Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Stuides

Strong Women Creating Value 2019: Christine Beech, Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies

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To celebrate Women’s History Month, we’re bringing back our popular “Strong Women Creating Value” series, telling the stories of four innovative women in Rochester. This year all four women were selected based on nominations from the community

To launch this series for 2019, today we chat with the amazing Christine Beech, Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota.

In her role at the Kabara Institute, Christine fosters a spirit of entrepreneurship among her students and connects them to the surrounding entrepreneurial communities in both Winona and Rochester.

Christine’s nominator explained that she “goes very unrecognized for all of her efforts. As a newer member of the Rochester community, she put in a large amount of time and effort to meet with people in the community to understand the culture, understand what was needed, and understand where she could plug in. She always listens and asks advice of others. She does all these things without expectation of anything in return.”

Christine recently developed and launched a series of women-focused events, called WE (Women Entrepreneurs) forums, in partnership with Rochester Area Economic Development Inc. and others in the community. She held her first packed house event in January during a snowstorm. Her second event, a business development workshop, will be held in late March.

“What I think we are creating now is a platform for women-focused and women entrepreneurial community development with conversations around the issues that are facing them,” she explained.

Christine hopes to hold forums, which utilize a panel format, quarterly, and workshop events, where women focus on and work ona specific business skill sets, in between the forums. 

“One of my hopes is that one of the things that we’ll do with this forum is to create a place where women can come together and collaborate and work together,” she said.

Christine sees many talented women in the community who can speak at these forums and lead the workshops.

“We would like to create a venue where we are tapping into that talent for the benefit of the growing ecosystem,” she explained.

She sees new businesses as the “lifeblood of the economy.” However, many entrepreneurs starting new ventures lack focused business training and don’t know where to go for support. 

“I think there’s a need in the community for imparting those skills,” she explained. “We are starting with the female-focused group because I think that group specifically seems to be craving that kind of support for their business efforts.” 

This event takes place on Sunday March 31st from 10:30-12PM. Click the image for more information and to snag your ticket!

This event takes place on Sunday March 31st from 10:30-12PM. Click the image for more information and to snag your ticket!

This initiative is partly driven by her own experience. Christine spent fourteen years in business development before joining Kabara and recognized a lack of support for these efforts in her community. After joining academia, she saw a chance to give back to people who were in the early stages of building a business or had reached a plateau in business growth.

Christine additionally sees an immense need for evidence-based information on business development- putting numbers behind what works and what doesn’t work- instead of the typical personal anecdotes supplied by most mentors. She hopes to gather this type of informative data through the WE Forum events. 

While Christine knew these women-focused events were needed, there were several challenges she faced to get women to actually attend them. The first was brand recognition. Most people in Rochester associate the name “Saint Mary’s” with a hospital, not an academic institution. Many people are also unaware that Saint Mary’s even has a presence in Rochester, which is located in the northwest region of the city at the beautiful Cascade Meadow Wetlands. Her second challenge was connecting these events to the women most in need. To do this, Christine utilized her network, partnering with over twelve different institutions to help spread the word to diverse groups and get buy in from the community.

As a whole, Christine thinks it’s a good time to be part of the female entrepreneurial community in Rochester.

“We have incredible, brilliant physicians. We have women leading regional initiatives. We have women in a lot of very key points. So that, I think, is going to make a more attractive environment for female business startups,” she explained.

To accomplish this, Christine thinks women need to have their own network that’s collaborative, not competitive.

“And they need to plug in and start leveraging each other. I feel like that’s just building. It’s not quite there yet,” she said.

Strong Women Creating Value Season 1, Episode 1: Christine Beech

In celebration of Women's History Month we chat with Christine Beech, an example of just one strong woman creating value in the Rochester community. Christine is currently the Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies at Saint Mary's University of Minnesota. Christine is also a mom, veteran, entrepreneur, business owner, consultant and a strong female leader in this city.

Women Entrepreneurial Panel Says the Money Is Out There To Fund Local Women-Led Businesses

Photo courtesy of Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.

Photo courtesy of Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc.

Last week over fifty intrepid women braved a winter storm to attend a Women Entrepreneurs Forum on funding sources. The event, led by Rochester Area Economic Development, Inc. and Saint Mary’s Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies, provided a connection point for business women in the local ecosystem and brought to the surface funding pain points experienced by these innovators. 

The forum included a panel discussion featuring Jennifer Gowin, a Commercial Local Officer with Premier Banks Rochester, Cathy Connett, CEO and Managing Partner of the Sofia Fund, an angel investment fund for high growth potential women-led businesses, and Laura Hart, Loan Officer with the 504 Corporation

Although at the national level, women-led businesses receive less investments and less capital via bank loans than male-led companies, Gowin and Hart aren’t necessarily seeing this phenomenon at the local level. Though Gowin sees the same size of business loans being awarded to men and women, she’s observed more men than woman applying for loans to fund their company. Hart explained that the funding is out there. But it’s unclear to her if women are not aware of these opportunities or choose to not pursue them. In the venture capital and angel funding world, where there are more male than female investors, the picture is a little more lop-sided.

“Typically, unfortunately, like invests in like,” Connett explained.

Although there are less women investors in general, female business owners, Connett said, also typically wait too long to seek equity investment than their male counterparts.

“Women often want to have everything lined up before they [seek funding]. Whether it’s a bank loan, or whether it’s equity, or anything else,” she explained. 

Women, Connett said, are just as likely to be risk takers as men.

“But I think we don’t want to expose ourselves to risk sometimes,” she explained. 

When looking at loans and investments to any business, the panel said, several factors contribute to the final decision. As a bank, Gowan explained, her employer is fairly conservative when granting loans. Banks typically assess business collateral. If light, the bank will also look at personal assets and personal credit. They will also closely assess the business owner and her level of understanding of her business and the associated industry plus her ability as a founder to overcome any associated risks. 

The team’s capacity to overcome adversity, Connett explained, is a significant factor in angel and venture capital investment.

Excitement, passion, the ability to tell a compelling story, and a clear need for the business in the community are all vital pieces to secure funding, the panel explained.

Resources to fund female, and male, owned businesses are out there. As women, we just have to put ourselves out there and go after it. 

“Events like this are important as they allow entrepreneurs to come together and learn, develop community, and share resources. This event specifically created a venue for women entrepreneurs to increase their knowledge on the opportunities and barriers they face in funding their businesses,” said Christine Beech, Executive Director of the Kabara Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies. “The speakers and roundtable discussions were designed to help these entrepreneurs develop new strategies to identify opportunities to fund and grow their businesses.”

Future events and workshops like this funding forum are in the planning stages to address additional unmet needs for local business women.