Women's Enterprise Centre of Excellence

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Women's enterprise centre of excellence

One of the original aims of Bolton Business Ventures' (BBV) project did not come to fruition, but it became an ill wind that blew some good. As the project name suggests, the organisation's plan was to establish a dedicated Women's Enterprise Centre. BBV already offered fully equipped managed workspace, workshop and conference facilities, in-house advisers and consultants, networking opportunities and annual business awards.

But the need for a large capital budget to develop the new facilities, along with a lack of available premises, meant that BBV opted instead for a more flexible arrangement. Operations executive Sylvia Philips explains: "If we had indeed decided on a centre in Bolton, it would have meant clients elsewhere, such as Wigan or Rochdale, would not have had easy access. We wanted to provide a service for women throughout North Manchester:'

BBV also realised it was not the workspace that was crucial, but the way in which the service was provided. They discovered that women are more likely to request and accept business support on a more personal level.

The provision of small sector networks, coaching, and one-to-one support, has helped many women gain the confidence to go on and attend larger events and workshops. Claire, who is setting up a book-keeping business, agrees: "I've been out of employment for five years, bringing up my children;' she explains. "I feel I don't know anything about the business world and often feel I don't have enough confidence to sell myself, negotiate fees or

deal with clients. The business mentoring really keeps me going:' "Women need to have access to a responsive, flexible advisory service, with appropriate sources of finance and networking opportunities." An important aspect of the project has been the open-ended nature of the support. There are no limits on the time that can be given for advice. This has allowed advisers to develop a level of trust with clients, enabling them to work around difficulties women often face juggling the multiple demands of family and work. Women have also been able to pick and mix the

services they need from the range offered by BBV which includes access to finance from its dedicated Women in Business loan fund. A website has also been set up to offer information and a forum for exchanging experience and knowledge.

The project has been able to help about 550 women over two and a half years. Sylvia Philips says they came because: "The help available to them wasn't appropriate or relevant. Banks made them feel intimidated. Other business advice organisations didn't offer a women¬friendly service, with, for example, out-of-hours access:'

She adds: "I am most proud of the fact that we have been able to develop a comprehensive package of services that women can easily access. Women need to have access to responsive and flexible advisory services, appropriate sources of finance and networking opportunities:'