Over 12 weeks, WEB's staff instructors immerse students in an intensive course of leadership, marketing and self-esteem. Each woman must write a complete business plan that can stand up to the scrutiny of most major lenders. Those who continually arrive late, leave early or fail to turn in homework can be asked to leave.
Applicants are rigorously screened, an attempt at keeping WEB's success rate high. They are interviewed and observed in group exercises that measure problem solving, resourcefulness and creativity. They're also evaluated on their business idea, determination and personality. WEB gets about 150 applicants for every 30 slots.
Graduates must find mentors from the community who have experience and will meet with them monthly for a year to offer continuing guidance. They have access to pro-bono advice from volunteer attorneys, accountants, marketing specialists and loan officers and can get reduced costs on equipment and office space through WEB's resource-sharing program.
WEB encourages women to start small, within their financial means. But the organization will help them apply for loans. They have access to up to $1,500 from WEB's internal loan fund or to $500 from a "village banking" system WEB co-sponsors. Graduates can borrow money as a group by forming a self-employment association, then split the money into loans of up to $500.
Gale Prisaznic thought all the books she'd read had prepared her to start a business. Then she enrolled in the WEB course with plans to open a boutique of campy collectibles.
"When I got accepted, I realized real fast this plan wasn't going to work" without adequate financing and support, she said.
But WEB instructors and classmates encouraged her to find something low risk that required minimal capital.
"You have to say, 'This is a failure,' and get past the ego thing and have the speed of an entrepreneur to stay with it," she said. "The fellowship was so great. Some of the women said, 'Your ideas are good, but you need to rechannel it.' It came to me what I needed to do."
Since the end of 1995, she has been an antiques dealer, running her stall, Regale, from Taylor's Antiques Mall in Ellicott City, where she gets a sales staff as part of the rent.
"I didn't fully believe I could do what I put in the plan, and I've exceeded most of it," Prisaznic said. "I've always wanted to put my energy into a creative outlet that would make me money. It doesn't feel like work."
Pub Date: 8/24/97