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ATHENA PowerLink

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Although the number of women owned businesses has been growing fast and furiously for some time, the growth rate for women business owners is slower than that of their male counterparts. The Business Magazine recently spoke to ATHENA Erie Chair Linda Stevenson to learn more about how the ATHENA PowerLink program strives to help women business owners navigate hurdles and barriers to growth, as well as the additional resources that are available in this region, such as the 8th annual Women in Leadership Development Conference (WILD).

You retired from a long and successful career in the banking sector, most recently as senior vice president of Women’s Business Development at PNC. Tell us how you got involved with ATHENA and why.
During my years in banking, I worked with the Small Business Administration to offer alternative financing solutions for small businesses. The interactions I had with business owners made me aware of the struggles they face on a regular basis. I realized that even though women were starting businesses in record numbers, their growth rate was considerably slower. It was apparent that they were struggling with funding issues and lagging behind in making professional connections. Through my work travels, I was fortunate to connect with amazing women who decided to do something about this disconnect and it was the ATHENA PowerLink program.

You are now chair of ATHENA Erie, which was introduced to the Erie community in 2000 and has since provided professional mentors to 37 women business owners. Please tell us more about the program and what it entails.
ATHENA PowerLink provides growing women-owned businesses with an advisory panel made up of local professionals who help the business owner define and achieve tangible goals that will improve the business’ growth and profitability. Each adviser is hand-selected based on the business’ needs and serves at no cost to the business owner for 12 months. The best part of the program is its cyclical nature, with many of the former ATHENA PowerLink (APL) panel recipients returning to serve in some capacity.

How do you apply and what are the criteria to become an ATHENA PowerLink business?
Program applications are reviewed by the ATHENA PowerLink Governing Body. To be considered for a panel, in addition to being open to advice, the company must: be owned at least 51 percent by a woman; have been in operation for at least two years; have a minimum of two employees; generate annual revenues of at least $250,000 if a manufacturer or retail business, or $100,000 if a service business; and have clearly defined company goals.

What is one of your favorite examples of how the ATHENA program has benefited an Erie businesswoman?
It’s extremely difficult to single out one success story as there are many from the ATHENA PowerLink program. Check out www.athenaerie.org for more stories, but one that sticks out to me is Shawn Keough-Hartz, owner of Provider Resources, Inc. (PRI). Keough-Hartz says it best, “During my experience with the ATHENA PowerLink program, the greatest benefit was the validation I received from my panel. They helped me find the confidence required to pursue my dream of instilling integrity in the health-care system.”

ATHENA regularly hosts its ATHENA & ATHENA Young Professionals Awards Luncheon. What plans are under way for 2015?
The awards luncheon runs every other year and, in the off year, the ATHENA Women’s Leadership Luncheon, which includes roundtable discussion, is held.
The 2015 awards program will be an outstanding event on September 17, featuring keynote speaker Dr. Barbara Mistick, president of Wilson Community College. Additionally, one outstanding leader will be recognized for her or his dedication to supporting the advancement of women leaders and four local university students will be honored for their accomplishments as emerging leaders.

Many of the women who participate in ATHENA Erie are also active in the Gannon SBDC’s annual Women in Leadership Development Conference (WILD). What are the benefits of participating in such an event?
Simply put, “those who give, get.” ATHENA women realize how fortunate they are to have access to a team of highly skilled business professionals who will help them grow their business and a pool of connections. They participate because they want to give back and by participating in WILD, they can do just that. WILD is about bringing professional women together to share their experiences and insights.

What are some additional resources/events you would recommend specifically for local businesswomen?
Erie has many resources professional women can utilize, the key is getting involved. To mention a few: SBDC seminars, Edinboro University Women to Women Connections, all ATHENA programs, Innovation Collaborative, Business After Hours, Erie Ambassador program, MBA Eggs ‘n’ Issues, Women’s Roundtable, and Coffee Club Divas.

Is there anything else you would like to add?
This year we will celebrate the 16th anniversary of the ATHENA PowerLink program. The success we’ve achieved could not have been realized were it not for the community leaders who’ve stepped up to give so generously of their time to help Erie’s women-owned business grow and thrive.

For more information on ATHENA PowerLink and the many other ATHENA programs, visit www.athenaerie.org or contact Linda Stevenson, athenaerie.stevenson@gmail.com.