Milena Erwin is Program Manager of the Women’s Business Center at the University of Hartford’s Entrepreneurial Center. Innovation Destination: Hartford asked Erwin about her role at the Center and the importance of supporting women entrepreneurs.
IDH: How did you become interested in entrepreneurship?
ERWIN: I have been interested in entrepreneurship ever since I started my own company in the 1990s in Bulgaria shortly after the transition from a planned communist to a free market economy. The freedom of carrying out your own vision and being your own boss, I think, is innately attractive to any person.
Diving into entrepreneurship, however, is not for everyone. Since that early experience, I have worked for and with many small businesses and kept my entrepreneurial pursuits in the background.
IDH: Tell us about your role at the Entrepreneurial Center and how you became involved.
ERWIN: The Entrepreneurial Center is part of the Barney School of Business at the University of Hartford. The Women’s Business Center (WBC), funded in part by the Small Business Administration, is the Entrepreneurial Center’s largest initiative. Under the tagline of “From Startup to expansion, making your vision a reality,” we assist entrepreneurs and small business owners throughout Connecticut to start and grow their businesses. We assist more than 1,000 people a year, about 70% women. I joined the Entrepreneurial Center staff in 2010 and had the opportunity to become Program Manager at the WBC in 2014.
IDH: What types of services and resources does the WBC provide?
ERWIN: The WBC provides one-on-one counseling and a variety of training opportunities for women entrepreneurs and women-owned businesses. We offer 10 to 20 classes a month, on topics ranging from How to Start Your Own Business to Business Planning and Government Contracting. Many of our classes are free or low-cost.
We also provide networking and other events throughout the year, such as a Power and Progress Women’s Symposium, a Women’s Business Roundtable and an annual Business Matchmaking event. We work with many partners in the area and throughout Connecticut.
IDH: Why do you feel it’s important for the Entrepreneurial Center to have a special focus on women in business?
ERWIN: Women are starting businesses at a record rate, and women-owned businesses are increasingly contributing to Connecticut’s and the nation’s economy. However, women still face many challenges in the small-business arena, including in the fields of financing and contracting.
The Entrepreneurial Center helps these women be heard and empowers them with the tools to grow and succeed. Due to my background and expertise, I am particularly passionate about helping women entrepreneurs succeed globally.
IDH: What do you enjoy most about working with entrepreneurs?
ERWIN: I love so many things about my role in the WBC. The stories we hear are as varied as the women coming through our doors. I am honored to be part of their journey, share their challenges and celebrate their successes. It is challenging, rewarding and motivating.
IDH: With your role at the university, you have some insight into the interests of future entrepreneurs. Are there any “hot topics” in particular that appeal to your clients?
ERWIN: It is hard to identify one or two topics that appeal more than others. My role involves constantly updating our offerings to better suit our clients’ needs and learning styles.
Entrepreneurship is a journey of constant learning, and our classes strive to bring the latest trends and topics, such as social media and crowdfunding. We look for experts in each field to bring the most up-to-date information on the topic.
IDH: What is the best thing about the Greater Hartford region?
ERWIN: I love the diversity of Greater Hartford.