Women entrepreneurs are enjoying a powerful partnership thanks to an initiative pioneered by EVB, an independent community bank serving northern, eastern and central Virginia.
The P.O.W.E.R. program (Potential of Women Entrepreneurs Realized) is celebrating a second successful year of empowering women in business. P.O.W.E.R. participation has exceeded expectations by more than doubling membership every year since the program’s launch in September 2014. Through its networking efforts, P.O.W.E.R. connects thousands of women across the state as members, affiliate partners, advisors and mentors.
The P.O.W.E.R. program offers a unique package of financial products and services tailored to women in business and women entrepreneurs. 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.
“Everyone has a powerful woman in their life,” said Julie Hill, EVB vice president and director of the P.O.W.E.R. program. “We’re bringing them together to be a part of something special, something like a think tank for women in business,” she said. “We’re willing to get behind them and help.”
P.O.W.E.R. 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.
The P.O.W.E.R. package includes basic checking and debit cards, as well as custom P.O.W.E.R. loans, which are loans between $10,000 and $200,000 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 part based on feedback from participants, EVB has added a significant educational component to the program. Members can download podcasts on a multitude of subjects such as expanding product lines, increasing sales, time management, finances, taxes, legal issues and human resources, as well as many other tips and topics. “Every woman is unique and her business has unique needs, so we’re offering resources that fit her style and schedule,” Hill said. “We’re constantly perfecting what we’re offering.”
P.O.W.E.R. is not a “one size fits all” program, Simon added. “No matter what type of business you’re in, there’s something for you.” Popular additions to the suite of products are a membership directory and P.O.W.E.R. Perks. The directory lists all members of the program, allowing them to connect and share valuable information on a variety of business issues. “Each of our members is an expert at what she does,” Hill said. “The directory allows them to connect with other experts in other fields.” P.O.W.E.R. Perks include special offers, discounts, products, services and information offered only among members. In addition, EVB hosts P.O.W.E.R. events throughout the year inviting women in business for networking and socials. Members 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 in business. To improve members’ experiences, the website is constantly upgraded to make it more customized and interactive. P.O.W.E.R. connects with its members through social media, as well as with the P.O.W.E.R. Facebook and Instagram platforms. There’s even a P.O.W.E.R. playlist on Spotify. The program has seen enthusiastic participation from women’s groups, business owners, and even from female bankers who are competitors. Excitement for P.O.W.E.R. has caught on and members are reaching out to their friends and business acquaintances to recommend the program.
The heart of P.O.W.E.R. is not in its products but in its relationships. Beth Royal, co-owner of Stone’s Throw Studios, a full service graphic design and signage agency in Montpelier, was involved with P.O.W.E.R. from the beginning, participating in initial focus groups and brainstorming sessions. “It was refreshing to see how much they cared and how much they really wanted to support all of us,” she said. “They are out and about, smiling, connecting, joining with all of us to let us know that their caring is the real deal. When I have a question or a challenge, the response is almost instant. I feel like they’ve got my back. That’s a great feeling,” she said.
Stone’s Throw Studios, which specializes in a vast array of graphics, branding, signage, store displays and exhibits, holds a Class A contractor’s license and is certified in Virginia through the Small, Woman-owned and Minority-owned Business program (SWaM). Royal, who directs Stone’s Throw Studios along with her partner, Chuck Burnette, values the extraordinary focus and services of the P.O.W.E.R. community. “Knowing that your bank is more than just a bank, that it’s a solid network of smart, dedicated women intent on seeing you through challenging times as well as applauding when you succeed, well, that’s just, frankly, the best,” she added.
Katherine Watson, president of Manakin Farms, Inc., a Richmond-based real estate and development firm, is a confirmed P.O.W.E.R. customer who also serves on the P.O.W.E.R. advisory board. “These women are legitimately there for me,” Watson said. “They are an extension of my team. That’s what makes them unique.”
A native of Richmond and graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University, Watson worked many years for The Martin Agency, while working behind the scenes part-time for her family’s company, Manakin Farms, a real estate firm started by her great-grandfather. “We’ve been winging it since 1948,” she said, jokingly referring to the company’s tongue-in-cheek motto. She left the Martin Agency last July to run the family company in earnest. “I saw a lot of potential and wanted to bring the company from passive to active,” she said. So Watson set about “exploding everything and putting it back together again to rebuild.” Since she didn’t have a commercial real estate background, she sought out information and guidance. “But when it came to doing things differently, running the company differently, I hit a brick wall. I kept hearing, ‘We don’t do it that way,’ but I didn’t understand why,” she said. “I wasn’t finding the support I needed. I was in an information rut.”
When she got involved in EVB’s P.O.W.E.R. program, she knew it included a suite of banking products tailored to women entrepreneurs. “But what struck me was that they checked in with me a couple of times a week saying, ‘We want to learn about you and your company,’ and they really meant it. I was taken aback by that,” Watson said. “They were asking some of the same questions I was, and asking, ‘How can we help you figure that out?’” The women in the P.O.W.E.R. network “want my business to grow and succeed,” she said. The expertise offered through the program “takes away that feeling that I have to know everything.”
Alva Jackson, proprietor of MaMH Culinary Services and MaMargaret’s House Bed and Breakfast in Reedville, is busy wearing many hats. Her B&B has been named a number-one, five-star destination by TripAdvisor. Ma Margaret’s House was built in 1914 by Jackson’s grandfather, and she has lovingly restored it with a heaping helping of Southern charm and hospitality. In addition to running the B&B, Jackson is chief chef and owner of MaMH Culinary Services catering, and she simultaneously operates The Tavern at Rice’s Hotel/Hughlett’s Tavern in Heathsville. With all that she has on her plate, she’s glad she can reach out to her P.O.W.E.R. partners for speedy advice and support. “They’re always available to monitor your progress and make recommendations to help you along the way,” she said.
“You feel like you’re part of a small community rather than a large, stuffy bank,” she said. “They really make you feel special — like you’re not doing it all by yourself. It’s very exciting to have P.O.W.E.R.”
Big Believers in Small Business