CHICAGO – First Lady Patricia Blagojevich addressed women business owners and presented the awards for the 2008 Women’s Business Plan Competition during the 22nd annual Women’s Business Development Center’s Entrepreneurial Conference. The First Lady praised women business owners and thanked them for their important contributions to Illinois’ diverse economy.
The Governor and First Lady have both been passionate advocates for Illinois’ women business owners. Throughout the Governor’s administration, he has assisted women in business by signing the Equal Pay Act in 2003, offering support through the Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network, and investing in new opportunities for women-owned businesses.
“Women-owned businesses have proved to be an incredible driving force in the Illinois economy. With more than 285,000 women-owned businesses, Illinois can rest assured that we are leading the way in creating a vibrant atmosphere for business development and providing entrepreneurs with the assistance needed to grow and thrive in today’s economy,” First Lady Patti Blagojevich said.
The Women’s Business Plan Competition, targeted for start-up and established businesses located in communities on the near south and near west sides of Chicago, recognizes the spirit of entrepreneurship demonstrated by innovation, growth and personal commitment of women business owners who have developed exceptional products or services in the targeted transforming communities.
The 2008 Women’s Business Plan Competition winners are:
· 1st place winner - Business start-up: Eco-Scene, owned by Aimee Heilbrunn and Carmen Ramson-Herzing, an internet site reviewing green products;
· 2nd place winner - Business start-up: Erika Flores, owner of Kinderflow, early childhood education center;
· 1st place winner - Existing business: Lynette Aune of Jungle Gym, a fitness center for children;
· 2nd place winner - Existing business: Nicole Jones of Sensual Steps Shoe Salon; and
· Winner - Child care business start-up: Dana Lockett who will be opening Infantile to Juvenile.
Winners of the Women’s Business Plan Competition were selected in two categories: Start-Up (less than two years) and Established Businesses (at least three years in operation with sales revenue less than $3,000,000). First place winners were awarded $10,000 and second place winners were awarded cash, equipment, and merchandise.
Governor Blagojevich has a long record of supporting women in business. In 2003, the Governor signed the Equal Pay Act to eliminate wage differences between men and women. At that time, the average woman earned about $240 less per week than the average man, largely because a woman earned only 71 cents for every dollar a man earned. Through the Equal Pay Act, plus major education and enforcement campaigns, women in Illinois now earn 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.
The State, through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, also provides assistance to women-owned businesses and entrepreneurs through the Illinois Entrepreneurship Center Network (IEN) - regional hubs for coordinating small business development, entrepreneurship training and in Illinois. In fiscal year 2007, IEN assisted women-owned businesses in obtaining almost $26 million in financing and securing $188 million in contracts. In that same year, Small Business Development Centers counseled or trained about 11,000 female clients.
In 2006, Governor Blagojevich created the first 100 percent Minority-Owned Business/Women-Owned Business bond deal in state history
. Every business in the $125 million sale was either minority or woman-owned. That same year, the Governor announced a $700,000 investment in the Ceres Venture Fund, an Evanston-based venture capital fund, to continue to provide critical capital to help promising young companies grow.
“We were pleased that the First Lady announced our business plan at our Child Care Business Expo, and we are honored that she announced the winners at our 22nd Entrepreneurial Woman’s Conference’s Mentoring Breakfast. Both the First Lady and Governor Blagojevich are committed to women’s economic empowerment and have established critical policies to strengthen women’s business ownership in Illinois,” said Hedy Ratner, Co-President, Women’s Business Development Center.
The Women’s Business Development Center aims to serve women interested in starting, or growing, their business. Working with public and private women’s business advocates, the center promotes opportunities that support women entrepreneurs, creating significant economic impact and job creation for the state.
“Illinois’ small businesses are the backbone of our economy. Small businesses help create jobs, keep our economy moving forward and spur innovation in the state. Programs like the Women’s Business Competition are examples of how we’re leveraging our resources to help entrepreneurs get the training and capital they need to be successful,” DCEO Director Jack Lavin said.
Those who are interested in starting a business in Illinois, or who have an existing business, are encouraged to visit the Illinois business portal at http://business.illinois.gov/
, which has a wealth of information for businesses in one easy to access location.