Seeking Exito! 

Story and photos provided by the WISE Women’s Business Center

Imagine yourself as a motivated woman with the desire to own a business, yet faced with language barriers, childcare challenges and the inability to understand laws of a newly-adopted country.

These challenges and more were addressed in a new program established to assist women in the Central New York Latina community. The program, Exito! (which translates to Success!), created by the WISE Women’s Business Center, was a six-week course established for women in the Latina community who intend to start and grow new businesses.

The course included online learning, in-classroom training, roundtable discussions, accounting practices training and coaching for a final pitch competition. The weekly courses, based on the DreamBuilder software program, were designed to train women in entrepreneurship, create the first stages of a business plan and clearly articulate that plan in a five-minute pitch to an audience. DreamBuilder, developed in Spanish for female entrepreneurs in South America and for those whose first language is Spanish, is a welcoming beginning to the Exito! program.

“The women in our group learned so much about owning their own businesses, the challenges they might face and where to access resources to help them achieve this dream of owning or growing a business,” explained Exito! program facilitator Marisol Hernández. “The WISE Women’s Business Center staff, the Whitman School students and other experts have made a huge impact on these new entrepreneurs.”

As the Exito! program began, question such as “How will we recruit enough women to participate?” arose. Joanne Lenweaver, WISE Women’s Business Center director, knew the key was looping in Marisol Hernandez. With the assistance of Alex Waterbury as the program’s WISE Business Counselor, Marisol gathered 19 women as the 2017 cohorts. Reaching out to her community, Marisol and the media organization CNY Latino tapped into their database of connections, leads, and contacts. When promoting Exito!, the response she received has been so positive, she had to create a waiting list for future Exito! cohorts.

The program assisted participants in overcoming obstacles and challenges, provided childcare assistance, served as a support and bridge, and offered scholarships to educational events. At the end of the training, interns interviewed some of the graduates. Here are some quotes from participants:

“I believe the Exito! program has been a tremendous blessing. It has helped me define and identify what is my passion and to take the steps necessary to achieve it.” — Leidis Cruz Espinosa

“I love creating things. My dream is to open an event planning business, to be my own boss. This program gave the tools and the confidence to do it and not give up, even if it’s hard. Now, I know this is possible.” — Ismari Calderon

“Even though I own a daycare, my passion is cooking, food, gastronomy. This program was perfect because it helped me start a business plan. Before Exito!, any time I shared my idea, they told me I need a business. Now, I know what to do, where to go and I feel confident.” — Damara Gascon Blanco

“Exito! gave me the necessary tools to put my idea into reality. Before the program, I did not know the laws and regulations that I need to follow with my type of business idea. I came from Cuba wanting to open a Coffee Gallery. With my husband’s talent and my expertise in numbers, I know we can create a café that also is an art gallery.” — Elisa Encinosa

In the future, the Exito! program will offer an accelerated level for women who have created a business plan and are taking in revenue. No matter the economic impact or level of achievement, the Exito! program aims to instill confidence and empowerment for those seeking support in our unique communities in Central New York. SWM

For more information on the WISE Women’s Business Center, visit wisecenter.org.