Women entrepreneurs in the Northern Neck and Middle Peninsula are getting a power boost thanks to a new program launched in September by Tappahannock-based EVB, an independent community bank serving eastern and central Virginia.
The POWER program (Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Realized) offers a unique package of financial products and services tailored to women business owners. EVB is the first community bank in Virginia to offer such a customized program.
About 30 percent of all small businesses in Virginia are owned by women, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration; and women are starting businesses about one-and-a-half times faster than their male counterparts. EVB took the initiative to reach out to this niche market to grow its customer base and give opportunities to women entrepreneurs who could bring new ideas and products to the table to energize local economies.
POWER began as an idea to present an ideal banking experience to women business owners, explained Michelle Simon, senior vice president and marketing director for EVB. The initiative bloomed after brainstorming sessions with local business leaders, and evolved into a vehicle to deliver “true resources, strategies and tools to help women embark on their journeys and be successful. We want to focus on what they want from us, not just on what we want to give them,” she said.
“Women business owners face many hurdles and despite the rapid pace at which they are starting businesses, more than half fail within two years of startup,” Ms. Simon said. “Some of the biggest reasons women-owned businesses fail is lack of capital and lack of a strong support network. POWER will enable women to confidently take risks as they surround themselves with like-minded women who will embrace them on their journeys. We wanted to be a catalyst to make it happen.”
The POWER package includes basic checking and debit cards, as well as rapid micro-loans, which are small loans
(between $5,000 and $75,000) with reduced underwriting costs and quicker decision-making on loan approvals. The program focuses on women whose businesses are local or regional and have been in operation for at least two years with two or more employees.
In addition, EVB will host POWER events throughout the year inviting women business owners for networking and socials. Customers can stay connected through the program’s website, www.evbpower.com, which will serve as a women’s community resource, listing events, articles and other information relating to women business owners. There are POWER links on Facebook, Pinterest, LinkedIn, and even a playlist on Spotify.
The heart of POWER is not in its products but in its relationships, said Jill White, who along with her husband, Thomas White, owns T&J’s Dairy Barn in Burgess. “They’ve been gracious and honest,” she said of EVB’s POWER partners — “a genuine helping hand.”
After a long search for a waterfront community, the Whites moved to the Northern Neck from New Jersey, then opened the Dairy Barn about four years ago. The seasonal restaurant serves casual fare like pizzas, calzones, burgers, hotdogs, sandwiches, seafood and salads. Its specialty is homemade ice cream using the Whites’ creative original recipes — salted caramel and bourbon vanilla are particular favorites.
“To us, the EVB experience was like, ‘Wow, we’re home again,’” Ms. White said. “They’ve been like a partner — helping us jump over the hurdles. With one phone call to say, ‘We’ve hit a snag,’ they’ll point you in the right direction. They know us — where we’re from and where we want to go.”
EVB traces its history to 1910 and has 21 original branches in eastern Virginia, located in the counties of Essex, Gloucester, Hanover, Henrico, King William, Lancaster, Middlesex, New Kent, Northumberland, Southampton, Surry, Sussex and the city of Colonial Heights. With the recent acquisition of Virginia Company Bank, EVB has extended its reach into the Tidewater region with three new branches in Newport News, Hampton and Williamsburg.
There are more than 50 women entrepreneurs now in the bank’s POWER program. With an initial launch goal of 10 new relationships, EVB has exceeded its own expectations. Each branch has a dedicated POWER partner. The program’s network connects roughly 500 business women as members, affiliate partners,
advisors and mentors. EVB will launch the program in its new branches in March.
“We’ve been overwhelmed by the support,” said Robin Jett, senior vice president and market manager for EVB, of the response in Lancaster County to the launch of the program. She described enthusiastic participation from women’s groups, business owners, and even from female bankers who are competitors. For the POWER Breakfast inaugural in Lancaster, the bank joined forces with the local Lancaster by the Bay Chamber of Commerce, brought in a speaker from Williamsburg and hosted about 75 guests.
“For us, it’s not just business; it’s personal,” she said of the support network forged through the program. “They’re our friends and neighbors,” she said of the POWER members. “We shop at their stores and eat at their restaurants. We need them as much as they need us.”
Pam Deihl, owner of The Pedestal, a custom interior design shop in Kilmarnock, has been on board with the POWER program from its earliest stages. Her photo is featured on EVB’s POWER program marketing materials.
A native of the Northern Neck, Ms. Deihl has been a decorator for 36 years and in business for 22 years at her shop’s current location on South Main St. in Kilmarnock. Her family’s roots have run deep in Lancaster and Northumberland counties for generations; so she’s a welcome ambassador for the POWER program and a valuable mentor for other women entrepreneurs.
Ms. Deihl’s shop specializes in custom decorating, window treatments, furnishings, accessories and gifts. She counts herself fortunate to work every day alongside two of her three grown daughters. Ms. Deihl’s specialty is textiles, while her daughter Mary Beth focuses on accessories and hard goods purchases, furniture and space design. Daughter Wendy, with a degree in architecture from
University of Virginia, designs interior spaces and specializes in privacy window treatments. Together, they have a wealth of experience locally and a resume of projects reaching from Florida to New Jersey.
As a long time businesswoman, Ms. Deihl knows a few things about banking and networking. She’s been an EVB customer “since forever.” In her view, a program like POWER is valuable from an advertising perspective by extending the reach of her company’s brand and a personal partner at the bank streamlines financial tasks. In addition, the POWER program makes it easier for women business owners to stay connected, exchange ideas and forge bonds.
“Relationships make things easier,” she said. “Relationships make banking easier.”