By: Kelli Dugan,

MOBILE, Alabama – If a small business resource center opens its new doors and no one knows it’s there, does it stand a chance of reaching the would-be entrepreneurs it targets?

With any luck, the Women’s Business Center Inc. won’t need to answer that question after the Women Lawyers of the Mobile Bar Association host “An Evening of Networking with Business Women of the Mobile Area” Tuesday, Oct. 8 in the Regions Bank Pharr Room of the RSA Battle House Tower.

“Many women fail in their businesses because they don’t start at the ground and work up, and they don’t know where to go to get help,” said Ann Davis, executive director of the center which relocated in August 2012 to its stand-alone facility on Azalea Road after spending 19 years at the Mobile Business Incubator Center.

All proceeds from the Women Lawyers’ event – the organization’s third annual community fundraiser – will benefit the Women’s Business Center, and the two-hour event will feature keynote speaker Judy Bonner, president of the University of Alabama.

Lucy Tufts, an attorney with Cunningham Bounds LLC and the current president of the Women Lawyers arm of the Mobile Bar Association, said projected proceeds based on ticket sales to date are already on track to exceed the $2,500 raised in 2012 for women’s shelter McKemie Place.

Telling its story
Davis, who took the Women Business Center’s helm in October, said unrestricted funds such as those raised during the networking event are crucial to helping the program tell its story and achieve its mission of promoting the economic empowerment of women by assisting them to start and grow successful small businesses.

With an annual operating budget of nearly $590,000, the Women’s Business Center receives about $234,000 in restricted federal funds which then require it to secure about $117,000 from in-kind matching funds, leaving about $239,000 in annual need.

“We have tried to increase our revenue streams, and we have received some tremendous support from community organizations and companies, and this networking event is just a fantastic example of the community reaching out to help us do more things like mentoring and it gives us the freedom to tell our story,” Davis said.

In addition to the networking and Bonner’s keynote address, the Evening of Networking will also double as the center’s annual South Alabama Successful Small Business of the Year, or Sassy, awards. Each year, the organization honors one success story each from its Mobile-Baldwin program and its Rural Business Initiative serving the other five counties under its umbrella: Monroe, Clarke, Conecuh, Washington and Escambia.

New in 2013, however, will be the naming of a “People’s Choice” winner for which nominations will be accepted through midnight Friday, Sept. 20.
Above all, Davis is hopeful the business center’s partnership with the Women Lawyers’ event – in which she personally participated in 2012 – will raise its profile to a level on par with the two decades’ of service it’s provided across southwest Alabama.

“It amazes me that after all this time people still don’t know we’re here. We had a girl come in just yesterday who had been told she needed to (secure) her articles of incorporation. She did some digging and realized they were asking for $600, and she came to us to try and figure out what to do next, and we asked her, ‘Do you have a financial plan? Do you have a strategic plan?’ and she said, ‘No. I just have this idea,’” Davis said.

Of course, the center also provides training at all levels, meaning many of the roughly 200 women – and some men – who cycle through the office each year might only need a class to bring them up to speed on a particular skill or program, while others might need step-by-step guidance for launching a small business.

Lawyers for long-term support
Tufts said while the event will undoubtedly raise much-needed funds for the Women’s Business Center, the networking aspect is intended to ensure the support extends far.

“We’re talking about exposure to tons of professional women: accountants, doctors, real estate agents, academics and small business owners. We’re talking about women who can sit on their board (of directors), women who can contribute by volunteering, women who can help raise money for them separate from our involvement,” Tufts said. “It’s just a wonderful opportunity for professional women in this area to establish personal and professional relationships and then continue to foster them throughout the year.”

Just ask Tonny Algood, executive director at United Methodist Inner City Mission which operates McKemie Place along with a host of other programs. With an annual operating budget of nearly $320,000, the women’s shelter simply cannot survive on grant funding alone.

“We would not be here if it wasn’t for groups like the Women Lawyers and others who have fundraisers and donate those funds to the shelter throughout the year,” he said. “It means everything in the world.”

Ticket are $20 each – cash or check only – and the event begins at 5:30 p.m. The RSVP deadline has been extended until Oct. 1.

For more information about “An Evening of Networking with Business Women of the Mobile Area”– including the few remaining vendor slots – contact Tufts at (251) 471-6191 or