Northeast Indiana Innovation Center was among only half a dozen organizations to win $150,000 in a national Small Business Administration grant competition to fund the creation of a Women’s Economic Opportunity Center.

The WEOC will open an office Oct. 1 on the 55 acre Innovation Center campus at Stellhorn and Hobson roads in Fort Wayne. SBA officials will attend an opening celebration on Oct. 5.

In addition to counseling and coaching, WEOC will offer help with marketing, legal matters, business planning, management team development and access to capital.

WEOC is a great extension of the Innovation Center’s current service offering, Karl LaPan, NIIC president and CEO, said in a statement, because it helps address “specific challenges with respect to what I call the four M’s of entrepreneurial business building – money, mentorship, markets and management.”

The help is needed because studies show women are half as likely to start of business as their male counterparts, they are one third less likely to attract external investment for a business, they have less access to mentors, they face more obstacles managing a work-life balance and, when they found a business, they tend to start it with half as much money, LaPan said in an email.

The 2015 Kauffman Entrepreneurial Activity Index ranked Indiana 44th in the nation for its number of startups. The NIIC believes opening WEOC can help increase the number because “women entrepreneurs are a key source of untapped economic growth for our region, state and country,” LaPan said.

WEOC will serve women, immigrants and other under served groups in 83 counties because the Indianapolis area has its own organization to address women entrepreneurship needs in Marion and surrounding counties, said Mike Fritsch, an innovation center entrepreneur in residence.

The Innovation Center hired Lisa Gomez-Osborn as the WEOC executive director.

After going through a women’s center program that guided entrepreneurs through the process of developing a business plan and starting a business, she helped as a volunteer for a number years to connect other entrepreneurs with the program and walk them through it.

Gomez-Osborn founded life coaching startup, and Fritsch expects that background to be extremely helpful because entrepreneurs tend to find their personal lives getting extremely intertwined with their business.

In addition to phone calls, Skyping and email, much of the free WEOC counseling will take place face to face in sessions with Gomez-Osborn and with other service providers through a statewide network she develops, which will include economic development groups, business incubators and the SBA’s small business development centers.

LaPan, Fritsch and another NIIC entrepreneur in residence John Richards will assist with the WEOC counseling. Richards is the former business development director for Higher Grounds.

WEOC also will provide mentoring, online business decision support tools and export business development help through partnerships with three organizations known for those specialties, Wendy Kennedy International, Mentoring Women’s Network and The Tejara Global Business Development Center.

The SBA grant funding WEOC is renewable, and NIIC is putting its own money and resources into funding operations of the new center. Fritsch said the Innovation Center hopes to leverage additional funding sources for WEOC in the future because there are big plans for it.

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