Packed opening of Memphis-based women's business center shows big need

The main atrium of the Crosstown Concourse was packed on August 23 for the grand opening of the new Women's Business Center South. Guests filled every available seat and tables at surrounding businesses for a standing-room only event.

More than one of its speakers noted that the strong showing proves there's a major need for business supports focused on women-owned enterprises in the Mid-South.

"I think that your presence here today shows that Memphis was ready for the Women's Business Center South," speaker Phala Mire told the crowd.

Mire is president & CEO of WBC South's parent organization, the Women's Business Enterprise Council South or WBEC South. 

WBC South will serve woman-owned enterprises across five states —Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and the Florida Panhandle— but its new Executive Director Vonesha Mitchell said it will hyper-focused on Memphis and the Mid-South. 

The center offers a host of services, all of which are tailored to each business owners' needs. Their core offerings include coaching and mentoring, resource and funding connections, networking events, minority business certification assistance, and specialized training and education on topics ranging from funding and finances to marketing and legal issues. 

"What we try to do with all of our programs, is make sure that we set women up for success," said Mire. "We want to meet you where you are and help support your growth, your development, and most importantly, help lead you to business opportunities and get your foot into doors that you might not have been able to get into otherwise."

Related: "New Memphis-based women's business support center will hold grand opening August 23"
Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris speaks to the max capacity crowd at the Women's Business Center South grand opening. (HGN / Cole Bradley)

The center's core team includes Mitchell, Program Manager Lamisa Hasan, part-time administrative help, and a broad network of local, regional, and national coaches and contacts. 
Vonesha Mitchell, pictured at the Women's Business Center South grand opening, will serve as the organization's executive director. (HGN / Cole Bradley)
"Not only did we pick the right city to open the women's business center, we picked the right team to lead it," said Mire, in agreement with a similar statement by City of Memphis Director of Business Diversity and Compliance Joann Massey.

Mitchell's background includes 15 years in business consulting, procurement, and workforce development. She served mostly recently as Director of Community and Economic Development with the Memphis Medical District Collaborative.

Mire said when WBEC South was scouting for someone to lead WBC South, she asked a number of Memphians for their recommendations, and Mitchell's name came up repeatedly. 

"When you hear a name that many times, you got to talk to them. Once I talked to her, I knew she was the one," said Mire.

What You Missed
The grand opening kicked off with a vocal performance by Memphis Slim Collaboratory Executive Director Tonya Dyson. Dyson closed on a beautifully haunting rendition of a Nirvana classic that had the crowd rapt on the atrium's first and second floors.

Next came speeches and a ribbon cutting before Mitchell encouraged the crowd to spend time networking with each other, the speakers, and the women-owned businesses tabling the event. 

Those businesses included Pop-a-Roos gourmet popcorn, BrainTrust, LEO Events, Alcenia's, Mobile Mommy, New York Life Insurance Company, Oteka Technologies, and Associated Benefits Consulting.

Guests were also treated to samples and freebies like bags of Pop-A-Roos popcorn, snacks from Lucy J's Bakery, cookies from Oteka Technologies, and a copy of the book “Lunch with Lucy,” written by Sherry Deutschmann, founder of BrainTrust. 

Speakers included: Mire, Mitchell, and Massey, as well as Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, Epicenter Memphis President Jessica Taveau, and Association of Women Business Centers CEO Corinne Hodges.

Assistant Administrator Natalie Madeira Cofield with the U.S. Small Business Administrations' Office of Women's Business Ownership gave the keynote address. 

For safety, masks were required, bottles of hand sanitizer were given as gifts, chairs were spaced out, and attendees were repeatedly encouraged to use safe practices when networking after the ribbon cutting.

The crowd at the WBC South grand opening spilled into the seating areas of French Truck Coffee, Area 51 Ice Cream, and Curb Market. (HGN / Cole Bradley)
A National Network Comes to Memphis
Madeira Cofield said the new center is part of history. WBC South is one of 20 new locations funded by the U.S. SBA as part of its largest expansion of its women-owned business center program

WBC South is funded by the U.S. SBA and WBEC South, which is a U.S. SBA regional partner. WBEC South also a regional partner of the national Women’s Business Enterprise National Council, which is the largest certifier of women-owned businesses in the nation.
Phala Mire, president & CEO of WBC South's parent organization, the Women's Business Enterprise Council South or WBEC South, spoke at the WBC South grand opening. (HGN / Cole Bradley)
Mire noted that the Memphis center has also joined the Association of Women's Business Centers, which further grows the national network of business opportunities and supports that is now available to women in the Mid-South. Hodges said the association has 135 affiliated centers similar to WBC South. 

"There are so many in so many places standing with us," Mitchell told the crowd. 

"Women who are in business have a lot of unique challenges. But we want you to know that you're not in it by yourself," said Mire.

"The thing that makes it so important for us to have a physical presence here was that when we see women get together with each other, magic happens," said Mire. "We know that the magic that we see everywhere else is going to happen here in this city."
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Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.