Independent and ambitious are just a few ways to describe Sara Vescio, the Executive Director of the Canisius College Women’s Business Center. She comes from a family of business owners, so it is only destiny that she ended up taking on the role she has. Karibu had the chance to sit down and talk to Vescio about her role at the Women’s Business Center and why she decided to follow that path.
Tell me about the services provided by the Women’s Business Center?
We have a lot of programming, training, and hands on workshops to help women business owners learn to grow their businesses to build them in productive, efficient and revenue effective businesses. It can be any kind of businesses acumen; HR, Operational, Management, Leadership, Financial – any kind of topic that focuses on things that can help women business owners grow their businesses.
Do you have to be a student at Canisius College to receive these services?
Absolutely not. We are opened to the whole community. It is for the outside community – women adult business owners.
How you decide to get involved?
I stated here as the Program Director in 2012. I was in that position for a year before I was promoted to Executive Director. My prior career has been in fundraising. However, I have always been the type of individual to look at operation efficiency and relationship building. In my prior career, I’ve found revenue gaps and operational ways to fill those gaps, partnerships in the community that focuses on a win-win for both entities. Those skills are really what transformed to working well for this position.
Why is something like Women’s Business Center so important to you that you wanted to get involved?
I have always considered myself someone who is motivated by creating a stronger, better society; that is why I was into fundraising. I worked for college students to have a lower cost education when I was a new graduate because that was something I was passionate about then. When I was a new mom I worked for the Boys and Girls club so that families can have a safe and low cost place for their children to be protected and learning while they’re at work. Being a professional woman and a woman what has three sisters, I was always raised being told we could do whatever we want to do, we just have to go after it. Being a women in our culture here in Western New York, you see a lot of challenges that women face. It is something I am passionate about. My mother was a business owner my whole childhood. My father ran a family business. My grandparent’s started a family business. A lot of my aunts and uncles are entrepreneurs. All of the pieces come in into play for one perfect thing I am very passionate about.
If someone asked you why a service like this is necessary for the community, what would you tell them?
You just have to live here and you can see why. I think the only people who would ask that would be men. I don’t think any woman would ask that question. I think a male would ask that because they haven’t walked a mile in a woman’s shoes. The women Business center was an idea that is federally funded, it was created by the National Small Business Administration. There is over 100 women’s business centers across the country. The reason they were originally derived was to help create a more level playing field for women entrepreneurs out in the communities.
That is why we’re here. I would love for a day when our women entrepreneurs felt like they were playing on a completely level culture out there, and then there is no reason for a Women’s Business Center. We would just be “Small Business Enterprise” and support all. At this point, there are still reasons that women need a different center.
Some of the things we are tackling right now that is women specific issues for small business is access to capital – this means financing through lenders. Women receive less loans then men do and they’re dollar amount is lower when they do receive loans. That is a gender specific fact that we have programming to try and help. Part of the conversation is, is it because women aren’t well versed enough on their financial packages to get the yes on the loan request, or is it because the majority of the lenders out there are men and they are not relating to the women’s business ideas? Our programming tackles both issues. We have a seven week class and we bring a lender in each class for the small businesses to learn, relate and get to know each of those lenders as well as financial training and education to help the, understand their numbers and package them properly to get the yes on the loan.
In a week, we’re having venture capital training. There is a lot of conversation and a lot of news about the investors investing in small businesses or tech startups and things like that. A lot of it is manufacturing which is a predominantly male driven industry. We need to help, train, and educate our women business owners about this VC world; what kind of businesses are they looking for, what kind of languages are they using – all of these things to even it out so there are more women getting investment through the VC’s.
Do you ever get scrutinized for what you do?
Sure. I’ve come up against men who say ‘there really is no such thing as a pay gap.’ There are other issues; we talked about access to capital and investment but there are also minority and women certifications, they call it MWBE’s. You can be certified by City, State, or Federal County for being a women owned business, and different government entities have a different percentage goal to utilize, given their contracts to minority or women owned businesses. Our Governor in New York State raised those goals to 30%. That percentage of state funding should be spent for minority or women owned businesses. Federally, it is 5% for what they call a WOSB; Women Owned Small Business. That law has been in place for years and they just reached their 5% for the first time this past year. For men to complain, ‘why should a woman get a leg up and get part of a 30% guarantee,’ I tell them ‘what about the other 70%?’ How can someone complain about part of a 30% when it is not even half?
Women make up 52% of society, so why are there less women in government? Why are there less women in CEO positions? Why are there less women getting paid as much? Women are higher educated now. More women are graduating with post-graduate degrees. There is an equality that is blatantly obvious to me, and we’re working to try and help that.