Center boosts women entrepreneurs

By Gwenn Barney

After working from the other side of the city for almost two decades, an organization helping… After working from the other side of the city for almost two decades, an organization helping female entrepreneurs has started working out of the heart of Oakland.

PowerLink Inc., a 19-year-old company formerly based in Mount Washington, has changed its name and now runs through the Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence in Posvar Hall.

The group, now known as the Center for Women in Business, offers advisory boards — sessions aimed at guiding women through the business creation process — financial boot camps and PowerLink Protégé, a program designed to help start-ups get off their feet.

The nonprofit chose to work with Pitt because executives thought the partnership would allow them to reach more people.

“Definitely the visibility of being part of a larger organization is working for our benefit,” said Lee Ann Munger, the group’s executive director. “It’s a bigger venue for getting the word out about our programming.”

Women with established businesses — those that have been in operation for at least two years, have at least two employees and have at least $200,000 in annual revenue — can participate in advisory boards, while women with start-ups can participate in a PowerLink Protégé program.

The institute’s programs range from $500 to $3,000. The fees give women access to lectures, PantherlabWorks — for technological help — and the Small Business Development Center, among others.

Ann Dugan, director of the institute, said the addition of a center to support self-employed female entrepreneurs is especially important to counter gender inequality in the workplace and that it will serve as a good example for business-minded Pitt students.

“Women still aren’t moving up into leadership positions,” she said. “Lots of graduates and especially female students find self-employment a viable option.”

Munger also believes the center, and institute as a whole, can play a role in helping students see the benefits of self-employment and hopes to help give students exposure to the world of self-employment.

The center plans to primarily work with business owners in the immediate future, but Munger has ambitions to include some form of student involvement down the road.

“The institute, in general, definitely takes advantage to work with students,” Munger said. “There may be opportunities in the future for students to work with us and work with our advisory boards in some capacity.”