By Tom Sowa
The Spokesman-Review, Spokane, Wash.
Heather Riviere is a month away from starting her first real business, a mobile food truck serving crepes at markets and fairs.
Riviere, 44, lost her job last fall and realized she had the chance to make the transition to something rewarding and creative.
She got the kick-start she needed while taking courses recently at Spokane’s new Women’s Business Center, Riviere said.
The women’s center, managed by nonprofit assistance provider SNAP at the East Central Community Center, offers free training and financial guidance for women looking to start a business.
It opened about a month ago and celebrates with a grand opening Friday.
Funded by a grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration, the program offers classes and one-on-one counseling for women — and men — starting a new business or trying to grow a startup.
It also offers business webinars and guidance on applying for loans or learning how to apply for government contracts.
Federal officials say they want to increase the number of women-owned firms in the United States from the current level of 28 percent. That number is for all nonfarm businesses, according to the National Women’s Business Council, a nonpartisan federal advisory council.
The grant provides $136,500 per year for five years, with the option to renew the grant for an additional three years, said Kerri Rodkey, director of SNAP’s financial access program.
SNAP — originally the Spokane Neighborhood Action Program — launched a microbusiness development program in 1997 focused on helping lower-income residents who were looking to start a business.
“That program is about educating and empowering lower-income people increase their incomes and add jobs,” Rodkey said, “and so this center fits within that goal.”
It’s not only for lower-income women, she added. “It’s to help anyone start a business and grow jobs in the community,” she said.
Riviere said she learned the ins and outs of loan applications and how to manage financials from Laurie Roth, who was hired to be the business center manager.
She took three business courses last month at the center, then spent time with Roth going over the paperwork Riviere said she needed to begin selling crepes from her food truck.
“I’m feeling a lot more prepared … than I would have if I didn’t get her help,” she said.
In addition to buying a food truck, Riviere has obtained a food handling license and passed a health department food inspection.
She hopes to start selling her crepes at the first farmers market in Coeur d’Alene on May 10.
The business center, she added, gave her a structured process to follow, she said.
“It helped me so that I’m going into business with my eyes wide open,” she said.