Community | Winter 2019

The Women’s Business Development Center empowers female entrepreneurs

A LEAD participant pitches her business to a room full of established businesswomen.
(Photo courtesy of the Women's Business Development Center.)

The Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) supports women, minority, and veteran-owned businesses at every stage of their business, bringing a special expertise in empowering entrepreneurs. “We help these entrepreneurs pursue capital, contracts, and networks, because historically, for minorities and women, there hasn't been equity in access,” says Emilia DiMenco, president and CEO of WBDC.

The 33-year-old nonprofit was one of the first of what are now more than 100 similar organizations in the country. With a staff of 40, the WBDC serves both startups and established businesses, with technical assistance and capacity building to help owners grow and manage their business. The WBDC also provides customized business development services and support for veterans, childcare entrepreneurs, Latinas, and high science entrepreneurs.

How its people help

Among the services the organization provides is business advising—roughly 5,000 hours of one-on-one counseling and more than 200 business labs each year. The WBDC also provides capital, lending money and placing debt and equity, sometimes on its own through WBDC-originated loans of up to $50,000.

The organization also certifies women-owned businesses and facilitates private and public sector procurement opportunities with them.

“Over the organization’s lifetime, we have served 90,000 clients,” DiMenco says. “We’ve had 13,500 entrepreneurial training labs and helped women- and minority-owned businesses secure over $98.5 million in financing. We also have helped our clients with over a billion dollars in corporate and government contracts.”

The path forward

DiMenco says that 33 years ago, the environment for women-owned businesses was different, but not a lot.

“We’ve made some progress, but it’s not sufficient,” she says. “It's only in recent years that, for example, we have gotten 5 percent of all federal contracts going to women-owned businesses. Thirty-three years, ago it wasn't even 1 percent.”

She says the organization advocates for fairness and equity in pursuing federal contracts.

“It’s not that women business owners and other underserved communities can't meet the requirements for those federal contracts,” she says. “They’re just not given an opportunity to do so.”

She says the WBDC is working to change that by educating people about available opportunities and how to pursue them.

Huntington is working to help the organization achieve its goal of increasing support for women- and minority-owned businesses.

“Huntington has been courageous, and it is very focused,” DiMenco says. “I like to see funders look at solving a problem or providing opportunity, and Huntington is focused in the geography and with the customer segments they’re dedicated to. It’s a pleasure to work with them because they truly understand where they can make a difference.”

About the organization

Name: Women's Business Development Center
City: Chicago, IL (headquarters). Satellite offices—Little Village, Chicago; Richton Park, Illinois; Aurora, Illinois, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Kansas, St. Louis, Milwaukee
Phone: (312) 853-3477
Mission: To support and accelerate business development and growth, targeting women and serving all diverse business owners, in order to strengthen their participation in, and impact on, the economy.

How you can help

Support the Women’s Business Development Center through donations, which are accepted at