If you are a female business owner looking for a strong network of other women-owned businesses, Columbus is one of the best places to find it. The city boasts the largest chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) in the country.
NAWBO Columbus provides a variety of resources, support and educational opportunities to its 264 local members. Driven largely by small business owners, “[Membership] includes a number of multi-million dollar businesses from almost every business sector including energy, professional services, manufacturing, publishing – to name just a few,” says NAWBO President Laura MacGregor Comek.
The organization hosts informational sessions on hot topics for business owners. Its policy group is frequently called upon for input on new laws or regulations that affect small businesses. Roundtables connect small groups of business owners, providing an environment where women can confidently share the ins and outs of business. The relationships formed through these efforts are at the core of what NAWBO Columbus is about.
Comek, who heads up her own law firm, joined for the network, but has found much business through the organization.
“Just as important has been the strong relationships and great role models,” Comek says. “I grew up in the law, which was a largely male-dominated environment. I enjoyed it, but as cultures changed, so did that dynamic. Being a part of NAWBO helped me learn to successfully navigate more women in business.”
Mentorship is a huge factor in why other members like Catherine Lang-Cline, co-founder & president of creative staffing agency Portfolio Creative, sought out the organization. She joined just a few months after starting her business.
“We felt that we really needed to learn from women that were already running a business,” Lang-Cline says.
In addition to impactful mentorships and programming that has helped her problem-solve, “Being exposed to women that are in business at a higher level inspires me to perform at a higher level, too,” she says. “It has taught me to think differently, to think bigger, and not be timid in doing so.”
Kathy Warnick was a solopreneur with no one to bounce ideas off of when she turned to NAWBO to find her sounding board. Her accounting consulting company now has employees, and “I have a network of peers and advisors across the country,” she says.
The fact NAWBO Columbus boasts the largest chapter in the country, surpassing metropolises like Los Angeles, the Bay area and Chicago, says a great deal about the collaborative and entrepreneurial spirit in the city.
“Our chapter has tremendous vitality,” Comek says. “Our women want to network, want to make connections, help each other.”
“A woman that starts or purchases an existing business need not feel alone in the daily stress and victories that business ownership provides,” Lang-Cline adds. “NAWBO has a wealth of knowledge and high-level collaboration that can help any woman excel that desires to do so.”
Both say there is really no better time to be an entrepreneur in Columbus.
“The City of Columbus has made concerted efforts over the last few years to study small businesses and to take stock of our companies’ input into the local economy,” Comek says. “Our business climate is excellent here.”
Lang-Cline sees the mentality of collaboration continue to grow, which has allowed NAWBO Columbus to form strong alliances.
Helen Colon, vice president of NAWBO Columbus corporate partners, helps to build those alliances. More than dollars, the organization looks to build mutually beneficial relationships.
“I want to make sure they gain the value of what they are seeking with the organization as well as being able to provide all the necessary resources to the women,” Colon says.
For example, a bank that does business banking might align themselves with NAWBO. The bank reaches its target audience by offering its services to chapter members. NAWBO Columbus has corporate partners in big names like Southwest Airlines, The Limited and PNC, as well as the support of local businesses like King Business Interiors, Cheryl’s and Huntington.
The 37 corporate partners are four times the amount as when Colon took on the role in January of 2013.
“More and more are coming on board because of what we do and what they can tap into,” she says.
Columbus’ status as the largest chapter in the U.S., “I think that these organizations within Central Ohio recognize that and they want to be part of it,” Colon says.
This September, women business owners from across the nation will see what Columbus has to offer its members as NAWBO hosts its National Women’s Business Conference. Open to NAWBO members and non-members, the three-day event from September 18-20 will bring an estimated 1,000 female entrepreneurs to Columbus with the theme of “Leading the Way.”
To learn more about NAWBO and the National Women’s Business Conference, visit nawbocolumbusohio.com.