SBA’s Women’s Business Center helps Russian immigrant | Op-Ed

Shaun H. Ruff

Fifteen years ago, Regina Adams came to the U.S. from Russia on a university exchange student visa. While here, she got a job and set her sights on practicing and improving her English.

She loved the country so much that in two years she returned wanting to permanently reside here. Today, Adams, now in the process of obtaining her citizenship, and her husband operate two successful small businesses – a crepe food truck and one of the area’s newest companies, Lil Bunny Play and Party Place.

“I wanted to earn a paycheck too,” said Adams, now 35 and the mother of three. “But with the cost of day care, I decided to care for my children while dreaming and creating my business model in my head.” Last year, Adams’ dream finally came true when she opened the doors to Lil Bunny Play and Party Place at Monroeville Mall.

The safe, sanitary and cheerful area allows parents and children to play, take an arts and crafts class together or celebrate a birthday with friends. With her children in tow, Adams built up a steady clientele. When the pandemic hit, she closed until she could safely reopen. Today, Adams tells me business is brisk and she’s flushed with expansion and franchise offers.

Adams didn’t know where to turn to for help. I directed her to the award-winning Chatham University Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship Women’s Business Center. She couldn’t believe the center offers free assistance for her to pursue this incredible opportunity, but it’s true. My agency, the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) helps women, just like Adams, through our national network of 136 Women’s Business Centers, offering one-on-one counseling, training, networking, workshops, technical assistance, and mentoring to women entrepreneurs. They’ll help you decide if starting a business is right for you, find funding for materials and supplies, help you market your business and increase revenues by selling to the federal government. They even help with franchising opportunities.

Adams is in good hands at Chatham. Director Anne Flynn Schlicht and her team hold decades of experience in entrepreneurship, business ownership, consulting, design, technology and sales. “We have built a strong team of technical assistance counselors consisting of area professionals lending their expertise with legal issues, marketing and social media, human resources, accounting and government contracting certification for women-owned small business set-asides,” said Schlicht.

“We’re sensitive to the needs of our women entrepreneurs,” Schlicht told me. “Even before the pandemic, we offered evening and weekend virtual or telephone counseling allowing women to focus on their work and be with their families during the day and receive small business assistance in the evening or weekends. While we’re completely virtual during the pandemic, all of our trainings and classes are online allowing our clients 24/7 access and the ability to learn anytime and anywhere.”

Adams, who is one of approximately 300 clients supported in the past year, is appreciative of the SBA and its Women’s Business Centers. “Every woman should be able to do what they want in life,” she said. “I’m so grateful for this free assistance.”

Dr. Kelly Hunt is the U.S. Small Business Administration Western Pennsylvania District Director.

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