MISSOULA – The University of Montana’s Women’s Entrepreneurship and Leadership Lab launched this week with a grant from Wells Fargo to expand programs for women looking to start or grow their businesses.
The $125,000 grant will allow W.E.L.L. to build awareness around inequities for women in business, highlight the ways men can support women and develop additional programming for budding entrepreneurs no matter where they live in the state, said Morgan Slemberger, director of the W.E.L.L. program.
“Wells Fargo was instrumental in supporting our foray into an online curriculum to support women across Montana,” Slemberger said. “With their continued support, we’ve been able to expand from only offering one traditional college course to now creating five online courses geared toward women who want to start a business. Their shared commitment to empowering women set us up for our previous federal grant win for a U.S. Small Business Association Women’s Business Center.”
Formerly called Pursue your Passions, W.E.L.L. has grown from a campus-based student program to one with a broader reach.. In January, the SBA awarded UM and the Montana Technology Enterprise Center a competitive grant to open and run a Women’s Business Center housed in Missoula with offices coming soon to Great Falls and Fort Belknap. It is the second WBC in the state, providing business counseling, programs and training to create financial independence for women who can help grow the state’s economy.
Slemberger led efforts to secure the SBA grant and said this groundswell of support can go a long way toward helping women entrepreneurs. She said women in business traditionally face unique challenges to following their entrepreneurial spirit, including childcare and a finding a like-minded community.
“We have been practicing what we preach and starting up programs like our entrepreneurs start businesses; developing and testing ideas based on customer needs and growing them,” Slemberger said, adding that participation in their programs has grown threefold in the past few years. “As word has spread that we’re providing a safe place for women to share their ideas and grow their businesses, the more women, statewide – and even outside the state – we are able to support at whatever level makes sense to them.”
Program participant Lindsey Godwin said she found the program at the perfect time in her career as she was exiting one job and following her passion for photography.
“Surrounding myself with passionate, intelligent and strong women has made me feel confident in myself and what I’m capable of,” Godwin said. “Having a group of women to lean on, lift up and share successes with has empowered me to stop chasing my dreams and instead enabled me to capture them.”
Contact: Morgan Slemberger, UM Accelerate Montana director of women’s entrepreneurship and leadership, 971-219-4101, email@example.com.