From Shoes to Grants: weVENTURE Awards $30K to Women-Owned Small Businesses
“If you give a woman the right tools and the right shoes, she can conquer the world.”
— Kathryn Rudloff, executive director of weVENTURE
Never underestimate the power of getting a ballroom full of women wearing cool shoes together. The event known as Wine Women and Shoes is all about good food, drinks, friends and fashion, with the goal of fundraising.
Deemed a “smashing success” by weVENTURE Executive Director Kathryn Rudloff, the Aug. 26 inaugural event on the Space Coast raised over $425,000. And the impact was felt immediately, as some of that partially funded grants awarded Oct. 6 at weVENTURE Women’s Business Center (WBC)’s inaugural IMPACT Grants at the 11th annual IMPACT Summit.
Of the 18 women small-business owners who applied for the new IMPACT Grant program, three were awarded direct cash funding:
- The Seaside Succulent, Leslie Thomas, $15,000
- Chef’s Kitchen South, Lacy Bussey, $10,000
- Vitaglide, Marcy Ullom, $5,000
Four additional applicants were awarded scholarships to participate in IGNITE 360 or the Athena Leadership Development class.
The three finalists pitched their businesses live on stage at the IMPACT Summit, with more than 300 professional women in attendance at the half-day business leadership conference. They also enjoyed networking plus training and development sessions.
Leslie Thomas, owner of The Seaside Succulent and winner of the top $15,000 grant plans to use the money to participate in an intensive retail coaching program over the next year. The goal is to learn more about retail specific topics like inventory management, budgeting and retail planning.
“My longer-range goal is to create a retail business mentoring program to help other women navigate the path to opening and running a successful brick and mortar retail business,” Thomas said.
And despite her background as a high school teacher, plus leading frequent workshops at her shop, Thomas said she was nervous to deliver her pitch in front of the 250 attendees at the IMPACT Summit.
“I put in many hours crafting and editing my pitch with the help of my business mentors, Kathy Register and Jeannette Kraar,” Thomas said. “I think I practiced it at home about 29 times! I meditated and did a lot of visioning and saw us winning first place in my mind. That morning when I heard Kathryn announce that we had won, it really seemed like a dream, like I was just envisioning it again. When I realized it was actually happening, I was so excited I couldn't hold back the tears. I have been wanting to participate in this intensive coaching program for several months and I am so excited to get to work.”
Funding was raised by the League of Extraordinary Investors, with proceeds also utilized from the Mission Moment at the 2023 Wine Women & Shoes Space Coast fundraising event.
“October is National Women’s Small Business Month, so the timing is fitting as we spotlight and assist these outstanding recipients,” said Kathryn Rudloff, executive director of weVENTURE. “We understand the largest challenge facing these and many other small businesses is accessing capital to help facilitate business growth, and we are committed to supporting others with future IMPACT grants.”
The IMPACT Summit keynote speaker was Laura DiBella, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida and immediate past Florida Secretary of Commerce. She shared her perspective on the state’s economic outlook from her unique vantage point as a member of the governor’s cabinet and business leadership team.
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About weVENTURE Women’s Business Center
weVENTURE WBC, launched in 2007 at Florida Tech, accelerates growth for entrepreneurs by providing customized coaching, business education, mentorship and networking programs. weVENTURE WBC also strives to be the leading voice and resource for professional women across all industries, providing leadership development and purposeful networking events for women on the Space and Treasure coasts. weVENTURE WBC is funded in part through a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. For more information or to register for weVENTURE WBC courses and mentorship programs, visit weventure.fit.edu or call 321-674-7007.