Milena Erwin, Program Manager of the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center (EC-WBC), is committed to helping entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Connecticut start and grow their businesses. Milena is especially passionate about assisting women, immigrant, and student entrepreneurs.

During National Women’s Small Business month, Milena spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about the many ways in which the EC-WBC supports women in their entrepreneurial endeavors.

NAN PRICE: Why do you feel it’s important to have a special focus on women in business?

MILENA ERWIN: To be clear, the EC-WBC assists both women and men. On average, 70% of the Center clients are women and half are minority entrepreneurs.

Women-owned businesses continue to make big strides in Connecticut and nationally, yet still face many barriers in areas like financing and contracting. We provide services that fit the needs and learning styles of women, increasing their knowledge, providing new connections and boosting their confidence to pursue their business dreams.

The EC-WBC offers business advising, training, and networking events for women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. Entrepreneurship is a journey of constant learning, so we regularly update our offerings and look for experts to offer cutting-edge information on topics from social media to business planning and financing.

Some of our events include an annual Power and Progress Women’s Symposium, a Women’s Business Roundtable, a Ladies Who Lunch speaker series, and an annual CT Business Matchmaker event.

Just last week, we celebrated our 20th anniversary as a Women’s Business Center funded by the Small Business Association (SBA). We’re proud of what we have accomplished and grateful for all the support from many clients, partners, and our host, the University of Hartford. The event marked our participation in Women Entrepreneurship Week 2019, an annual celebration of women entrepreneurs at colleges and universities across the United States and around the world.

Karen Jarmoc, CEO of CT Coalition Against Domestic Violence, interviews Annie Lamont, Co-Founder and Managing Partner Oak HC/FT and First Lady of Connecticut at the Women’s Business Center 20th Anniversary event.

We had a great turnout and powerful speakers including Annie Lamont, Co-Founder and Managing Partner Oak HC/FT and First Lady of Connecticut; Doris Sugarman, Founder of the Connecticut Forum, and Sabrina Tucker-Barrett, Co-Founder of Girls for Technology.

NAN: Let’s talk specifically about the new Women Entrepreneurs Innovate series.

MILENA: Sure. The Women Entrepreneurs Innovate series of events is a new partnership with Hartford/East Hartford Innovation Places that highlights new opportunities for women entrepreneurs and small business owners in the area to learn from accomplished successful business owners, expand their networks, and take advantage of the many local and national resources that exist.

The program combines a speaker series bringing successful women entrepreneurs from within and outside Connecticut to share their experiences, networking to connect women at different stages of business development, and a gathering of resources available to women entrepreneurs to help them establish, grow, and innovate. The Women Entrepreneurs Innovate series expands on the Women’s Business Center experience and builds on its vast network of partners in Connecticut, as well as nationally as an active part of the Women’s Business Center network.

As part of the series, we’re planning a local pitch event in spring 2020 (similar to the SBA InnovateHer competitions we hosted several years ago) that will enable women entrepreneurs to receive feedback and get support (including financial) for their ideas. As part of the University of Hartford’s Barney School of Business, we also participate in student entrepreneurship initiatives and programs, striving to engage and support University of Hartford students and alumni.

NAN: What do you enjoy most about working with women entrepreneurs?

MILENA: I love so many things about my role at the EC-WBC. The stories I hear are as varied as the women I meet coming through the doors of our Center. It’s an honor to be part of each journey, to share challenges and celebrate successes. It makes my work challenging, rewarding and motivating.