Women Empowering Women
The businesswomen of southern Utah are stronger together. Community support, as well as regional collaboration between academia, the private sector, and government entities, are emerging to elevate women at all stages of their lives and careers and help them overcome unique roadblocks.
“Most women-owned companies here are bootstrapped, making the support of the community even more critical to success,” says Shirlayne Quayle, director of housing and economic development for the City of St. George. “Access to investment and financial resources are the biggest challenges right now for any entrepreneur.”
Elise West, proprietor of Affogato West in St. George, agrees that securing funding as a small business owner has been no easy task. Her coffee shop operated as a gourmet beverage truck for nearly a year before finding a permanent home and expanding their menu. She received assistance from the Utah Microloan Fund.
Becoming Business Leaders
Ms. Quayle says that companies like Intermountain Healthcare are strengthening their efforts to support women in their organizations. Educational institutions such as Dixie State University, which recently unveiled a new entrepreneurial makerspace at their Innovation Plaza, are stepping up and learning in new ways, and the short- and long-term benefits are taking hold.
“Our ecosystem is growing and strengthening—including new support and outreach programs by local banks—and I believe we will see more financial resources flowing into the area in the next couple of years,” she says.
Ms. Quayle is a cofounder and chairperson of the nonprofit Women’s Influence Center. Operating under the umbrella of the St. George Area Chamber of Commerce, the center collaborates with local and state organizations to foster personal, professional, and leadership development for women from all walks of life. Comprehensive training courses are available online through the St. George Virtual Women’s Business Center or in-person at the new Cedar City branch of the Women’s Business Center of Utah.
This year, the Women’s Influence Center launched a mentoring program in which local female entrepreneurs pair with seasoned advisors to gain real-life insight, advice, and support in launching their startups or taking their existing business to the next level. During their beta program last fall, a St. George woman who had no business experience but the dream of creating a shoe line partnered with a successful fashion entrepreneur. Their company is currently in development.
Also the co-owner of a local remodeling and design firm, Ms. Quayle has firsthand experience with the challenges faced by female entrepreneurs. “It takes tenacity, love, and energy to succeed as a woman in business in southern Utah.” she says.
A year ago, marketing strategist and speaker Sharon Rosenbaum founded SHE Sparks Business, a vibrant network of professional women in the St. George area. Now over 65 members strong, the organization hosts monthly community events with the goal of educating, connecting, and empowering female entrepreneurs.
“I never thought it would take off like it did, and I can’t wait to see what the following years have in store,” she says. “SHE Sparks Business has connected and inspired hundreds—and soon thousands—of businesswomen throughout southern Utah.”
Ms. Rosenbaum’s early life was largely devoid of female role models. Her mother died of leukemia when she was six years old, and she grew up among brothers and male cousins. She worked under a woman manager for the first time after graduating from community college.
“When I attended my first businesswomen’s event, my life did a full 360,” she says. “The experience truly opened my eyes to how empowering, impactful, and intelligent women are. It was then that I knew I had to be surrounded by more women.”
Inspired to build a sphere where female entrepreneurs could learn new skills and share ideas, solutions, resources, and frustrations on everything from advertising to raising capital, she embarked on the journey of growing a business from the ground up. Now, many women look to the SHE Sparks Business community for the same insight and support she once sought; a reminder that goals don’t carry expiration dates or the experienced voice of a mentor who has overcome the same professional hurdles.
“Overall, the goal is to help as many businesswomen succeed in their personal and professional lives as we can,” says Ms. Rosenbaum.
“There is an incredible entrepreneurial spirit in southern Utah among women business owners,” says Ms. West. “I’m amazed at the number of women who are industrious, motivated, fearless, happy, and eager to assist other women to be their best selves.”