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Women’s Business Development Center Questionnaire

Mission Statement

The mission of the Women’s Business Development Center (WBDC) is to provide services and programs that support and accelerate women’s business ownership and strengthen their impact on the economy.

Organization History

In 1986, less than 10% of U.S. businesses were women-owned. And, in the workplace, women earned $24,479 to men’s $38,088 in annual wages. These statistics, and the lack of women in positions of power and leadership, spurred Hedy M. Ratner and Carol Dougal to create WBDC, one of the first women’s business assistance centers in the United States.

Over the years, WBDC has assisted more than 66,000 women in Chicagoland and helped establish 14 additional women’s business assistance centers in six states in the United States. The organization seeks to accelerate the rate of growth of women’s business ownership, increase the economic impact of women-owned businesses, increase awareness of business ownership as a viable means of economic self-sufficiency, and stimulate public policy and system changes which support and strengthen the economic impact of women.

The WBDC has grown from a two-person operation to a national leader in women’s economic development with a budget of $3.3 million, employing 24 full-time staff, and serving nine Midwest states from their headquarters in Chicago and another physical plant in Minneapolis.



What Problem Did the Grant Solve?

Prior to 2013, WBDC served women veterans as part of their overall client population. Continuous headlines from 2011 to 2013 of military sexual trauma, high unemployment, and homelessness among women veterans caused WBDC to ascertain whether there was a more significant role their organization could play to assist women veterans in Chicagoland. Their research showed that many of the skills acquired by women in the military made them well-suited to be successful entrepreneurs but that dedicated programs to provide ongoing education and training to assist them were not available.

In 2013, the Women’s Vetrepreneurship Program was established in partnership with the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs to create a women veterans’ support infrastructure. Participants in the WVP receive counseling, business development training, technical assistance, direct lending through micro-loans to eligible participants, mentoring, no-cost childcare, and complimentary access to many of the organizations events and workshops, and media exposure.

Since its start in 2013, WBDC has talked with over 130 woman veterans, of which 72 have received one or more WBDC services and 54 women veterans have received counseling. Outcomes to be measured include taking the WBDC entrepreneurship classes, creating a business plan, executing that plan, applying for and receiving loans, opening a business, hiring additional staff and creating jobs in their communities.

The WVP is innovative, unique, and deploys creative strategies as a partnership between a nonprofit and a state agency -formed to leverage the core competencies and resources of each for the benefit of women veterans seeking to become economically independent through business ownership. This partnership has resulted in a comprehensive, cost effective approach to delivering business development and critical social service/benefit assistance to women veterans by organizations possessing veteran cultural understanding and through a female lens. Currently no other program offers this “one stop shop” direct service in a welcoming and non-threatening environment.

WBDC has diverse private and public funders for different aspects of this program. They believe this program is sustainable as it targets a group already served by the organization. With the return of many more veterans, demand for the program will increase. As the results for this Chicagoland program are measured, WBDC will explore similar needs and gaps in service within their nine state area.


WBDC found First Nonprofit Foundation’s grant process to be easy and an opportunity to expand their relationship beyond insurance coverage with First Nonprofit Insurance Company.