to the mountains as we work to build an abundant, peaceful and satisfying future for our state,” Searles said. “As a native of Bangor, I am very fortunate to be able to work in my community and assist women and men who want to start a business, to change their lives, to become leaders in their community who all work together to make Maine the best state that it can be. I love my work.”
For more information, log onto womenworkandcommunity.org.
Editor’s note: Debra Bell is a 2013 New Ventures graduate.